Wednesday, April 23, 2008
The Gerbil “Wow” Factor

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

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gerbil homes
gerbil homes
Images Courtesy of Donna Anastasi
Would-be-tail-chewing gerbils are disuaded by being housed in pairs with plenty to do.

Last week at ABC Gerbils…

Some good news – Promise, at an advanced age of 2 years and 3 months, produced a litter of two pups. More good news is that Pup Princeton’s too-short tail suddenly spurted new growth. But now for the bad news – a rash of tail chewing (sort of the equivalent of human fingernail biting) broke out on the girl side of the kennel, prompting an all out anti-tail chewing campaign.

This is no time to for the gerbils to lose focus. At time minus four weeks, the gerbil show preparations shift into high gear. The competitors, three boys and nine girls, are set: Ace, Flyer, Maverick, Rock-a-bye, Pocahontas, Spice, Brown Sugar, Puzzle, Fantasia, Em, Kiki, Eureka, and alternates pup Princeton and senior gerbil Sweet.

Ace, Pocahontas, Spice, Puzzle, Fantasia and Sweet all have a shot at becoming champions needing just one more second or first place win in their class. My final efforts begin in earnest to whip all contenders, both seasoned and first-timers, into top gerbil show shape.

The number one consideration in a winning gerbil is breeding. While winning is about 90 percent breeding or the gerbil’s innate potential, at least 10 percent is condition and preparation. Judging is on a 100-point scale, and often only a point or even a ½ point separate first place from second place from third place. So, every point counts.

Show gerbils are judged equally in four areas:
1. Body/Build
2. Coat/Color
3. Tail/Ears/Eyes
4. Temperament

Gerbil showing is highly competitive, in the good sense of that word. No longer is it simply a matter of separating pet-quality gerbils from show-quality. Today, nearly all the gerbils look like they walk straight out of the pictures on the judges’ training manual. This means condition and training are key – both contribute heavily to a gerbil’s “flashiness” or “wow” factor.

What is the “wow” factor? It is that gut reaction induced by a gerbil that shines with a combination of top muscle tone, vibrant color, clean and soft fur, beautiful bushy tail and an attitude that says “I’m glad to be here.” Any staining, especially on white- or light-bellied gerbil detracts, and points are too precious to lose over something that is easily corrected with a bath. But, don’t try this at home! How to safely wash, and more importantly dry, a show gerbil is coming in a later blog entry.

A top show gerbil must be relaxed and accustomed to handling the way a judge handles it. When the judge pops open the show pen lid, the “wow” gerbil stands up on its haunches, eager to come out. While being curious and busy as any healthy gerbil is, the “wow” gerbil allows the judge to hold it in one hand, and flip it over to examine its belly and check its teeth. From its at-home training, the show gerbil is familiar with the smell of hand sanitizer that judges use between examining gerbils and knows it means some playtime with people is at hand.

Because both the number of shows and a gerbil’s life span are limited, a gerbil that wants to go all the way cannot afford a bad performance or an off-day. My gerbil, Sweet, was uncharacteristically not-so-Sweet at the last New England show. A nervous nip or two can knock a gerbil right out of the ribbons, and she made no progress toward the last two points shy of her championship. This year if she competes, it will be as an almost 3-year-old in the senior class.

Even gerbils that don’t “choke” are often at the tail end of their career by the time they crisscross the country gathering show points and compete in a final gerbil show for champion rights. My other five champion hopefuls are all at or around 2 years and must compete with gerbils (my own and others) just hitting their prime at 8 to 14 months old. With the few extra grams packed on, some stray white hairs and a bit of fading, will these show veterans have enough “wow” to dazzle? Hopefully, experience and attitude will give them the edge they need to charm the judges for just one more ribbon and a place in the elite gerbil hall of champions.

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