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Your pedigreed cavy comes with a special name — here’s why you shouldn’t change it

17 Oct

If you’ve ever bought a cavy directly from a cavy breeder and had the opportunity to pick up that cavy’s pedigree, then you might have noticed that pure-bred pedigreed cavies come with special, two-part names. What’s that about?

Like many other pure-bred animals, cavy names follow a certain naming tradition that is intended to establish the cavy’s lineage, to some extent. Generally speaking, a cavy’s official name has two parts — a “prefix” name, and its given name. Some breeders have more elaborate given names than others, but most I know, including myself, stick to something simple. So it’s the prefix name that most newcomers to the cavy community may find unusual or confusing.

Essentially, the prefix name is a name that acts like a surname, except that it isn’t based on the sire’s name and it comes before the given name. The prefix name comes from the name of the caviary where the cavy was born. Each name is unique to an individual caviary. Ours, for example, is Legacy, short for Legacy Caviary. So a cavy born at my home might be named “Legacy Rodney” formally, and might be called just “Rodney” informally. Other breeders just use their own last name for a caviary prefix name.

Now, let’s say you’ve just bought a new cavy, but you don’t like the name it’s breeder gave it. Unless the cavy has been registered with ARBA, you’re probably safe to change the cavy’s given name to whatever you want. Most likely, the cavy won’t remember its old name. And of course, you’re always welcome to change the call name, even if the cavy has been registered. Nobody keeps track of what you call your guinea pig; it’s just the pedigree and registration records we’re concerned about.

But, it’s generally view as impolite to change the cavy’s prefix name. There are two reasons for this. For one, the whole purpose of the prefix name is to make it easier to trace a cavy’s lineage. It is possible at some future date that you may sell your cavy, or else that you yourself may want to track down where its parents came from. If the prefix names on the pedigree are changed, you can’t track the cavy’s origin nearly as accurately. Second, the prefix name can be seen as a sort of attribution. Even if you now own the cavy, if someone else bred it then they are due part of the credit for anything that cavy achieves. Just as you cite your sources whenever you borrow someone else’s work to write a research paper, you should also strive to accurately cite the sources behind your own cavy or caviary’s success.

So by all means, call your cavy whatever you wish. But for the sake of cavy genealogy, let’s strive to keep our pedigrees and records as accurate as possible.

U.S. cavy sweepstakes — what’s all the fuss about?

30 Jul

Next month marks the official end of recording for the 2012-2013 national cavy sweepstakes — which to the vast majority of you probably means absolutely nothing. I figure I owe everyone an explanation of the sweepstakes system before I jump into any serious coverage.

The entire end goal of the cavy fancy is the improvement and progression of the cavy species. While shows offer fanciers opportunities to survey and evaluate the breeding stock available in a given locale, they don’t always offer a complete picture of where the best stock is available on a national scale. The sweepstakes program can be viewed as an attempt to compare caviaries across the U.S. by tabulating each exhibitor’s show success over a given year.

Essentially, the sweepstakes committee awards a certain number of points to an exhibitor for each win reported at a sanctioned cavy show. The value of a given award is determined by the significance of the award. For example, winning best of variety might be worth one point, but best of breed might be worth two points. Wins at national shows are worth more than victories at the local level. These points are tracked throughout the year, and at the end of a sweepstakes year — which runs August 31 to August 31 — all the points are tallied, and the final results announced.

Participating exhibitors are ranked within the breeds they choose to compete in, so at the end of the contest an exhibitor might claim to be the top competitor within the Peruvian breed, or within the American breed, but there isn’t an overall prize. Many exhibitors compete in more than one breed.

It’s worth noting that some factors can skew an exhibitors sweepstakes score. The way points are tabulated, the highest-ranked exhibitors are usually those who not only claim frequent victories within their breed of choice, but also those who frequently attend shows and who enter a large number of cavies in diverse groups and varieties. To try to give fanciers a better idea of who is winning, and who is gaming the system, the sweepstakes ranks are listed within the JACBA, the American Cavy Breeders’ magazine, alongside a count of the total shows that exhibitor attended. A little math will give you a pretty good idea of who is awarded the most points per show — probably the best objective measure of which exhibitors might be considered leaders in the development of any given breed.

Animal enterprise terrorism: tips to protect yourself

11 Jul

Some concern about the potential for illegal search and seizures has popped up in the fancy of late, perhaps stirred up by recent events. “Rescue raids” conducted by rogue SPCAs and other animal rescue groups are not as big a problem among cavy fanciers as among dog and cat enthusiasts, but they do happen from time to time.

Animal rights is a current, trendy movement in America, there can be no denying that. While they are fully entitled to their opinions on animal husbandry, activism crosses a line into extremism when animals in good condition are forcibly removed from private property and resold for profit. In fact, the FBI outlawed such raids under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in 2006. Despite federal law, some breeders still become the subject of raids and smear campaigns that solicit donations from a sympathetic public taught that breeders are the enemy of animal welfare. Real rescue organizations have also been targeted, as have everyday pet owners.

For fanciers who own multiple animals, it never hurts to protect yourself. I’m not a lawyer, but I spent the last week reading over several case studies on animal enterprise terrorism, taking note of what the animal owners could have done differently that would have improved their odds of winning the case. Here are some tips that may prove helpful, based on what I found.

Know your local laws

Many cities have ordinances controlling the type and number of animals you may keep within city limits. If you aren’t already familiar with the rules in your area, look them up; many cities post lists of ordinances online for easy search and access. Many cities have no limitations that apply to small animal ownership, but it’s worth knowing if your city is one of the few that limit animal ownership in generic terms. It’s also worth noting that some cities will allow those who own multiple animals to apply for special licenses or exceptions.

Always comply with local law. If there are limits on the number of animals you may own, remain below them. If you can apply for an exception, do so. If you do not like the laws in your area, you might consider moving. This may seem onerous, but at the end of the day, if you are subject to a raid and you are reported as violating the law while actually violating the law, you will lose your case.

Maintain licenses, registrations and documentation

Documentation will always help build your operation’s legitimacy. Register your caviary with national organizations. If you can apply for local animal enterprise licenses, do so. If you sell animals, consider obtaining a business license. Though many breeders encourage running a quiet, off-the-books operation, my personal opinion is that it is better to operate in the public light, with proper documents displayed or readily available so that they can be brought to your defense at a moment’s notice. Again, these things may make your animal ownership public, but they also protect you.

Keep your animals in peak condition at all times

This should probably go without saying. If you are abusing your animals, you may be fairly prosecuted for abusing your animals. Be sure your cavies have access to food and water at all times. House them in proper accommodations, sized appropriately, with climate controls and regular cleaning and upkeep. Cavies should be groomed, bathed and in good health.

Clean your home, discard clutter

It’s easy to build a mental health case alleging that you are a hoarder if your home looks like you might be a hoarder. So keep you home, including the area where you keep your cavies, as clean as possible at all times. Destroy any pests that may intrude, clean up any mold that might appear, and stave off bad smells, especially ammonia smells, which can indicate conditions that may cause your cavies to develop respiratory infections. Throw away old feed, expired medications and any excess supplies you no longer use. Keep the supplies you do need in good condition and store them in an orderly manner.

Please note: I don’t mean to suggest that anyone’s house is messy. I just observed that some cases brought against animal owners as a result of raids used the home’s disrepair as a proof the animals were being neglected and needed to be removed.

Maintain relations with your local veterinarian

I know many cavy fanciers distrust veterinarians, and often for good reason — guinea pigs are significantly more fragile than a dog or a cat, and some vets fail to understand this. The results of a trip to a vet who is not prepared to work with cavies are often fatal. However, if you can find a good vet who is willing to work with you, his or her testimony that you keep your animals in good condition on a regular basis (or that the one animal that did happen to be in poor condition was in fact ill and in treatment) could be hugely beneficial.

Select adoptees with care

Be aware that some extremists have taken to conducting undercover investigations by posing as buyers who want to adopt your animals.

Know your rights

No one may enter and search your home without a personal invitation from the owner or a warrant. If someone arrives and asks to search the premises, your automatic response should be to ask to see the warrant, which should be signed by a judge. If they cannot produce one, you do not need to allow them entry into your home. If you choose, you may speak with them outside, with the door closed, but you aren’t required to so much as speak with them — and even if they do have a warrant, you still have a right to silence.

Note that if you are a renter, your landlord can give permission to search the area. However, renters’ laws often stipulate that your landlord must notify you before they may enter your unit. Roommates and other members of your household may also give permission, so be sure to educate them on who may or may not enter. If you hire house sitters, talk to them as well. Many raids have been organized to take place while animal owners were away at conventions.

Cavy Shows: Basics for Beginners

14 May

Whenever the topic of my unusual hobby comes up among my friends outside the cavy fancy (Yes, I have friends, and not all of them have guinea pigs. Just most.) one question will inevitably arise: You show guinea pigs? Can they jump through hoops or something?

Young long-haired guinea pigs wait on the table for their turn with the judge.

A judge evaluates long-haired cavies during a best of show round.

Most of the time, I do everything in my power to avoid this question, seeing as the answer is often long and involved, generally provokes additional questions with long, involved answers, and because it has a bad habit of coming up whenever I’m in a hurry to get someplace — like a cavy show. But, for the sake of establishing what portion of my sanity remains, I will here explain, to the best of my ability, what exactly a guinea pig show entails.

We’ll start with what a guinea pig show is not: an agility contest. Guinea pigs do not jump through hoops or navigate teeter-totters at shows. That’s not to say a guinea pig can’t — there are people who have successfully organized various agility events for cavies — but generally when I say “guinea pig show,” that’s not what I’m referring to.

Sanctioned ACBA cavy shows are much like any other traditional animal show, be it for livestock or for dogs or cats. If you’re not familiar with any type of animal show, think of it like a sort of beauty pageant for guinea pigs. Judges evaluate the animals not according to abilities they have acquired through training, but according to the appeal of their appearance. But decisions aren’t necessarily made according to the judge’s personal preference; the quality of an animal is determined by comparing the cavy to its standard, a set of rules that defines the ideal individual of each accepted breed. In America, the breed standards are set forth and maintained by the combined ACBA and ARBA Standard of Perfection.

Because the standard functions on a per-breed basis, the specific requirements for showing any individual cavy varies slightly according to each breed. For example, long-haired breeds are typically judged according to the quality of their coat, and are trained to stand still on top of raised platforms called show boards to better display their hair for the judge. Breeds with shorter hair, such as the Abyssinain, are instead taught to run the length of the table so that the judge can get a better idea of the overall shape of the cavy. Breeds not presented on show boards are temporarily placed in small coops while waiting their turn for comments from the judge.

Some requirements remain the same across all breeds. To be eligible for show, all cavies must be in good health — the presence of recent injuries, parasites, illness, or disfigurements will disqualify the animal from show. While small or blind animals can make wonderful pets, they are disallowed in shows. The purpose of the shows is to identify and recognize quality animals that can substantially improve the gene pool if introduced into breeding. Animals with known health conditions that may be genetic do not improve the overall quality of the species and, therefore, are not permitted in shows.

In America, there is also a strong emphasis on showing the cavy in a natural condition. The animal may not be modified by clipping or plucking hairs, by using hair products or dyes, or by any other means. Water, mild soap and a brush are, of course, encouraged on a regular basis.

Cavies that are eligible for show entry compete in bracket-like arrangement. In the first round, cavies compete within their own class, a grouping of animals that are all of the same age, sex, variety, and breed. The top animals from each class go on to compete against all others within their breed and variety. Here, the best of variety and best opposite sex of variety are chosen. Of these, the judge then chooses the best of breed and the best opposite sex of breed.

At the end of the show, the best animal from each breed is called back to the judge’s table for a final best of show round. The judge then re-evaluates each animal to determine which among them comes closest to the perfect animal described in the breed’s standard. The best is named best in show, and the runner up is named reserve in show. In some shows, the judge may name a third animal, which may be called the second reserve, or the honorable mention.

Substantial wins at any level — defined as a victory over any class, variety or breed with more than five animals presented by three separate exhibitors — will result in the animal winning a “leg.” These legs can be thought of as points toward grand champion status. A grand champion must win at least three legs, and then be re-evaluated and documented by an official registrar before it can be recognized by the ACBA.