HE towers above everyone around him and the fact that he’s the only Mat Salleh among the crowd of Malaysians who throng the ground floor of The School at Jaya One in Petaling Jaya makes it easier for me to spot the man I’m supposed to meet.
Medium-built with short grey hair, complete with a single earring on his left ear, the man looks like he belongs in some biker group. But he doesn’t! James Goodrich from Buffalo, New York, is actually an expert on rabbits and cavies (also known as guinea pigs).
A licensed judge with the American Rabbit Breeders Association, (ARBA), he’s here to share his expertise in addition to selecting the winning rabbits and cavies for this year’s International Rabbit and Cavy Show organised by the Malaysian Rabbit Breeder Association.
Goodrich’s voice booms loud and clear through the speakers as he evaluates a brown Holland Lop (a rabbit breed) he’s gingerly holding. Turning the rabbit’s legs up, he proceeds to explain his observations as another person jots down the points on the exhibitor card.
There are a few people milling around the judging table, taking photos and videos, all the while listening intently to what Goodrich has to say about each rabbit. It’s nearing lunch hour and the place is buzzing with people from all walks of life, whose curiosity has been aroused to come and check out the rabbits and cavies.
There’s the largest breed of rabbit called the Flemish Giant with its sandy fur sitting quietly in its cage and also a funny-looking English Angora, the fluffiest little ball of love with long fur tassels on its ears. The sight of its long facial hair covering almost its entire face except for its cute pert nose makes me smile.
On the judging table, four well-behaved black-and-white Coronets (one of the 13 cavy breeds), their bodies covered with a long and silky smooth coat, are waiting patiently to be judged. Their eyes are just mere black dots, partially hidden behind their long fur. The only thing visible is their cute pink noses. From the front, they look as if they’re wearing a wig. The English Angora and the Coronets are certainly the crowd-pullers, receiving non-stop visitor attention.
“That was interesting. I see some good quality animals,” the soft-spoken Goodrich remarks during his lunch break. A quick sip of his milkshake and he continues: “Malaysia has a shorter history of rabbit breeding and only has about 20 breeds out of 50 for rabbits, most of which are imported from the US. But I definitely think that the breeders here are on the right track.”
Goodrich adds that shows and gatherings such as this will help local breeders to improve and develop the best breed of rabbits.
Rabbits were first bred in Malaysia in 1984, initially for their meat. But back then, eating rabbit meat was still a relatively new concept and this, in turn, led to a surplus. Over time, the popularity of rabbits grew —not for consumption but as alternative pets.
Today, they are popular as pets as well as show animals. Breeders and owners began to import show rabbit breeds from the US, with the most popular ones being the Netherland Dwarf, Holland Lop and Mini Rex.
So, how do you judge these animals? I ask, curious, recalling something I read which said that the rabbits and cavies are not judged on their performance or personality but rather on their physical conformance to the written standard.
Goodrich explains: “You have a written standard and descriptions for each breed that tells you what you’re supposed to look for. Examples include what the ears should look like for certain breeds, the size of the head and the body. We’re looking for the most balanced animal for each breed.”
To be a judge, Goodrich, who has been judging cavies for about 10 years, and three years for rabbits, shares that it’s imperative that one adheres to the strict standards set by the ARBA board of directors.
In order to qualify for the judge’s licence, the individual must have been engaged in breeding and exhibiting rabbits and/or cavies for at least five years; two of which must include serving as an ARBA Licensed Registrar, having registered a minimum of 35 rabbits or 15 cavies.
Applicants must also pass extensive written and oral examinations and are required to assist in judging eight shows under at least six judges. They must also secure the endorsement of these judges.
Goodrich, who by profession is an art and design teacher at a university in Buffalo, likens the judging process to art appreciation.
“Some people may think that it is two different worlds but I think that it’s all rather similar. When I judge these animals, I look for colour, proportion and texture. It’s the same thing when you look at a work of art,” says Goodrich, who has been teaching for 27 years.
CARING FOR RABBITS AND CAVIES
Goodrich’s passion for rabbits and cavies started when he was around 10. “I got my first rabbit back in the 1970s when I was little. His name was Berea, after a city in Ohio, where he came from. He was my cousin’s. She had to let him go because she was moving to an apartment. I fell in love with Berea and he was my pet for quite some time,” recalls Goodrich, a nostalgic smile crossing his face.
He adds that over time, his passion grew and he decided to raise more rabbits and went on to become a young exhibitor.
But he took a break so he could pursue a subject close to his heart — art. After successfully completing his Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Fine Arts, he returned to the hobby in the early 1990s but with cavies this time, and later, with rabbits again. He currently raises White Crested cavies and Tans, Mini Lop, Mini Rex and Netherland Dwarf rabbits.
To breed or to simply have rabbits and cavies for pets require a lot of work, warns Goodrich, his voice firm. Like cats and dogs, they have their own specific needs in order to live a long, happy and healthy life.
He elaborates: “It all depends on where you live and what these animals are exposed to. I always advise those who don’t live in a big home to just opt for smaller breeds. Also, some rabbit breeds such as the Checkered Giant are more active than others so a small space would not be suitable.”
A safe and well-built enclosure with good ventilation are very important when you want to have rabbits or cavies as pets.
“For cavies, you need solid flooring because of their feet. As for their diet, rabbits can have a simple pellet diet but one that has all the nutrients they need. Cavies can eat fruits and vegetables. My cavies usually eat the discards. For example, when I eat bananas, my cavies will eat the peels,” he shares, as I giggle at the image of a cavy going bananas over the peel!
So which breed is your favourite? I muse aloud. Goodrich smiles before replying: “The Belgian Hare! I used to breed them. Oh, they’re so elegant with their long, slender legs and very animated too. I don’t have them anymore. I really miss them.”
Apart from rabbits and cavies, Goodrich also gets involved in cats and dogs shows. Whipping out his phone, he excitedly shows me a photo of him and a majestic Great Dane which resembles Scooby Doo, shot during a dog show a few years back.
“Gorgeous!” I blurt out. He smiles in acknowledgement, looking pleased.
“It’s a hobby, downtime away from work. It’s therapeutic and relaxing to be around these animals. I opt for smaller animals because Buffalo is a suburban, not a city and not fully a country. I wish I could have a horse though,” he jokes, chuckling as he places his phone on the table.
The affable New Yorker shares that apart from animals, he also has deep-seated passion for art, architecture and culture. Visiting museums is something he loves to do. Since arriving in Kuala Lumpur on Jan 17, his first trip to this country (from Indonesia where he was also a judge for a show there), he has managed to see most of our bustling capital, including the Royal Museum and the National Museum.
Suddenly, Goodrich glances at his wristwatch. It’s about 10 minutes past two and he should be getting back to his judging duty. Apologetically, he excuses himself but not before sharing: “The best thing about being a judge is that I get to meet a lot of people, and I’m constantly learning. Being a judge hasn’t made me rich, but I love what I do. It also gives me wonderful opportunities to travel around the world. My family and friends can’t believe that I get to travel just because of rabbits and cavies!”