Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Behind The Points - Page 1 of 2

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

Click images to enlarge
gerbils and show ribbons
Photo Courtesy of Donna Anastasi
With eyes just opened, Promise's pups peruse her past prizes.
gerbil stretching
Photo Courtesy of Donna Anastasi
When not free ranging or running the wheel, Fantasia stretches, exercises and aerobics.

"Mom, would you get the gerbils out of the tub? I need to take a shower." With less than two weeks until the big gerbil show, I’ve cranked into high gerbil-mania gear. Determined that she will shed that last gram or two, Fantasia the gerbil, with her mom Sweet, are spending pre-show days free ranging in the tub , which is lined with a towel and scattered with climbing toys, and a ramp that leads to their tank to come and go as they please.

What is it all for? In gerbil shows there are no trophies, no prizes and no cash rewards. It is not done for the ribbons and rosettes that mark the victories, but for pure enjoyment, fun and of course, bragging rights.

On the conformation-side of an American Gerbil Society-sanctioned show, gerbil breeders and owners compete for show points that are applied to both an individual gerbil’s championship and to a breeder championship certificate for a specific fur color, such as black or Siamese.

Like at a dog, cat or rabbit show, gerbils are judged on written standards. In this case they are the Mongolian gerbil standards created by the American Gerbil Society and built upon those of the National Gerbil Society (a European society that has held gerbil shows since the late 1960s).

There are common standards for all gerbils on body type: males need to be buff, females streamlined; both require athletic builds, not bony or obese. The head must be set into the body, with almond-shaped eyes that are clear and bright, and long fanning whiskers. The tail must be thick, straight and the same length as the body, ending in a full tuft, one of the beautiful features that distinguishes the Mongolian gerbil from other pet rodents.

Body, condition, head, ears, eyes and tail account for 50 percent of the score.

Temperament accounts for another 25 percent. A nervous nip costs precious points, and though we’ve not had one yet, an intractable gerbil is disqualified. On the other hand, the gerbil that stands up on its haunches when the show pen lid is popped open, crawls into the judge’s sleeve to explore, or sits cradled in two hands and purrs (the silent vibrating of a very content gerbil) puts a smile on a judge’s face. Personality counts. When two gerbils score identically, temperament can be a deciding factor.

The last 25 percent of the score, arguably the most challenging and frustrating to achieve, is for color and pattern. All gerbils need to have soft, shiny, clean fur. And, each standard color has a description right down to whiskers and toenails.

Some colors are easy to describe (but hard to realize) like black. Basically the gerbil must be black. The fur is black, the eyes are jet black, the belly, toenails and whiskers are black, black, black. This is the holy grail of gerbil-color in my opinion. Three of the 12 gerbils I am entering are black. Certain recessives will fade a black gerbil, almost all have a white chin, moustache or bracelets, and as the black gerbil ages or has any fur loss, white hairs appear. Though I’ve been sorely tempted, altering a gerbil in any way, including strategic application of a black marker is strictly prohibited in the gerbil show ring.

Other colors are complicated to describe and challenging for judges to learn. For example, the golden agouti (wild colored) gerbil’s tail is judged as follows from the AGS Judge’s Manual:

“The top side of the tail shall have the same golden brown coloring as the body, ticked with black and showing a ridge of longer black furs beginning mid-way between the tip and the root and ending in an almost black tuft.”

And that is just the tail!

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