While animal lovers across the country gear up for the next big dog show, it dawned on us that there are more than a few non-televised annual pet shows and conventions that attract a more niche, but no less passionate, audience.

These are well-organized and well-attended annual gatherings in which hundreds of dedicated pet fanciers — and often, the curious general public — descend upon airport hotels, community centers and midsized convention halls across the country to celebrate the many splendors of ... pet gerbils, parrots, hermit crabs and bearded dragons. We’ve rounded up seven such shows where you’d be hard-pressed to find an immaculately coifed Shih Tzu on the premises. 

fancy ratNew York City Fancy Rat Convention

In 2011, New York City of all places was host to the first Fancy Rat Convention. Organized by Big Apple Rattery, the event — an event closed to the city’s cat-sized, sewer-dwelling residents but open to intelligent and charming but misunderstood household pets with a taste for designer clothing — attracted a whole lot of attention, most centered around the au courant (au courat?) fashions of pet clothing designer Ada Nieves, who seems, judging from this video, completely at ease handing squirming rodents dressed in bespoke wedding gowns. Cute or cringe-y? You be the judge. We’re leaning toward the former, although that painting of a fairy holding a massive rat at the 2:07 mark is a touch more nightmarish than whimsical. And no word if New York’s aforementioned population of non-domesticated rats held their own runway fashion show on the tracks of the A train at West 4th St. subway station in conjunction with the convention.

green tree pythonNorth American Reptile Breeders Conference

A gathering of captive-bred, non-venomous beasts of the herp variety, the North American Reptile Breeders Conference (NARBC) takes place annually in three cities — Arlington, Texas, Anaheim, Calif., and Tinley Park, Ill. — and is decidedly not the kind of place for those suffering from crippling cases of ophidiophobia or Scoliodentosaurophobia to spend a leisurely afternoon looking for a potential pet. (Sorry, but even a pocketful of Valium and constant hand-holding won’t save you here). But for those who seriously adore the slithering, the shedding and the scaly, the NARBC is a must-attend event in which the public is invited to interact with a wide assortment of cold-blooded critters and mingle with dedicated herpetoculturists. During 2012’s shows, highlights included talks from herp-luminaries such as Clint Kolz (“Keeping and Breeding Bearded Dragons”) and Drew Rheinhardt (“Captive Care of Tortoises”), and cash bar- and profanity-fueled auctions benefiting the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) and the United States Association of Reptile Keepers (USARK).

rabbit on grassAmerican Rabbit Breeders Association Convention and Show

Bunnies! A massive convention center filled with thousands upon thousands of bunnies! If that sounds at all appealing, here’s hoping (hopping?) that you got a chance to appropriately freak out at the 89th annual American Rabbit Breeders Convention and Show held this past October in Wichita, Kan. As always, the American Rabbit Breeders Association’s big shindig, presented this year by the Heartland Rabbit & Cavy Show, featured Best in Show events for both rabbits and cavies (domesticated guinea pigs) along with commercial awards for, gulp, “Best Roaster,” “Best Stewer, “Best Single Fryer," “Best Meat Pen” and so on. Also: rabbit dressage events — or kaninhoppning as the competitive art of show bunny jumping is known in its native Sweden. And a non-Leporidae-related highlight of this year’s ARBA show? Obviously it was the open banquet performance by the Midwest’s top Elvis impersonator.

lovebirdsNational Cage Bird Show

And we thought the American Kennel Club’s Meet the Breeds event was on the noisy side … Debuting in 1949 and dubbed as “Your Show of Shows,” the annual National Cage Bird Show recently took place at the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis. In addition to the fierce, 20 division-strong competition itself, highlights of the NCBS included avian education seminars and a pet bird talent show with categories such as “Best Kisser,” “Best Singer” and “Best Dressed.” Sounds like a blast for Midwestern bird fanciers but we’re seriously hoping that non-show-attending hotel guests were able to get a wink of sleep with all of the beautiful — but relentless — chattering and warbling of Spanish Timbrados, Belgium Waterslagers, parrots, finches, lovebirds and cockatiels bursting from the show hall.

betta fishInternational Betta Congress Convention

Held at a hotel near the Jacksonville airport, the 2012 International Betta Congress Convention brought together the general public and fanciers of the popular, vividly pigmented freshwater aquarium fish known as the betta. Although the convention did indeed involve a competition in which the prettiest domesticated bettas in all the land were singled out and their breeders awarded, the sparring of two territorial male betta splendens was not a part of the show as the IBC adamantly opposes the fighting of these tropical beauties (or the gambling that traditionally goes along with it) whose wild ancestors originally hailed from the rice paddies of Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. In the event that you were unable to descend on Jacksonville for this year’s show, you can always pick up IBC merch — brine shrimp and bumper stickers galore! — at the organization’s web store. And in case you wondering, yes, goldfish have their own beauty pageants, too.

sugar gliderThe Sugar Glider Get Away

We here at MNN personally don’t know of anyone who keeps domesticated sugar gliders — pocket-sized gliding possums from Australia that look deceivingly like flying squirrels — as household pets. In fact, owning one is verboten in several cities and states. However, there are apparently enough Petaurus breviceps fanciers out there to warrant an annual convention dubbed the Sugar Glider Get Away. Held each year on the last Saturday in July in a different city (Dallas with serve as the host city in 2013), the SGGA is less a proper “show” and more of an organized education-minded meet-up/social event for sugar glider enthusiasts. Explains the SGGA website, the primary goal of the event “is, and always will be, education and community unification. To see, experience hands-on, and learn how different people do things ... to discuss different views and techniques ... and to meet other sugar glider enthusiasts face to face.”

ferretFerret Buckeye Bash

Although there are dozens of American Ferret Association-sanctioned shows and competitions that take place around the country each year, perhaps the most well-known — or at least well-known amongst those who don’t consider themselves fanciers of mischievous domesticated relatives of the weasel — is the annual Ferret Buckeye Bash. Dubbed as “Ohio’s Premier Championship Ferret Show,” the Buckeye Bash features tube races, multiple championship rings, a “best dressed” contest and vendors aplenty. The 2006 edition of the event was famously immortalized in Mark Lewis’ captivating/amusing/depressing PBS documentary “Ferrets: The Pursuit of Excellence.” You can watch a musical highlight from the documentary, a film that’s pretty much a real-life version of Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show” but with crepuscular carnivores instead of canines, here.

Related story on MNN: Kooky-Con? 6 highly unusual conventions

Click for photo credits

Photo credits:

Rat: Brit./Flickr

Snake:Sebastian Niedlich (Grabthar)/Flickr 

Rabbit: picto:graphic/Flickr

Lovebirds: Nita W/Flickr

Betta fish: h080/Flickr

Sugar glider: Leo Reynolds/Flickr

Ferret: Selbe B/Flickr