When we arrived at the Cavy Council of Victoria, everyone was already set up and grooming their guinea pigs. My housemate, my girlfriend and I were first-timers sharing a table with another non-member and her two pets.
The Cavy Council of Victoria is a very serious society. They don’t appreciate jokes, as we found out after my housemate left a comment on one of their Facebook photos.
“Are you sure it’s not Lutra lutra?” was her comment, a joke referring to the resemblance the cavy in the photo bore to an otter.
“No. Cavia porcellus,” was the dry response.
The Cavy Council also doesn’t appreciate deviations from the rules. I found this out first hand when I brought my biggest and most placid guinea pig, Susan, up to the showing table for her first competition.
“She’s supposed to be on a plain carpet square,” the bald man in the white lab coat told me, completely straight-faced.
I felt strange, watching this judge feel and pat Susan, who was sitting quietly on the pink flannelette cushion that lined the wicker basket I thought would be nice to show her in. The woman standing next to me snorted and raised her eyebrows, pointing to the paper flowers that adorned the handle and edge of the basket. She couldn’t have known that my girlfriend and I had stayed up into the small hours of that morning painstakingly handcrafting each of those flowers, but I still felt her derision showed a certain lack of empathy. Privately, the three of us in our little Susan cheer squad had the suspicion that the woman was jealous of Susan’s ‘condition’, as the judge called it, because her guinea pig was judged too thin and came last.
Susan came second and was awarded a red ribbon with a gold picture of a guinea pig on it. Susan has a fairly chilled personality, so I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t see much in the way of pride or excitement from her, but she did sniff the ribbon for a moment when I placed it next to her.
It is probably important to mention that Susan was only allowed to compete in the ‘Non-Member Pets’ category. This is a mixed category where, as the name suggests, the entrants are not members of the Cavy Council. However, being a non-member doesn’t give you license to flout the rules: I had registered Susan via email and paid my registration fee of $1.50 the week before.
I think the reason the Cavy Council of Victoria take guinea pigs so seriously has something to do with the way the animals are viewed as easily disposable pets. They’re probably the most neglected of all the small pets, as they are often bought for children who lose interest quickly. The few kids that dotted the room at the show sat quietly behind trestle tables, waiting for instructions from their parents. Most competitors were, in fact, middle-aged men. It was like any other obscure sport.
Privately, the three of us in our little Susan cheer squad had the suspicion that the woman was jealous of Susan’s ‘condition’, as the judge called it, because her guinea pig was judged too thin and came last.
The person who owned the greatest number of prizewinners was a thin man with a long grey beard, wearing steel-capped boots and tight leather pants. As he approached our table I noted his incongruous T-shirt, which was white and printed with four colourful squares I couldn’t quite make out. When he got closer I saw the squares were pictures of his four different guinea pigs, all longhaired and draped with blue ribbons.
He was checking out the competition and chatting to the two extremely butch women at the table next to us, whose youngest pig was in his first show. The pig bit the bearded guy, and he stalked off again. Later, an enormous guinea pig named Flora, who was the mother of that aggressive young pig, took home first prize of the entire show.
Even though I felt out of place, my housemate told me later she had never seen me fit in so well.
“Everyone there was an absolute freak,” she said, which seemed a case of her throwing stones from a glass house, because she was the one who bought a mug and several ‘I Love Guinea Pigs’ fridge magnets.
But she was right. Guinea pig people are weird. At first I made fun of the serious people at the guinea pig show, but while writing this article I took a break to shampoo and blow-dry my own girls. As I used a dampened Q-tip to clean their ears, it struck me that I am no different from those other pet owners.
I don’t think I will join the Cavy Council – partly because my guinea pigs are rescues, and I had to sign a contract with the rescue centre that I would not support breeding. I would feel too guilty thinking of the betrayal that the woman who single-handedly runs the shelter would surely feel if she knew. But I will go back for the Christmas and Easter shows; I’m a sucker for the dioramas.
Vincent Silk is a writer of fiction and nonfiction. His work has appeared in Seizure, Voiceworks, Alien She, MIX NYC, Slit and others. He currently lives in Melbourne, Australia.
Photo © Vincent Silk.