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'I get there about a half hour before the show starts. Normally, a cavy [guinea pig] show is a one-day thing. If I'm flying in, I'll arrive the day before. Someone picks you up, takes care of you, drives you to the show. I chit-chat with people at the show, but I don't look at their animals. Once I'm judging, I'm focused on the animal, trying to make a good decision."

Speaking is Juliet Barrera, 40, wife, mother, classical bassoonist and contra bassoonist, UC Irvine graduate in biology, University of Pittsburgh graduate student, substitute school teacher, tae kwon do black-belt holder, and guinea-pig show judge. Barrera is also the American Cavy Breeders Association's District 2 (California, Arizona, Hawaii, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Mexico) director.

Let me pull up here, take a breath, and tell you that the notion of guinea-pig shows -- much less judging said shows, much less a national sponsoring organization, local chapters, guinea-pig journals, guinea-pig genealogy, guinea-pig supporting industries of goods and gear and sundries...in other words, the entire line of auxiliary accoutrements human beings bring to their hobbies, in regards, specifically, to guinea pigs -- is too complicated a topic to hold in my mind. I select a small piece and ask, "What do you do to prepare a guinea pig for show?"

"Some breeds you do nothing with," Barrera says. "For instance, the Teddy or the Abyssinian have a harsh coat and do better without washing. On the other hand, the long-haired guinea pigs have a mutation in their gene that causes their hair to continually grow. You need to bathe them a couple days before the show because they have been bred to be more sedentary than other guinea pigs and tend to sit and make puddles. So, they get icky. You need to wash them and put their hair up in wrappers, like the way women used to put their hair up in toilet-paper rolls."

My mouth is hanging open.

"Normally, on a show-coated animal," Barrera says, "you don't see more than eight inches of hair. You show them on a burlap covered, very plain board called a "showboard." Owners bring showboards to the judging table. The owner/exhibitor is not supposed to touch the animal while it's on the table." Barrera makes a serious face, "They tend to want to fiddle with the hair and comb it."

I envision a long, medieval banquet table. On the table are 20 showboards. Each showboard holds a sleeping guinea pig. Judges solemnly gaze downward at the sleeping guinea pigs and...the vision fogs. I hurry forward with, "How many types of guinea pigs?"

"There are 13 recognized breeds. The American Cavy Association is the authority. It's a specialty club of the American Rabbit Breeders Association; they're our licensing body. I don't even want to tell you all the complicated reasons why we're associated with them. The organization used to be called the American Rabbit and Cavy Breeders Association. The Cavy people left, tried to start out on their own, they came back, crawled back...it was sordid," Juliet laughs. "Anyway, we have a nice newsletter called the Journal of the American Cavy Breeders Association. It prints our comings and goings, general-interest articles about how to raise your cavies, how to take care of them better and show them better."

I have already divided the world into two parts: there are rabbit people (overbearing, arrogant, rich) and guinea-pig people (simple, honest folk who go their own way). "How did you get to be a guinea-pig show judge?"

"I got on the fast track to be a judge, took almost eight years," Barrera says. "To start, you have to be a member of a cavy club for a number of years. Then, you apply for a registrar's license. A registrar is somebody who registers guinea pigs. The animal must be at least the third generation of the same breed. Then you have to hold that license for a couple of years. Then you're tested for the judge's license. It cost $100 to be tested. One part is a multiple choice/short answer, and the other part is oral -- you're sitting in front of three judges and they ask questions and they have a tape recorder. Then, I had to work with eight different judges..."

There is much more of this. I spent an hour interviewing Judge Juliet, plus a long phone call two days later. Guinea pigdom was novel to me, but what kept me asking questions was her transparent delight when talking about guinea pigs. That's heady to be around. When you love something, the mask falls away and onlookers get to see what a moment of purity looks like.

Barrera asked me to include some links for readers who would like to pursue Cavy World. She recommended www.acbaonline.com and www.arba.net. Juliet Barrera can be reached at [email protected]

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