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Friday, April 30, 2010

Gerbil convention is Saturday in Nashua

NASHUA – Consider the humble gerbil, almost an afterthought for many, after the goldfish is flushed and junior proves not ready to handle the responsibility of caring for a dog or cat.

No so for the gerbil aficionados who make up the American Gerbil Society.

From 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 100 or so members of the society will bring their gerbils to the Holiday Inn for a convention and competition, in which the fluffy rodents will vie for best-in-show honors.

Gerbil fans are invited to the family-friendly convention, which will include competitions for serious gerbil owners and breeders as well as a “Pet Class” competition to award kids’ pets for their endearing characteristics.

There will be Gerbil Olympics events, exhibits on gerbil colors, agility training, gerbil art, other rodents, specialty merchandise and a book signing. Admission is $2, with a maximum of $10 per family.

If a gerbil convention and show sounds unusual, that’s because it is, said Donna Anastasi of Hollis, president of the American Gerbil Society.

“In this country, the small animals aren’t shown that much,” Anastasi said.

This will be AGS’s ninth annual show in New England. Nashua has hosted the show in the past, but in the last two years, it was held in Massachusetts, Anastasi said.

Naturally, gerbils aren’t very colorful. Anastasi described their coat as “kind of the color of a wild bunny or squirrels in the wild.”

But in the last 40 years, breeders have developed gerbils of various hues, such as black, marbled and with orange tails.

Gerbils have an edge over similar species when it comes to shows, Anastasi said.

“Unlike most rodents, they’re not nocturnal,” she said.

Instead, gerbils are “nappers,” she said. They’ll nap during the day or night, but are awake much of the time, making them ideal for daytime shows and conventions.

Also, gerbils are “bold and curious” and “don’t stress easily,” she said.

As a judge, Anastasi has handled a hundred gerbils in a day and finds it unusual to be bitten.

In fact, when judging gerbils for a show, temperament makes up 25 percent of the score. Judges give high marks to gerbils that “look like they want to be there,” Anastasi said.

Half the score is body type and coat, and the last quarter is comprised by other factors – how a gerbil carries its tail, for example, Anastasi said.

Gerbils are judged within color categories, with the winners competing for the best-in-show prize.

And during the show, breeders have a chance to get together to boost certain characteristics in their animals, meaning – as with conventions people attend – some individuals will get lucky.

Telling a boy gerbil from a girl gerbil should be easy, Anastasi said.

Males are stocky and have “football player builds,” while females are muscular but slender, she said.

In fact, if a judge can’t immediately tell if a gerbil is a boy or girl, it’s not going to get a very high score, Anastasi said.

For more information about the American Gerbil Society, visit www.agsgerbils.org.

Patrick Meighan can be reached at 594-6518 or pmeighan@nashuatelegraph.com.