When my youngest daughter was about five years old she asked me if she could have a hamster. Not an unusual request for a child of that age, and since I was tired of flushing identical dead goldfish down the toilet I was more than happy to accommodate her request for a slightly more robust species of pet. We went to the pet shop and she picked out a chocolate brown ball of fur which cost about ten dollars. This was a lot more than I had paid for the goldfish, but pound for pound the hamster was definitely cheaper and I figured it was far more likely to make it through the week so I wouldn’t need to buy another one too soon. She called the hamster “Hamster”.
But the hamster itself was only the beginning of the costs associated with this exercise. Hamsters need two-tiered cages with tiny ladders leading to the upper level, plus they need gravity-fed water dispensers and small plastic tubes to run through, and they need a cute little house to sleep in – not to mention the “hamster wheel” on the side of the cage that seems to be obligatory for the little blighters. Why do hamsters need wheels to run round in? Every other domestic pet manages perfectly well without them. You don’t see cats running around in them, and can you imagine how annoying it would be if there were such a thing as a dog wheel? The squeaky hamster wheel is annoying enough but imagine the noise if you had a Great Dane loping around all day in a giant wheel bolted to your wall. Actually, dogs are too stupid – they would probably get the wheel up to a good speed and then stop suddenly for a dump with disastrous consequences for the living room décor.
Very early one morning, about six months later, my little princess came running into my bedroom crying and screaming that Hamster had hung himself during the night. Half asleep, I started thinking back trying to remember any warning signs that I should have noticed, but then I realised this whole situation involved a five-year-old and a ball of fluff with no brain, so I clambered out of bed looking as concerned as I could and pretend-rushing as she pulled me urgently by the hand in the direction of her bedroom. As it turned out she was kind of right. Somehow the hamster had managed to fall down its little ladder and catch its leg between the wire rungs – it was now hanging upside down by its foot three inches above the ground and frantically thrashing around trying to rectify the situation. Its lower leg was horribly broken. My daughter begged me to save it.
I reached into the cage to grab the frantically squeaking hamster and take the weight off its mangled limb, but the little b*****d bit me. I quickly took off my T-shirt and wrapped it round my hand for protection, then lifted the casualty up, freed its leg and took it out of the cage. I couldn’t let it go because I knew it would try to run and cause itself more pain and damage, so I kept it wrapped in the T-shirt to immobilise it. I knew it wasn’t going to make it but I couldn’t tell a five-year-old that, so I told her to detach the water bottle from the cage and come with me. We went to my medicine cabinet and I took out some aspirin tablets, crumbled them up into the water and then let the hamster drink. I told my daughter to leave the hamster with me while she went to school and I would use the medicine to make it better before she got home that night. She went off to school concerned but happy.
One quick trip to the pet shop later that day and my daughter was able to come home to a “fully recovered Hamster”, although he had shrunk a little but she didn’t notice. What happened to the original hamster? He sleeps with the fishes.