My name is Laura De Stefano (nee Humphreys) and before you look at me and start thinking “she’s just a kid!” I can assure you, I am older than I look! (30 this year…eek!)
I decided to start up Tiny Paws as, having so few of my own pets at the moment, I have time to give to other family pets – who would otherwise be left home alone all day, or leaving their owners unable to go on holiday, or struggling to meet the demands of a particularly poorly guinea pig, or struggling to cope with grooming maintenance…for instance. Guinea pig grooming and day care along with small pet boarding is definitely a very niche service, but I’ve had enough experience of caring for guinea pigs to be able to use my skills professionally to help other piggies – and their owners!
My speciality is without doubt with guinea pigs. I have kept 32 guinea pigs over the last 16 years, even though I just have the 2 right now. For over 10 years I have been a leading voice in the campaign to improve guinea pig care, medical care and welfare. I have published one book of my own relating to my experience with guinea pigs, Charlie’s Memoirs, with another book on general guinea pig care due out in Summer 2019. I was also instrumental in designing, rewriting, contributing to and delivering the British Association of Rodentologists comprehensive 300-page professional textbook, which deals specifically with the veterinary care of guinea pigs.
I also spent over 6 years working on “Guinea Pig Magazine” as second-in-command, in fact co-launching it even from the pilot issue as the only magazine dedicated to just guinea pigs. I did just about every job going in my years there, as it was an independent publishing setup with just 2-person operation; my jobs ranged between coming up with content ideas and researching them, sourcing contributors, seeking out potential advertisers and collaborators, right through to customer service, quiz creation, social media, website management, writing articles, editing content, proofreading and even writing content for the Editors letters! Despite it being what was once my dream job, I decided it was time to leave in 2016, as the opportunity for growth and development was restricted and the direction the editor was trying to drive me and the publication in no longer aligned with my vision.
ONLINE PRESENCE & ADVISING
I have, over many years, run around a dozen websites and forums – most were for guinea pig health and care – in my late teens and early twenties. I was very active on some major online forums back in those days and held in high regard for my commonsense and logical advice, and somewhat revered for my medical knowledge. Those forums included (but certainly weren’t limited to): Guinea Pig Cages, when it was still known as Cavy Cages; Cutiecavies; TKCC; Guinea Pig World; and The Guinea Pig Forum. The most notable sites I ran and owned myself were The Piggy Boards, a forum that was going around 10 years ago, and the educational website and advice line Guinea Pig Helpline, a service which I ran for several years.
Away from the world of guinea pigs, I do have experience with other animals. I grew up with dogs – large and small, puppies and very elderly – and I have been around enough cats to understand their needs and habits! Hamsters, rabbits and fish are also animals I have personal experience of keeping and/or looking after.
Additionally, I’m a mental health advocate and published author. I have worked with the media on a number of occasions on the subject of mental health and illness in both local and national TV, radio, newspaper and magazine capacity. A significant part of my advocacy work is the 4 years I spent writing a blog centred on my mental health, called Believe. Whilst Believe is no longer online, my work on there was published in book form, and I have a new blog over on my personal website.
I live in Huntingdon with my husband, who is a keen and experienced climber, hillwalker and highly-talented Ninja Warrior competitor – so much so we have our own garage (sorry, GYM) of doom full of impossible obstacles. He is currently celebrating no less than five 1st place finishes in Ninja competitions around the UK and has had his place on primetime Saturday night TV, competing on the TV show itself (in series 3 aired in 2017, and the latest series due to air in 2019).
Whilst I dabble in the Ninja lifestyle, my main hobby has to be yoga. I run a yoga account on social media, and I am always working to build on my strength and flexibility both physically and mentally. Most recently, one of my guinea pigs Wilbur has caused a bit of a stir after guest-starring in one of my yoga flows. He was just free-ranging while I was doing yoga, but the way he kept circling the mat, checking up on me and running around like a puppy certainly caught the hearts of many, so he has his own little fanclub even in the Insta-Yoga community!
You will very often see one or both of us (i.e. husband and I, not Wilbur…) around the Huntingdon, Godmanchester and St Neots parks and fields, training with or without various apparatus!
Photography and reading are my other main passions in life. In photography, my subjects are very varied and include everything from abstract to animals, landscapes to seasonal, floral to food. I am very much an enthusiastic amateur, and I had one exhibition this Summer, but I am hoping to extend and exhibit my work more in the future. In terms of books, nothing beats a bit of delicious escapism. Although already a published author, I would like to attempt some fiction and try my hand at a novel. I also dabble in knitting and watercolours…it happens when your grandmother is a master knitter, and your mother a highly accomplished artist!