The original request was for a bunny. I was on the fence at first. I like bunnies, I’ve owned bunnies and they’re cute. So I told the girls to put together a presentation about why they should have a bunny, their plan for taking care of it, and how they would contribute to the cost of purchasing and supporting the bunny. Lauren and Grace disappeared upstairs to put it all together, and they made a lovely presentation. But I said no to the bunny because here’s the thing: bunnies poop a lot. I don’t want that in the house. And there is no way I’m building an outdoor hutch.
After delivering this crushing blow, Chad and I agreed they could have a hamster. I know… it’s not even close to a bunny. But hamsters have a lot of positives. For instance, they poop very little. Their cages are not too big. They don’t eat all that much. Plus, their life span is less than 1000 days, so it’s not like the 8- to 12-year commitment you have to make to a bunny (0nly 1 to 3 years if they live in a hutch outside, which is a weird and significant difference). The trouble is that you don’t have any real way of knowing how old the hamster is when you get it.
Vinny came to us via our niece, who loved him dearly, but had a chance to take in a friend’s chinchilla and wasn’t allowed to have both. Frankly, if I were a kid and not a parent I’d probably pick the chinchilla too. I don’t care how much you love your hamster, a chinchilla is way cooler. Grace was very excited when Vinny arrived, and I was grateful that he came with a cage and a bunch of supplies to get us started. He was extraordinarily well socialized – at least in my minimal hamster-socializing experience – and not only didn’t bite, but didn’t even try to hide when you picked him up. Since I had promised Lauren that she could also have a hamster we went to Pet Smart a few days after Vinny’s arrival to get a second little guy, who she named Scout.
Both girls did really well taking care of the cages, cleaning them weekly, and also making sure to handle the hamsters each day to keep them friendly. But it turned out that the bedding, or maybe Vinny hinself, made Grace have horrible allergy symptoms and Lauren’s hamster tossed so much bedding out onto her desk that she wasn’t even going to be able to do her homework. We relocated Vinny and Scout into our toy room, each cage situated on its own shelf that is high enough to keep them out of reach of the cat, but relatively accessible for Grace and for Lauren with the help of a stool. All was well in Hamsterville until we came home from one of Lauren’s cheerleading games and I noticed that one of the doors to Scout’s cage was hanging open. I know for a fact that it was closed in the morning, but now it was afternoon and it was hanging down like an inviting little metal ramp to freedom. At my feet was one of the small chairs the kids use to play house, strategically positioned directly below the cage. I knew right then that Annie had opened the cage, but she denied it like a politician embroiled in a sexting scandal. I also knew right then he was gone, but I checked under his little wooden hut anyway. Nope. A quick check on Vinny assured me that, although Scout was on the lam, Vinny was safe and sound. Phew.
The next challenge was how to find Scout. Hamsters can go anywhere they can fit their pointy little rodent skulls. So Scout could, quite literally, be anywhere.
After getting the dogs outside and double-checking to make sure the cat was outside too, I did a half-assed search around the toy room. I mean, I felt bad that he was gone, but the odds of me actually finding him seemed slim to none. Instead I broke the news to Lauren and then we did an internet search to figure out how to trap him. The girls got to work building a tiny ladder of books leading up to a metal bucket with a washcloth – to break his fall – and food inside. They dribbled a delightful trail of seeds that began about two feet away from the books, went up the “stairs” and would, hopefully, lead Scout into the bucket. It was like Hansel and Gretel if the witch was into homemade organic granola. Since hamsters are nocturnal I figured we wouldn’t see anything until the morning so we just left it alone.
Next morning, nothing. Morning after that, nothing.
Now, hamsters are desert animals, so they can go a while without water, but he HAD to get hungry eventually. We sweetened the pot by rubbing the books with raw carrot and dropping a few small pieces of carrot into the bucket. According to my dad, seeds don’t smell enough to attract a hamster, but carrots smell like a delicious treat. Seeing as how Dad used to raise hamsters as a hobby in high school, I figured he knew what he was talking about.
The day after the carrots, nothing.
By this time I’m thinking Scout is for sure dead. I don’t care of you’re a desert animal, you still have to have water eventually. I was worried that he was going to start smelling, although part of me thought that the smell might help me find him. But again, Dad the Hamster Pro came through with this nugget – a hamster that dies somewhere in the house is just going to dry up and is very unlikely to smell. Okaaaay…..
Day four I swear I’m starting to smell something. I text my dad to tell him that I am not buying this no-smell concept.
Day five, it’s time to clean Vinny’s cage. Lauren decides to clean Scout’s cage as well, which I consider an act of extreme optimism, but why discourage her?
We bring the cages out to the newspaper-covered kitchen table and Grace pulls out Vinny’s little wooden hut. Vinny is resting comfortably. Oh wait. No he’s not. HE’S DEAD!
You always hear those stories about elderly couples who have been together forever dying within days of each other, but I didn’t think that applied to hamsters. Especially since male hamsters have to live alone or they will fight. But here was Vinny, dead of natural causes within days of Scout’s alleged demise. Guess what else? He smelled*. Bad. So did his cage.
The cage went outside for a thorough hose down, Vinny went into a ziplock and into the garbage. Normally we would have a funeral like we did for Grace’s frog, PeeWee Treeman. But PeeWee had spent about five days in a box in the freezer before we had everyone at home at the same time, during the day, to hold the funeral. Vinny was way too stinky for that kind of lying in state. Plus, a frog inside a box is one thing. A hamster in a ziplock is another thing altogether when it comes to mysterious items in your freezer.
The hamster era is over, as far as I’m concerned.
Maybe someday I’ll find Scout.
*A final note from my dad the Hamster Whisperer: even though Scout is dead, he doesn’t smell because he dried up. Vinny, on the other hand, died in the moist environment of his cage, hastening decomposition and creating the grody smell. Good to know, huh?