This article is from the WSSF 2011 AFRMA Rat & Mouse Tales news-magazine.
By Karen Robbins
Starting a club in your area can be a lot of fun. After all, you will be getting people together with the same interests—rats and mice! And you will be able to have those shows in your area that you have so longed for. Starting a club will also be a lot of work, but with those initial contacts, you will have others able to help with the running of the club, putting on a show, and helping out overall. And, if you are like most rat and mouse people, any event becomes a social time together where you get to share your latest stories, ideas, and just plain have a good time.
You do need to be prepared for a lot of responsibility on your part in the early stages of your club until you get others involved. You also need to be prepared to incur the initial expenses until you start holding shows and other events, having fund raisers, selling club items, taking memberships, and doing other things to bring in money for your club. Once you get others involved, having many sharing in the responsibilities and duties of the club will make the work load much easier. However, you will find as is the case in most clubs, it will only be a core amount that actually do all the work on a continual basis, so you will have to work hard to get new volunteers all the time.
Having a club in your area will mean that you will be able to share with others the proper information on the care and management of rats and mice. You will also be able to help out newcomers to the fancy by being there to answer their questions and concerns with their pets or on getting new pets. You will also be a support group for rat and mouse owners by providing new fanciers as well as those more experienced, information on the care and raising of rats and mice, and a place to get together and share in their everyday trials and tribulations.
The first step if you are interested in starting a club, is getting interested people together. There are many ways to go about doing this. You can put up flyers in pet shops, vet offices, feed stores, humane societies, kennels, boarding facilities, and grooming shops; put ads in the local newspapers and other animal related local papers; you can contact local fairs, 4-H, and other youth groups; contact other similar animal clubs in your area. If you have a web site, post notices on your page and on some of the many forums and chat groups that may be in your area.
One question we get quite often is can a club include exotics (e.g. spiny mice, pygmy mice, zebra mice, gerbils, sugar gliders, hedgehogs, degus, flying squirrels, etc., etc.). Our answer is yes. Here in California all of those exotics are illegal, so we just recognize the domestic rats and mice.
If you are affiliated with AFRMA, you will use the AFRMA Standards and Show Regulations for the domestic rats and mice; however, you will need to come up with your own standards for any exotics you accept into the club. We suggest that you contact an existing club (e.g. The National Gerbil Society in England if you want to have show standards for gerbils).
Once you make those initial contacts, have a luncheon at someone’s house to hold the first meeting to set up your club, choose a name, elect officers, and schedule your next meeting and maybe your first display or show.
At the meeting where you decide to have a show, you will need to schedule a date for the show, find a show location, choose the classes that will be offered, decide what kind of show boxes to use and if the exhibitor will provide them or if your club will offer some for rent, decide on the times for when the show and judging will start and end, pick your show secretary and judges, decide if you will take day-of-show entries or have them pre-entered and the fees you will charge (we charge $1 per pre-entry for members, $2 each for non-members; you will want to charge more for day-of-show entries since it takes time to make up the show paperwork and judging cards); assign people to help with the setting up of the show area, health checking, checking in, clerking/stewarding; decide if you will have sodas, snacks, or lunch there to sell (if your show location will allow it), who will bring them and man the booth; decide on what kind of awards—ribbons, trophies, rat/mouse food, treats for the rats/mice, special awards, etc.; are you going to have items for sale (i.e. food, bedding, and other supplies for the rats and mice, club t-shirts, and other items), if so, you will need someone to man that booth; are you going to have a raffle/drawing—you will need items donated and decide what you are going to charge for the tickets (our drawing tickets are 3/$1 or 50¢ each; we have each item numbered, and a can for each number, so the people can put their tickets in just for what they want to try and win); are you going to have someone give a talk at lunchtime or have a project to make that everyone can get involved in; all of these things need to be decided BEFORE you are at your show. Once at the show, you may be able to get additional volunteers to help set up, sell items, clean up, and help in general.
Once you’ve decided on a show date, secured your show location, and decided all the details, you will need to let everyone know about the show. You will need to make up show schedules to send out to those people wanting to enter the show. This is also when you will make flyers and/or posters of your show and put them up all around town. You will also need to send out press releases to your local newspapers, radio stations, cable and regular TV stations, and other places that will advertise your event. Many times you need to send in your press release 2–4 weeks before your show. Also, putting ads in the local paper’s “Calendar of Events” section and other free listings will draw people. You should gather together all the names, addresses, phone numbers, and fax numbers for your P.R. file from the listings posted in each publication, from the library, and by contacting many in person. Also, posting an announcement on the Internet is a good way to let many people know all at once. This can be done via forums, chat groups, club member’s web sites, online newspapers and media sites, pet sites, social sites, etc.
Now that you have decided all the details and sent out the notices, received your entries if pre-entered, the day has finally arrived! If you will need to set up the tables yourself, you and a couple of helpers should get there an hour or two before everyone starts arriving to set up the room, the judging area, the check in/health checking area, and the sales/food/drawing areas (if you will have any).
Everyone should bring their animals in clean cages/carriers with food and water provided for the animals during the day. Once they have gotten their animals health checked, checked in, and picked up their paperwork and any rental show boxes, they can set their animals up on one of the tables.
When it is time for the judging to begin, the steward should call the first class(es) (unless you have room to call up all exhibits at once which would then stay on the judging table until the end of all the judging). The exhibitors will then bring their animals up to the judging table in their show boxes where the steward can direct them as to the order to place them. Once the class is on the table, the judge and clerk will take over (the clerk’s job is to write down the judge’s comments). When the class is placed, the clerk or steward will send back all that aren’t needed for further competition. This will proceed throughout the day until you are finally at the end of all the classes! You can either hand out the awards as they are given, do this at lunch for those awarded up to that point, or have an awards ceremony at the end of the day to hand out all the prizes and get photos of each winner.
Sometime during the day you will want to draw for the drawing prizes if you have a drawing (we usually do this after lunch). If you are selling sodas and snacks, towards the end of the day if there are any snacks left over, you may want to sell them 2 for 1 price (sodas can be reused at your next show).
It is finally the end of the day. You’ve talked to lots of people, learned a lot of things to improve on at your next show, but all in all had a good time. Now it’s time to clean up the place! This is where those “volunteers” you got at your meeting or on the morning of the show will really help out, as most, if not all the exhibitors, will have gone home by now. There are tables to clean off and put away, floors to sweep/mop, trash to take out, rental show boxes to clean, stuff to put away, and vehicles to load. But for those die-hard people who stay till the bitter end, make an enjoyable time of it by all going out for dinner together! You’ll be able to talk about all the experiences you had that day, the animals that won (or lost), and things to do at your next show.
By having your members offering healthy, quality animals for sale at your shows, you will be bringing in possible new recruits for your club. Also, if you sell the supplies for the animals, then you will also be getting future business when they need to purchase the proper supplies for their pets.
Some of these people will turn out to be valued members of your club and good friends.
Displays are fun one-day events or sometimes running as much as 17 days or more if you are at a fair. This is where you can concentrate all your efforts on talking to people and showing off your pets. In talking to people, you’ll be able educate them on rats and mice as pets/show animals, the proper food, bedding, and cages, as well as recommendations to local vets that treat rodents, among other things. You’ll get to hand out lots of flyers and membership applications. If you have an upcoming show, you can let people know about that and encourage them to attend, even if it is just to look and learn. After all, there are many first-time people that are only interested in “just looking,” that end up going home with a couple of pets and all the goodies that go along with them!
Usually displays are not a good place to sell animals as many people will buy on impulse. We have found it better to talk to them at a display, then have them come to a show or to the breeder’s house to purchase their pets.
Displays can be held anywhere from your local library to the pet shop/feed store/vet office, fair, mall, 4-H day, humane society, or school, to name a few.
If you live in an area where rats and mice are thought of only as PESTS and not PETS, then you will have an extra hard time of convincing the general public that they really do make great pets, are clean, affectionate, and intelligent! But, take it from experience, it does get better. At some of the displays we have been doing for many years, the attitude has gradually changed to where we get people stopping by now to see us and asking about a certain type of rat that they saw at one of our previous displays or bringing their children to see the rats and mice.
Having a day where you have someone come and speak to your group will also get interest in your club, such as a local vet experienced in treating rodents or an experienced breeder of some of the more exotic types of rats or mice. Some clubs will have a different speaker at each of their meetings to draw in the members and interested folks.
Holding seminars will also work in gathering together people interested in rats and mice. You can have a seminar on genetics, the proper husbandry of rats and mice, or get a different perspective and have someone from a laboratory or large vet hospital teach about their field.
Now that you’ve learned about starting your own club and holding a show, what are you waiting for! If you purchase AFRMA’s Show Procedures packet or sign up as an affiliate, you will receive all the paperwork to run a show and help in getting started, but we can’t start it for you. Let’s begin so you can help spread the word about our best pets—Rats and Mice!
NOTE: Clubs should have a first-aid kit at their events; also have a mailing list available for people to sign up to get the information for your upcoming club activities. Also, if you let people pet your animals at displays, have a spray bottle of disinfectant and paper towels or hand sanitizer for them to clean their hands before touching. Getting sponsors would be another way of bringing in money to cover your show expenses.