by Andrea Mulder-Slater
It's been a little over a week since we added a new member to our family. He loves bananas, has teeth like a Medieval snake and he eats his own poop.
Let me back up.
My daughter is cuckoo for animals. She loves them. A lot. It’s a deep kind of love. The kind that makes her heart ache every time she sees a dog, hears a story about a turtle, thinks about a kitten or smells a chicken.
See, from the time she could comprehend such things, my girl has told all who would listen, that when she grows up, she is going to be a veterinarian. Because, she says, “I take good care of animals.”
The kid loves critters.
But – and this is where life grabs you by your ear lobe, forces you to the ground and steps on your left shoulder until you vomit and pass out - my kid (you know, the one who LOVES animals) is allergic. To animals. Specifically, dogs and cats. You know, PETS.
When you’re a parent with a child who desperately wants a pet, and is no longer satisfied with a menagerie of stuffed toys (most of whom are currently sporting Dora the Explorer Band-Aids)… you improvise.
And then -- after you've encouraged your four year old to play with a jar of window flies, a dead Luna Moth scraped off the road, and a mummified cricket found hidden in the tractor bucket -- you telephone Joe.
Joe is our rodent guy. At least, he is now.
Joe told me a hamster would be the ideal pet for our family. Specifically, a Black Bear, Teddy Bear or Panda Bear hamster. He also said mice are great companions, because they are frantically friendly – offsetting the fact that they smell like armpits and urine.
It’s entirely possible that Joe transports rats on his head.
Joe also said I should get to the pet store soon to take advantage of a “Buy a cage, get a hamster free” promo. Also, he wouldn’t be working tomorrow so I should ask for Philip.
As it happened, Philip was a good sport as he carefully inspected the private parts of several Black Bear hamsters while my daughter waited patiently. Satisfied, he showed us our new pet - a 6-month-old boy, who my girl immediately designated, “Blackie”.
We were counting heavily on Philip’s knowledge of hamster’s genitalia, since males are apparently much calmer and less likely to bite, than females. Sexing a hamster (I swear, this is scientific terminology) appears to be a “one lump or two” kind of method. It’s a system Philip was (thankfully) familiar with.
Happy with the choice, we sped off with scores of hamster paraphernalia and a tiny, nervous mouse-like creature huddled in the corner of a cage, on the back seat of the car.
Once we arrived home, we realized none of us had the slightest idea of what to do with a hamster. And so, we took him out of his cage and let him run around in my daughter’s baby bath (dry but lined with a tea towel) where he promptly burrowed himself under a coffee stain and a dried up blueberry.
Getting him back in his cage involved a fair amount of expletives beginning with the words HOLY and MOTHER. By the time the traumatized animal was back in his enclosure, he had a look in his eyes that said, “What the $%*# is wrong with you people? Are you freaking insane?” and "Have you seen my teeth?"
It’s remarkable to think we were permitted to bring our daughter home from the hospital four and a half years ago.
When it came to rodent care, we weren’t in Joe territory, clearly. In fact, we had no effing clue what we were doing. So, the next morning, I consulted the experts online. And by experts I mean four hundred and thirty-six twelve-year-old girls with You Tube videos on how to feed, train, clean and tame your hamster.
I discovered there are strict guidelines when it comes to hamster care.
Rule #1: Do not, under any circumstance, take your hamster out of his cage when you first bring him home. Wait until he has had a chance to get used to your home for two days to a week.
Rule #2: Never, ever swear at or near your hamster, or your 4 year old daughter.
Rule #3: Don’t panic if your hamster starts to eat his own feces. Just chill and listen to Justin Bieber.
Bottom line - I now have a hamster playground in my living room.
I’ll write that last sentence again, just in case it didn’t register.
I now have a hamster playground. In my living room.
And, I've become skilled at crafting homemade hamster toys out of toilet paper rolls. Also, after several rounds of “Is he going to bite me?”, “I don’t want to hurt him!” and “Will he ever stop eating his own poop?” We can all cup a hamster like nobody’s business, which sounds far less appropriate than it should.
But, I’m exhausted. Because - and here’s the thing – hamsters are nocturnal, which is no big thing, except... I need to know what he is doing. At. All. Times. Mostly I'm convinced he will somehow find a way to MacGyver his way out of the cage, scurry behind the filing cabinets and disappear until the smell of old feet takes over the office.
2am: He is sitting on his wheel. Not running. Just sitting.
3am: He is moving wood chips from one side of his cage to the other.
4am: He is stuffing his cheeks full of toilet paper.
We may have bought ourselves a dud.
Come to think of it, having a hamster as a pet is not so different from having a newborn in the house. I'm bleary eyed and nervous and, there's a fair amount of poop involved.
But most of all, I have a ridiculously happy kid.
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