Sydney Pilzecker with her champion, Nova. SUPPLIED

Twelve-year-old Sydney Pilzecker, from Fonthill, is still reeling from her multiple wins at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair 2019 Rabbit Show. Sydney took first place in the Judging Competition, first place in the Pet Class category, third place for Showmanship, and sixth place in the Conformation category, with her champion blue mini-Rex rabbit, Nova.

“There were about a hundred people there, just in the rabbit and guinea pig section,” Sydney said. “It was a long day.”

Sydney is the proud owner of several animals including a dog, three cats, three rabbits (including Nova), and two guinea pigs. Although Sydney has been showing her rabbits for only a little over two years, she felt confident and in her element.

“I wasn’t really nervous because I enjoy doing this. [Shows] test how well-behaved my rabbit is and how healthy I keep him. I really like caring for animals, so I find I like being tested on that.”

“Sydney competed against approximately 18 youth from across the province,” said proud mom, Jen Pilzecker, “many coming from families with professional rabbit breeding backgrounds.”

An all-day event, the Rabbit Show at the Royal features anywhere from 400 to 500 fuzzy contestants and their owners each year. Sydney’s wins represent her ability to judge good breeding and behaviour in other rabbits, her own presentation skills, and her bond with her furry friends. The champ, Nova, is Sydney’s second mini-Rex rabbit, a breed known for having extremely soft fur.

While the Pet Class portion tested Nova’s behaviour and personality (how he would perform as a pet), the Judging portion of the competition required owners to judge several different breeds of rabbits and provide good reasoning for their decisions.

“Showmanship is your presentation skills and how well you and your rabbit work together,” said Sydney. “[Your rabbit] sits on a mat in front of you and you go through 12 steps to test the rabbit’s care and how healthy it is. They switch your rabbit with someone else’s to test your skills too.”

Sydney is an active member of the Niagara 4-H Club, where she learned about rabbits and rabbit showing from Rabbit Club leader and neighbour, Lori Mann. From there, she started participating in smaller local fairs, showing her rabbits and learning from others.

Rabbit Club, a social circle for other rabbit owners and showers, typically meets once a month on Mann’s farm. Some 20 dedicated members of all ages get the opportunity to socialize their rabbits, learn how to bond, how to show, and build hutches. Sydney had only participated in three small, local fairs before taking on the Royal. She credits Rabbit Club for the vast majority of her showing education.

“I learn more at Rabbit Club because there are so many great people who had been doing [shows] before I joined. And they were so lovely. They showed me what to do. They made me feel comfortable and welcome and they helped me…The first three shows I did, I was so nervous but now my rabbits are kind of used to it and if they’re calm, I’m calm…I’ve made a lot of good friends there.”

Jen says her daughter was shy when she first began attending Rabbit Club, and never could have guessed that in just two years Sydney would be comfortable competing in provincial, sometimes national, categories at the Royal.

“I have to admit, as a parent, there’s a lot to rabbit showing. I’m not sure I could remember all the steps that they have to go through. They have to do it in a specific order, make eye contact with the judge. There are all these things they’re judged on in these competitions that isn’t just what you would think of with maybe showing livestock. There’s a lot more to it.”

Even as a toddler, Sydney’s love of animals was clear. Be it a dog, cat, horse, or rabbit, Sydney would gravitate to animals with a gentle and caring demeanor, Jen said. While every kid begs for a pet, every parent usually understands this means taking on the majority of the responsibilities for that pet once the excitement wears off. Sydney, however, didn’t seem to fall into this pattern.

“She’s 12 going on 20. She is so good at taking care of all her animals. She always was,” Jen said. “What a great way to teach responsibility.”

All three of Sydney’s rabbits (Nova, Tori, and Miss P-Nut) are litter-trained and well-loved. When they’re not playing or showing, they have run of their own room and love to chow down on bananas.

“I’ve worked really hard with [my rabbits] and I just love seeing them happy. That’s probably the thing I love most about them. I love seeing their little personalities.”

When asked what advice she would give to other rabbit-lovers, Sydney maintained that while rabbits are quite manageable, she wouldn’t necessarily suggest them as a first pet. Guinea pigs, she says, are a great alternative for that “starter-pet.”

Sydney’s schedule is all but built around her love for animals. “I’m very thankful we don’t live on a farm,” Jen said, “or my kid would adopt even more animals. She’s a busy enough…she kayaks with the South Niagara Canoe Club, works hard at school, and volunteers at Wellwood Juravinski House in Hamilton amongst her 4-H Club activities. She’s an inspiring person and I am really lucky to be her mom.”

The Royal champ, however, can never get enough of working with animals.

“I legally can’t volunteer at the Humane Society yet, but I wish I could.” Sydney said. She hopes to pursue an education in marine biology or veterinary medicine.

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair will take place again from November 6 – 15, 2020. If all goes well, Fonthill can expect to find Sydney and her rabbits there once again.