Mark Hunter (ozma914) wrote,
Mark Hunter

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A hamster by Any Other Name is Still a Rat

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Hamsters are rodents. Mice are rodents. And yet one elicits an “Aw … cute …”, while the other delivers “Eeeeeekkkkk!!!!!!!!”
I don’t get that.
It’s true that my youngest daughter, Jillian, didn’t panic over the mice that infested our house last fall. In fact, she got a big kick out of seeing one climb out of my stove and do a back flip trying to jump into a cupboard. Just the same, she agreed that the little guy had to be taken care of, in the same way a crime family takes care of its little annoyances.
And yet, after spending all that time and effort to kill off the rodents only a few months ago, now she wants to bring one into the house – on purpose? What’s wrong with this picture?
“They’re so cute! I’ll keep them clean, and feed them …” Yada yada, same old thing the kids always say when they’re getting ready to saddle parents with “their” pet.
I responded with, “Can I bring home a Victoria’s Secret model? I’ll feed her and wash her every day, I promise! I’ll even help her get dressed!”
“Sure, dad … if you can afford her.”
Ouch. The hamsters only cost ten bucks.
Still, I stuck to my guns. “We can’t afford it, you’re only here half the time, and when you’re not here I keep the thermostat set at 60 degrees! How would the ASPCA react if they found out your hamster died of hypothermia? I’d be taking care of it all the time, and I’d have to pay for food and bedding, and I’d have to pat you on the head when it dies and you finally remember you had one. No way are we going through that. It’s not gonna happen. Forget it.”
The first thing I noticed about the pet store was how loud it was. There are more animals in these stores than in most rain forests. I kept expecting a gorilla to leap down from the ceiling, but I settled for a salesman, instead.
“Which ones are male, and which ones are female?” I asked.
He waved at a big table, with a Plexiglas divider running down its middle. “Usually we divide them up, but they managed to get through this, so we’re going to have to get it fixed.”
Notice he didn’t answer the question. But I forgot that, when I saw the little things had actually eaten through the Plexiglas wall. You gotta be kidding me. I’m a firefighting instructor, and I tell my students if they’re ever faced with breaking a Plexiglas window they should cut through the wall, instead – it’s easier. And yet this little animal, which was small enough to crawl up inside my clothes, had chewed through Plexiglas. Maybe firefighters should start carrying a pair of hamsters in their coat pockets.
“Here’s a list of the items it’s suggested you get with your hamster,” the friendly salesman, who was looking at a big sale, said with a smile. It was a long list. The hamster would have more belongings than I did.
The little guy Jillian picked out was smaller than I had expected, and I realized it was a Pygmy Hamster. All the better to climb up inside my clothing.
Well, at least there was only one of them. While Jillian, assisted by cranes and a construction crew, put together the little guy’s new house, I went on the internet to research the care of Pygmy Hamsters. Hamsters, I discovered, are solitary animals, which like to live alone.
Except for Pygmy Hamsters.
Pygmy Hamsters, it seemed, were social animals, who had to have friends to run around with, or they’d curl into a depressed little ball and develop all kinds of ailments which would require time consuming, expensive visits to the veterinarian. Oh boy.
I explained this to my daughter, but warned her that she would have to simply talk to it a lot, because no way was I spending another ten bucks on another one of those things, especially since we had no idea if the one we already had was a boy or girl. No way. No how. Not gonna happen.
The first thing I noticed when we walked back into the pet store was that the hamster enclosure was empty. Cool, I thought. Maybe they ate their way through the floor and were tunneling to the center of the Earth. That was that, because under no circumstances was I chasing all over the country in search of an animal whose cousins were probably stalking the wiring in my house as we spoke. Not a chance.
The next pet store was even louder than the first. It had a display of hamsters, clearly labeled “male” and “female”. Unfortunately, we didn’t know which one we already had. But what the heck – fifty-fifty odds are better than your chances of getting through a year in Indiana without hitting a deer.
Jillian named them Ranger and Morelli, and said if one turns out to be a gal, she’ll change its name to Stephanie. That doesn’t make sense unless you read Janet Evanovich, but it’s a lot more imaginative than “Spot”, or “Fuzzball”. I wanted to name one “Snack”, which didn’t go over well at all.
I’ve learned a few things about hamsters since then:
Social animals, my eye. They fight more than my daughters.
Small teeth leave big ouches.
Running wheels squeak, especially in the wee hours. All the grease in the world won’t silence them.
It’s possible to catch hamsters when they get loose, but either you or they will have a heart attack.
Hearing my daughter say “do you want to help sex Morelli?” WILL freak me out.
No, I still have no little accidents to prove one of them is a Stephanie. And I’m not going to sex one to find out. No way, no how. Not gonna happen.
Until I’m talked into it.

Tags: weekly column

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