The Carroll County 4-H Family of the Year doesn't raise large animals. They have no cows, pigs, chickens or sheep.
The Scott family of Westminster instead works quietly behind-the-scenes in their basement, cheerily cluttered with crafts and little pets. Their animals of choice: hamsters and rats.
"They just do a lot in the shadows," Cheryl Hill, an administrative assistant with the Maryland Cooperative Extension's Carroll County office, said of the family. "They aren't out there to get the glory or the pat on the back."
The Scott family, which includes daughters Lindsey, 14, and Shannon, 11, have spent the better part of the year getting ready for the annual 4-H & FFA Carroll County Fair, which started yesterday.
Each sister has entries in at least 30 fair events, which include the small animal dress-up, photography, miniature craft scenes, the cake auction and edible art categories.
They'll also show their beloved hamsters and rats in the small pet events. Their parents, Karen and Harold Scott, are superintendents of 4-H's Clover division for the 5-to- 7-year-old kids. Karen Scott also coordinates therapeutic horseback riding programs for 4-H.
Being named the 4-H family of the year in April came as a surprise to the Scotts. They will be honored along with other counties' 4-H families of the year at the state fair at the end of August at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.
"There are so many incredible 4-H families in Carroll County," said Karen Scott, 49, a teacher. "We didn't think we were going to be the ones."
On a recent afternoon, Lindsey and Shannon were busy in the basement, finishing up their sculpted clay miniature displays. Shannon made a colorful lemonade stand, complete with lemon meringue pies, lemon cookies and lemon poppy seed muffins fashioned out of mold-and-bake clay. The scene is titled: When Life Gives You Lemons ... Lindsey created a candy store, with rainbow lollipops and pinwheel cakes for sale.
The Scott sisters' most intricate miniature project was inspired by their pets. On Christmas, they surprised their mother with a hamster nativity scene, with tiny clay figures to represent each of their pets, dressed up as angels, wise men and cows to fill all the roles around the cr?che.
Currently, 11 hamsters and two rats live with the Scott family. Most inhabit spacious cages in the craft room downstairs.
How exactly did the Scotts become so attached to the rodents?
Four years ago, they adopted a hamster from the Frederick-based Small Angels Rescue adoption network. The Scotts have been hooked ever since. Then, three years ago, they started boarding hamsters and rats until new homes were found for those animals.
Lindsey is devoted to the two black rats - Java and Jazz - currently living with the family.
"I show the rats. They're my boys," Lindsey said, picking one up and letting it crawl over her.
But Karen Scott admits the rats, with their thick, fleshy tails, at first seemed a bit creepy as domestic pets.
"I've kind of gotten over it, but it is definitely more Lindsey's thing," she said.
Shannon is known as the "hamster whisperer" because she seems to tame ones that only bite or run away from everybody else, Karen Scott said.
The six "black bear" hamsters, which were found abandoned in a box under a bridge in Washington, were close to the Scotts' hearts. They still have Onslo, a black hamster that at first bit all the kids at adoption events that Small Angels hosts at the Frederick Town Mall.
But now Onslo is docile, ever since Shannon worked her magic on him, the family said.
Shannon and Lindsey are members of the Deer Park 4-H Club, which happens to have a rescued camel in its flock. The May-West family, who live on a farm outside Westminster, now have a camel in addition to the alpacas, the llama, goats, Siberian huskies and miniature donkey that they raise.
The May-West kids, Derek, 15, and Danielle, 12, have gone through 4-H with the Scott sisters.
Though the camel won't be shown at the fair, it did provide the impetus for the club's Arabian Nights theme this year, said Cindy May, mother of Derek and Danielle and one of the club's new directors. A fuzzy camel was sewn on to the club's felt banner, which reads: "Take the Ride of Your Life With 4-H."
The entire Scott family has earned the 4-H award, May said.
"It's a very fitting honor for them," she said.