Before the show
About ten days before the show you can start thinking about which rats you might enter. You can then check them over thoroughly for general condition and health – any with scratches, scabs, respiratory problems or other ill health should not be entered. Any nervous or shy rats generally do not enjoy shows, and should not be considered.
Pets or varieties
The pet class is generally where most people enter their rats the first time round. This section is judged purely on the rats, condition, health, character and friendliness. As colour and type (shape) are not judged it does not matter if your rat is a mismarked rescue, or a very small rat from a pet shop.
If you do wish to enter the varieties section, but do not know what makes a good show rat it is worth getting a second opinion beforehand if you can. There is nothing more disappointing than being marked down for something you knew nothing about – e.g. white toes are a fault in many varieties. If your rats came from a breeder who shows their rats they should be able to give you some idea of whether they are show quality – particularly if you have only had them a few weeks and they will be in the kitten class.
The details of how to enter shows are usually found on the organising club’s website[link to web directory]. Entries are usually taken by email and/or phone, and generally close 3-4 days before the show. As this is your first show you should aim to get your entries at least one day before the closing date, then if you do make any small errors there is time for the show secretary to call you back to sort it out.
If you are entering pets you usually need to state only the rat’s age (kittens are under 13 weeks old on the day of the show), sex, and whether you are a junior or adult exhibitor.
For varieties you will also need to know the correct class for your rat. This can be quite complicated for a novice, particularly if you have a more unusual variety of rat, or one that is dumbo or rex. Different clubs number the classes differently, so you would be well advised to check in advance.
Some clubs will require you to state the rat’s name and markings, to make it easier to write up the results. You may also need to state the breeder, as if your rat does well this may earn the breeder points. If the rat is a rescue or pet shop rat, and the breeder is unknown don’t worry, just put that in the box.
When making your entries, you will need to let the show secretary know whether you require hire tanks to show your rats in. For your first couple of shows it is probably best to hire tanks, but if you catch the showing bug it is best to buy your own, as the cost of hiring each time will quickly add up.
Should I bath my rats?
If your rats are particularly smelly or stained you will need to wash them before the show. Do not do this too far in advance for pale rats, as they will just stain again! If you have rats that marinate in their hammocks you will need to change the hammocks more frequently than normal in the run up to the show, as this will help your rats to stay clean and smelling good.
On the day
On the morning of the show check your rats over carefully before you put them in their travelling box, as there is no point in taking a rat to a show that has gained a scratch or a snuffle overnight. Clip their nails so the judge does not get scratched, and give their tails a wipe.
Rats should travel in a small, secure container, with plenty of soft bedding, and access to dry food plus a piece of fruit or vegetable for moisture. Rats are vulnerable to heat and cold and you should ensure they are protected from extremes of temperature in your vehicle. It will benefit your rats to travel with a familiar companion, and in a carrier they are used to. When planning which rats to take make sure you do not leave one rat at home alone in its cage, and do not expect rats to travel with rats they do not normally live with.
You will also need to take with you some bedding for the show tanks – the permitted substrates vary between the clubs, so check what is acceptable well in advance. Most shows run a raffle to help cover the hall hire costs, so do try to remember to take a small prize.
At the show
Try to arrive at the show about half an hour before judging starts, to give you plenty of time to sort out your show tanks and rats. On arrival at the venue find somewhere quiet for your rat carrier and offer the rats some water, while you find the show secretary or show organiser. If you look for a slightly stressed looking person, at a table near the door, with piles of paperwork in front of them, you have probably found the right person! They will provide you with labels for your tanks, and tanks if you have arranged to hire them.
In each tank place 2-3 inches of your chosen substrate, one piece of fruit or vegetable (depending on the regulations) and the correct rat! Make sure you have a note of your tank numbers so there is no confusion about getting the correct rats back, and place the rats on the judging table – there will be one area for pets and another for varieties. If you are not sure where to place your rats ask the steward – this will be the person arranging the tanks into order.
Now you are free to shop, volunteer for kitchen duty, sell or buy some raffle tickets, and talk to lots of people about rats.
If you have rats with you that are not entered in the show make sure you are familiar with the rules for shoulder rats at that venue – some shows do not allow shoulder rats in certain areas, and occasionally they are not allowed at all.
While the judging is going on only the judge, trainee judge, scribe and steward are allowed in the judging area. Spectators are welcome to look at the rats on the table, and watch the judge from the sidelines, but they must not interfere with the rats in any way. During judging you are not permitted to take any rats out of the tanks, or give any indication which are your rats, as this may influence the judge.
Most rats spend most of their time in the show tanks fast asleep, but if you think one of your rats is looking distressed you should speak to the show secretary or show organiser immediately, who will assist you and decide whether the rat should be withdrawn from the show.
The pet class judging is usually finished before the varieties, and coloured sticky dots on the tank indicate your rat has been placed! It will be made clear when you can remove your rats from the judging area and you should offer them food and water at this point.
Put your substrate in the bin, and take the stickers off the tank, then return it to the show secretary.
Agility or games
Usually once the pet class is completed there will be the opportunity to take part in games such as rat agility. These are generally entered on the day, though some clubs ask for entries in advance.
Critiques and prizes
Once the judging is completed there will be a prize-giving. You will also be able to collect the critiques for each rat. If you are unsure of any comments your rats have received do not worry about asking the judge as they are usually happy to explain, and they are the best person to help you learn how you could do better next time.
After the show
After the show it is a good idea to offer to help with the clearing up – the kitchen will need tiding, there are usually tables and chairs to stack, and the floor will need sweeping. If many people do a little bit each it all gets done very quickly.
When you get home you will find your rats are tired after their exciting day out, and they may not be very interested in their usual free range time. Just put them back in their cage and allow them to rest, and they will be back to normal tomorrow.
Author: Alison Mercer
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