SHERIDAN — Six children, ages 8 through 14 lined up shoulder to shoulder in the Sheridan County Exhibit Hall to showcase their talent, love and deep bond developed with their show animals.
To an untrained eye, it would appear the children are competing in a typical 4-H competition, but none of these kids showcased a conventional piece of livestock.
This is the 2019 Pocket Pet Show, where children can enter any pocket-sized animal that is kept as a household pet. There are not any rules of what a child can bring to the competition.
Guinea pigs, hedgehogs and even a rat were showcased on Tuesday during a variety of competitions that included best costume, showmanship, best trick, wildest pet and more.
“Pocket pets are more for the younger kids who don’t have space for the big, wide stock or any livestock in general,” Melissa Petzold, a 4-H mom from the Renegades group said. “It’s good to start them with a small animal so they learn to water, feed, clean cages, I guess just the essence of teaching them basic tricks and what it means to have an animal with manners.”
Emily Swinyer, Sheridan County’s 4-H educator, maintains even if pocket pets is atypical competition in the realm of 4-H, it’s still a vital aspect to the program.
“There’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of responsibility with 4-H so it’s important to not overwhelm the little ones in the beginning,” Swinyer said. “We want to give them a little taste of everything but don’t go crazy; I’ve tried to tell people when they’re first starting, don’t pick 50 million projects because you’ll get really overwhelmed so I point them in the direction of pocket pets.”
Ward Cotton, a retired agriculture teacher, has judged pocket pets the last few years. Cotton said it can be tricky judging all different pets in the same category, but he looks for species standard and how talented the young showman is in their knowledge, how they prepared, handled and groomed the animal.
“They get interested and this becomes a progression of a stepping stone into larger livestock, but if not this category absolutely is developing character, if not a deeper dedication to the 4-H program,” Cotton said.
But not all participants showing a pocket pet was out of necessity. Ian Petzold, a 10-year-old from the Renegades chapter showed his pet rat, Jessie, in the pocket pet competition and will also be showing a number of large livestock animals throughout the week.
“I just felt guilty leaving Jessie at home, so I wanted to enter her too,” Petzold said.
Pocket pet members meet every last Wednesday of the month starting in October. An activity each meeting exposes children to general projects available in the 4-H program. The 4-Hers come to the fairgrounds to meet the different livestock they can enter in competitions.
“It allows the littler kids that sense of security and involvement and it allows the parents to get an idea of the time involvement that is 4-H,” Melissa Petzold said.
Avery Nirirk took home a purple ribbon in the overall competition and a purple ribbon in the best costume, which she was dressed as a softball player and her guinea pig named Spike, was a softball.