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Peter Gurney

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Peter Gurney

Peter Gurney, who died on July 2 2006 aged 68, was a campaigner for the rights and welfare of guinea pigs, and regularly brought the animals into the wards of Great Ormond Street Hospital, where the children called him "The Guinea Pig Man".

Born at Luton on March 9 1938, Peter Gurney was educated at Beech Hill Secondary Modern and did his National Service with the Navy. He then became a bus and lorry driver. His career as a guinea pig expert began when he was 48; he was twice divorced and facing redundancy when he bought a guinea pig from his local pet shop.

Soon he was sharing his small flat with many guinea pigs and he began campaigning for cavy welfare. When people called him an eccentric, he would merely laugh, claiming: "Very early on in life I found the company of animals to be far more enjoyable than that of my own kind."

Gurney wrote several books about guinea pig care; he ran a comprehensive website, gave talks and spent hours dispensing free advice over the telephone day and night.

When he visited Vedra Standley-Spatcher, founder of the Cambridge Cavy Trust, a guinea pig hospital, he volunteered to act as an "ambulance driver" and to help in any other way he could.

In 1990 it occurred to him that the children at Great Ormond Street Hospital might enjoy being visited by guinea pigs, and the hospital welcomed the idea. Gurney would arrive by Underground pulling a long, narrow plywood box on wheels with wire mesh down one side; inside would be five guinea pigs. He would place an animal on a child's lap and talk about what interested him most - guinea pigs.

When a serious accident made driving impossible Gurney was forced to retire from his job. He was delighted, as this meant that he could devote himself full time to his consuming interest. He began to take a close interest in guinea pig medicine, which put him on a collision course with vets.

Veterinary education traditionally included relatively little time spent on the illnesses of small pets. Gurney sought to remedy this, and not always tactfully.

He frequently complained about the inadequacies of veterinary knowledge and the poor self-regulation of the profession.

In 1992 he was diagnosed with kidney cancer, and, during his recovery, wrote his first book, The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs, taking all the photographs himself. He also made contact with, and was encouraged by, Michael Bond, author of the "Olga De Polga" children's books. Bond's then guinea pig, Olga, had been off-colour but recovered as a result of Gurney's ministrations.

Gurney wrote a number of other books, including The Sex Life of the Guinea Pig, which he promoted on a tour of the United States.

When Great Ormond St Hospital told him that guinea pigs were no longer welcome for health and safety reasons, Gurney expressed a rare bitterness: "That bunch of control freaks in government took this away from me," he complained.

Earlier this year he was told that he was losing his battle with cancer and made careful arrangements to find new homes for his guinea pigs, 40 of whom survive him.