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Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Choosing Gerbil Contenders

By Donna Anastasi
Donna raises and shows gerbils and is a certified AGS judge. Share in her gerbil show experiences.

Images Courtesy Donna Anastasi
These baby gerbils could possibly be crowned champions
Flyer and Ace, two of Donna's gerbil show prospects.
Promise is a marathon shoulder sitter
Promise sits on Donna's shoulder.

Just six weeks to go until the 7th annual American Gerbil Society New England show. Gerbil breeders around the country peer with anticipation into the nest, as fuzzy baby gerbils blink their newly opened eyes and wander out. Youngsters with early potential will be shown in the under-3-month juvenile class for a jumpstart on accumulating enough points to someday be crowned a champion. As I go from tank to tank through my own gerbil kennel checking water bottles I come to Princeton, my only gerbil pup hopeful. I give him a thorough going over. Not hard to do, because following his mother, Promise, he quickly scrambles up my arm and onto my shoulder. His blaze and full collar are about as perfect as I’ve seen, but will the judges at the show notice those few stray white hairs scattered across his agouti (wild gerbil colored) rump? And will his tail ever catch up to the rest of him?

Enough playtime with Princeton, I put him back in the tank. Promise, my marathon shoulder sitter, remains out, perched on her haunches practicing for this year’s special “Stupid Gerbil Tricks” exhibition, as I make the rounds. I take snapshots of all gerbil show prospects to contemplate later. I try to look at them with a critical eye, but seeing them in person I’m enamored by their gerbil-cuteness such as winking a greeting or dancing against the side of the tank in a bid for out time. Exhibitors are limited to 12 gerbils, and only three of any color, so I need to be selective. Once the picks are made, my daughter Kate and I will use the pictures to design a show poster board, adorned with the entries and leaving space for ribbons. Past poster boards hang on the gerbil room walls, tracing the gerbil lineage in pictures and marking our show-going history in red, white and blue satin. A few display prized best-in-show rosettes and champion gerbil certificates with gold seals.

The time is ripe to pick contenders, plus a few alternates. The cream of the clan are granted small extras in a last push to achieve top show condition. Zippy (Promise’s husband) needs a bit more bulk for top masculine form and gets a stash of pumpkin seed to himself. Fantasia, a Siamese that won last year’s best-of-opposite-sex honors and has since put on a few grams, leaps into a shiny, new mesh wheel wired to the top of the tank. Turbo is on a high protein pup diet; he missed the juvenile cut off by a few weeks but is hoping to mature enough to compete with the big boys.

Dust baths all around bring out the bunny soft fur that is the trademark of my ABC Gerbils. Over the years many kennels imprinted their pawprint marks on the pedigrees and characteristics of my clan. I recognize in the current generation, the foundational matriarchs and patriarchs. As I look at coat colors and color variety, I think back on my first “fancies” Silver Bullet and Rocket all the way from Texas; and Tequilla from the Dragon Clan in Colorado; in the stunning mottled patterns I remember good-natured “Fury” adopted from Black Diamond Wolf clan in Missouri; the striking sepia extremities on the colorpoints are the legacy of Leo of the Little Rascals; the “Goliath” mass came through his son Spiderman of Furry Flowers; and the signature, supersized Storybook Gerbils’ tail tufts trace to Raccoon of Salem, NH, and on and on and on. And, I visualize a magnificent next generation by breeding in offspring of the newest best-in-show and champion gerbils, which I’m scheming to add to the mix from Garden of Eden in Wisconsin, Twin Squeaks in Nebraska, and Galaxy gerbils in Massachusetts - all attending this year’s event.

The gerbils, as well as their people, represent a wonderful melting pot of combined characteristics. In the gerbil world it is not the superficial that counts, like one’s income, age, education, size or shape, color or creed. The shared focus is on what truly matters - the temperament, quality, care and condition of the gerbil clan.

With water bottles full, everyone nourished with custom diet and enrichment, and tanks loaded up with prime cardboard, I reach to pluck Promise from the back of my neck and reunite her with Zippy, Princeton and the rest of her family. With far more than the allowable white to color ratio, Promise will never be a champion or even make it onto the show table. Still, she adds her own special flavor to the pot and will be welcomed and enjoyed as much as any other show-goer.

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