Diane Nott, of Elyria, Ohio, holds a gerbil before the American Gerbil Society's annual pageant Saturday, in Bedford, Massachusetts. (Rodrique Ngowi/Associated Press)

Dozens of rodents scurried to New England this past weekend for a chance to be named “top gerbil” at the American Gerbil Society’s annual pageant.

The Bedford, Massachusetts, competition called for agility demonstrations in which the gerbils must get around obstacles and race to the end of a course. Breeders of the small animals compete for coveted ribbons based on body type and agility.

“A male gerbil should be a good, strong, hefty-looking gerbil,” said Libby Hanna, president of the American Gerbil Society. “If you are going to think of it in human terms, you might think of a football player — somebody who’s big, thick neck, nice, [a] strong-looking male gerbil.”

An ideal female gerbil will have a more streamlined appearance that even humans wish for, she said.

“So she would be strong and athletic-looking — not really scrawny, but slim,” said Hanna, who serves as a judge in the show. “I usually use a figure skater as my mental image, or gymnasts — so obviously a gymnast is not necessarily a big, big woman, but she’s gonna be strong, muscular and athletic.”

The two-day show draws gerbil enthusiasts and breeders from around the country and ends in the presentation of champion and breeder certificates.

Sarah Kaden, a 14-year-old from Bordentown, New Jersey, thinks gerbils have great personalities.

“Even though they are so little, they are very different from each other and they smell a lot less than my brother’s hamsters,” Sarah said Friday.

Gerbils are perfect pets for busy families because they don’t need to be taken out for a walk and can easily fit in a small apartment. Plus, their enclosures only need to be cleaned about once a week.

Still, some people aren’t thrilled to find out their friends have the small rodents as pets.

“I’ve had a couple of people come to my house that actually didn’t know that I had gerbils. They were sort of freaked out, but I just told them that it was okay, they stay in their tanks, there was nothing to worry about,” said Diane Nott, who traveled from Elyria, Ohio, to compete in the show.

Each animal in the competition undergoes a health check. Inspectors look at the whiskers, teeth and mouths and check to ensure the rodents have no runny noses, bugs, loss of fur on their tails or other signs of health problems.

Donna Anastasi of Waltham, Massachusetts, got hooked on gerbils after buying them for her daughters when they were younger.

“Anyone can buy a $12 gerbil and get into the sport of gerbil showing or gerbil agility,” said Anastasi, who is also vice president of the American Gerbil Society. “It’s very fun . . . easy and affordable and something you can do with your kids.”

— Associated Press