Monday, 24 September 2007

No Escape

The other evening, our family had dinner with the family next door. Afterwards, we trooped into their recreation room and admired their son’s hamster, a delightful little creature, fluffy and bright-eyed, with sable patches on her rich, creamy fur. We took turns petting her; we watched, entranced, as she held a single Brussels sprout in her clever paws and rotated it, working at it steadily with her sharp little teeth. The minute we were out the door, it started: Can we have a hamster too, Mom? Pleeeease?

I have told the kids repeatedly that we cannot have a hamster. I have my reasons: hamsters are accomplished escape artists for one, and our cat already keeps us well supplied with rodents. Also, I’m not looking for any more work. It’s bad enough that I have to nag the kids to get them to feed the cat. It’s hard enough getting them to keep their rooms even semi-tidy. The idea of having another creature in this house generating yet more mess and work does not appeal to me one bit, no matter how cute it is. And finally, engaging as they are, like all small animals, hamsters tend to die on you. I speak as one with experience. The backyard of my childhood home was littered with the graves of guinea pigs, dogs, cats, gerbils, and birds, much loved and mourned. I dread the day the cat goes, and I weep over every one of the mice, blackbirds and voles that she drags home. I am not eager for our garden to become a pet cemetery.

Last night our eldest came crashing into the living-room. "Moooom! Look what the cat’s just killed!" She was holding something soggy that resembled a truncated, tailless rat. With sable patches. Yep: the neighbors’ hamster.

I wrapped Mrs Nutkin’s limp body in a tea-towel and patted her dry. No blood – surely that was a good sign? My youngest produced a few peanuts and we put one in front of the hamster. Her nose immediately twitched into high gear and we all breathed a sigh of relief. Mrs Nutkin was one wet, miserable hamster, but she was still alive. My eldest took Mrs Nutkin back to her family.

For a while, we all thought that the little creature had survived her escape attempt unscathed, but this morning we learned that she died during the night.

Today our neighbors asked if their kids could bury her in our garden so that they will be able to come back and visit the grave. Of course, I said yes. But hanging up, I pictured it in my mind’s eye: the clumsy little cardboard box spattered with childish tears. The cookies crumbled into the grave. The pathetic little stones, the crudely labelled marker.

Oh, Jesus. I might as well get the kids a hamster.


Eryl Shields said...

R.I.P Mrs Nutkin...

Have you seen the film Garden State? In it there is a scene where the 'hero' is visiting his new found female friend and is taken to her pet grave yard to help bury the latest in an obviously long line of dead rodent pets.

Merry Jelinek said...

Oh Mary, don't get the hamster!!!

My daughter begged for a hamster when she was five... so we went and bought her a nice orange fur ball (by the way, I hate them - they are rats minus the tale and I won't even pick the things up..)

Back to the story... she named it Hamtaro and danced around the house... la, la, la... on the second day it was here - I peered into the cage while putting away laundry and found that the little guy was actually a girl, as evidenced by the four squirmy little babies it had just delivered... subsequently named Phil, Lil, Whitey, and Princess...

In the end, the boy rats went back to the petshop and we wound up with three of them, which I hated, until they died... roughly two years... oh, and in case you're unprepared for this, hamsters eat their dead... someone should have told me that before the first one died...

okay, there's the end of my charming little story... get a puppy, they're lovely.

Brian said...

I am too old now for pets - of any kind alas!

They do say , however that Labradors are the go for us decrepits, for all sorts of reasons.

But through the years I have had some wonderful pets - R.I.P all of them .

But I firmly believe that the children really should be made somehow to look after the one chosen .


Gorilla Bananas said...

Locusts make good pets - you can watch them for hours in their glass box and eat them when you get hungry. Ringo Starr ate my hamster.

Christy said...

Oh, not a hamster! They are evil little creatures, poor Mrs. Nutkin excepted, I am sure. My son is already lobbying for another pet. He's thinking dog. I'm thinking fish.

Danette Haworth said...

I can imagine how you felt! Your description of the child-tear-spattered grave was so accurate.

My kids are allowed to get pets whenever they want to when they're in their own apartments/houses. Dog, sure, cat, why not, go ahead, bring them all in!

Carole said...

Oh gracious. Some of your commenters gave me wonderful laughs for the day. And tell your girls, if I get a vote, it would be no on the hamster and yes on something your cat hasn't developed an affinity to. Decisions, Decisions. Perhaps you could give Stephen King a heads up and he could start Pet Cemetary-Scotland

DaviMack said...

You could get them a pair of those little dwarf ones, so that it'd take BOTH hamsters working at it to move one of those silly little hamster-balls. You know - the little plexiglass balls, with air vents, which allow your cat to play with the hamsters? Oh, yeah. There's some fun.

Mary Witzl said...

Eryl -- Sounds like a fun date -- and a great movie, too. I'll have to remember the name of that film. We always end up seeing those awful action movies when what I'd like to see is light-hearted romance, even if it does happen to feature dead rodents.

Merry -- Don't worry, I only wrote that last line in fun. I think hamsters are cute, but I'd have to be a lot more insane than I am to let my kids have one. Their rooms are bad enough as it is...

Cats sometimes eat their dead kittens, and I am told that dogs occasionally eat their dead young too. I can easily forgive them: humans aren't always as civilized as they could be, and we're supposed to know better.

Brian -- I believe that too. The kids wanted their own houseplants and we bought them these a while back. Three months later, I ended up throwing out a mess of dead plants. When they started whining for hamsters, I pointed out that I was hardly going to give in when they wouldn't even look after a couple of plants.

GB -- When we lived in Japan, we had a variety of pet crickets, stag beetles, and the like. You're absolutely right about locusts: they are edible and would be great to have on hand in the event of famine.

Christy -- I'm beginning to feel really relieved that I didn't give in to hamster demands. Mrs Nutkin was really an endearing little animal, though, and watching her demolish her Brussels sprout almost convinced me to give in. What a close call I had, in retrospect.

Danette -- You and I have similar parenting styles: I've said the same thing to my kids. True, I did finally crack and get a cat, but then she pretty much chose me...

Carole -- A pet coyote might give my cat pause. An armadillo or a large snake might also be safe around her. As for a pet cemetery in Scotland, though, I'd just as soon not have a lot of tearful pet mourners traipsing through my peonies and sweet peas.

David -- Now that is a GREAT idea! What entertainment that would provide, and how much fun it would be to see the cat drooling away over a rodent that she could see and smell, but not taste. And the hamster would get plenty of stimulating exercise.

allrileyedup said...

Poor Mrs Nutkin. I strongly urge you to stand your ground on the No Hamster policy. It will turn into a game of happy child - dead hamster - sad child - new hamster - repeat - repeat - repeat. I couldn't even tell you how many pet hamsters I had but every time they died, I BAWLED. It was horrible. And my brothers and sister still make fun of me for it. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Carolie said...

Hamsters have always LOOKED cute to me, like miniature teddy bears. But when I worked in a pet store after school when I was 16, the birds never bit me. The snakes never bit me. I never gave the tarantulas a chance to bite me. The rats never bit me, nor the mice, nor the gerbils. But the hamsters? EVERY time I reached for a hamster for little Susie, I was bitten. Guess it's the way I smell or something (handling the snakes, perhaps?)

In any case, I used to go get the big, heavy bird gloves that we used to handle the maccaws -- which I never had to use when handling the maccaws, of course -- before going after little Susie's hamster of choice.

My boss got upset with me, and told me it looked bad to the customers that I had to get gauntlets to handle the cute little roly-poly creatures. I told him it looked a lot better than gouts of my precious arterial blood fountaining all over the inside of the Habitrail Hamster Habitat.

He was not amused.

I liked Danette's comment especially. When I went to college, I thought I could leave behind four dogs, one cat, one budgie with a badly healed broken leg, one escape artist Florida King snake, one hand-raised Dominicker chicken, one blind Polish miniature rabbit, one oversexed dwarf rabbit, two bedraggled Siamese fighting fish, and three mice (named Breakfast, Dinner and Snax) who were successful in begging me not to feed them to Lennox-the-Snake. (Yes, I tended to rescue animals from the pet store rather than let the owner flush them...why do you ask?)

For some reason, I was not allowed to have any of the above in my dorm room except the fighting fish, and I was secure in the (erroneous) knowledge that Mom would feed and care for my menagerie until I finished my schooling and could collect them all in four years or so.

Ummm...not so much. Mom was a saint, and kept the dogs, the cat, and Agnes-the-Chicken. When she realized my typically self-involved teenager plan was for her to maintain the menagerie for me, she showed remarkable restraint when she informed me through gritted teeth that was to find homes for EVERYONE else or I would not be allowed to leave for college.

I found them homes.

Carolie said...

Ack! Apologies, Mary, for a rude, too-long comment!

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, hamster turds are smaller and less stinky than dog droppings, but you do have to clean them up daily, since they fling them out of their cages. Since hamsters are nocturnal, they can be great if you have unwanted houseguests: simply put the hamster -- with a squeaky wheel -- in their room each night. Hamsters also make good paper shredders if you need to dispose of credit card receipts. And hamsters do not bark, kill birds, or mangle children (humans, anyway).
However, hamsters can chew through wire twist ties and learn how to flip open cage doors. They can get into the walls and run up and down like mice. They can get into garbage cans but not out of them.
Yes, we once owned a hamster, George. Bet you can guess the end of George's story. Sad, isn't it.
Personally, I'm all in favor of stuffed animals as pets.

Mary Witzl said...

Riley -- When I was a kid, we had literally dozens of cats, and when they died, burying them broke my heart time after time. I shed tears over Mrs Nutkin too. Her young owner stared at me as we committed her mortal remains to the ground under my fir trees. I don't think he's seen many grown women cry before...

Carolie -- I love your comments and consider the length a real plus. Don't you dare apologize, just keep them coming!

I love your pet stories and I'll bet you could write a novel based on your experiences as a pet rescuer. My sisters and I also brought home kittens, cats, birds, rabbits, etc, but my mother was a glutton for punishment and actually joined in the fun. She (and my father, too) brought home as many dogs and cats as we did, and our neighbors must have found us a sore trial.

APW -- I love the idea of a hamster with a squeaky wheel in the room of an unwelcome guest, and what a great idea you've given me...

When we last visited my sister, we slept in my niece's room with her pets, two Madagasgar hissing cockroaches, imaginatively named Roachie and Hisser. I managed live through this traumatic experience by ignoring the brutes; my sister delighted in coming into the room and showing me that she was fine picking them up, stroking them, etc. A few weeks after we left, she wrote that they had made a break for it and gotten loose. So help me, if that had happened while we were in their house, I'd have had to leave town.

Carolie said...

Thank you for the kind words and the latitude, Mary. After reading all these stories about pet funerals, I guess I was very lucky! Our dogs and cats were all extremely long-lived, as were (oddly enough!) our guinea pigs! So we had very few funerals, but the few we had took on HUGE import (our Australian Shepherd, who arrived as a puppy when I was a year old lived to be 21) and were complete sob-fests.

Damn, I shouldn't have checked your comments before bed. Now I'm WIDE awake thinking about those cockroaches. I think our new kitten, Koimo, is going to get to sleep with me tonight, *just in case*!

Carolie said...

Oh, by the way, APW brought back memories....I had two gerbils, Fred and Ethel, and during one interstate move, my parents, my two little brothers, our two dogs, one cat, two gerbils and me were sharing a motel room. It was horribly hot outside, so all the animals were inside with us.

Despite the rattle of the air conditioning unit, Fred and Ethel proved their nocturnal nature in no uncertain terms, until my fuming father finally carried the cage outside to spend the rest of the night in the car. I cried myself to sleep, convinced they'd bake.

Of course, they were just fine...but the car sure had a strong ammonia-and-cedar-chips odor for the remainder of that particular trip!

Danette Haworth said...



Kanani said...

Oh, I'm so sorry about Mrs. Nutkin.

My kids want hamsters and guinea pigs, too. But I'm ALLERGIC to the things so that's that.

Just tell them if they get out they tend to do things like gnaw on electrical cords and burn down houses.


A Paperback Writer said...

Hissing cockroaches?!
geez. I'd vote for hamsters anyday, turds and all.

Mary Witzl said...

Carolie -- What a great story, and how I feel for your father! I can picture how tired and hot he must have been after what was undoubtedly a long, miserable drive in that heat, and then after having to shift your hamsters, he probably lay there listening to you sob and feeling very guilty. And then he had the ammonia-and-cedar-chip air freshener to put up with for the rest of the trip! And to think that my husband feels sorry for himself on the odd occasion that he finds the regurgitated rodent guts on the stairs before I do...

Danette -- They both have rock collections already, unfortunately. What they're after now is something that is warm and furry, that defecates.

Kanani -- This wouldn't cut any ice with my kids. No skin off their backs if the house burns down, after all; they probably figure they'd get new clothes that way.

APW: I absolutely agree. Imagine having to clean up cockroach dung. Imagine having to take one of the little blighters to the vet.

In Japan, we had to take our eldest's stag beetle to the vet once when he lost an antler. The vet fixed it back on with super glue. Honest.

Katie Alender said...

Poor Mrs. Nutkin! I had mice in high school. My sweet mouse, CheeseAnn, died at just a month old after some too-rough handling by my little sister's friend. The next one, Tarzan, was mean as all get-out, and of course he lived to be a year and a half old.

Get another cat!

Merry Jelinek said...

Hi Mary,

Just dropped back in to let you know that I tagged you