I am not the biggest hamster fan. I admit my experience with them is somewhat scarce- up until vet school my entire knowledge of them was limited to the Hamster Dance site. Having never owned one, my handling time has been brief, but the handful I’ve gotten to work with have all proven to be hell on hamster wheels. I didn’t know a creature so small and round could turn around and bite so quickly- at least until I had to pick one up.*
When one comes in to the clinic, I make my technician pick them up so I can do my assessment. They squish them with a washcloth, pulling their extra skin back so they are immobilized in a combo scruff/Spock grip that neutralizes their Teeth of Doom. I give them a once over, make my recommendations, and send them on their way.
I do not do hamster surgery or anesthesia, though I’ve seen it done and it is something to behold, the tiny jury-rigged anesthesia masks and minute incisions. It’s like playing surgery with dollhouse miniatures.
In a tradition as old as time, my daughter’s kindergarten class has a hamster- which makes no sense to me since the hamsters I have known would like nothing less than to be held by a bunch of clumsy five year olds every day of their lives. Part of the ‘responsibility’ portion of the lesson involves a turn taking the hamster home for a weekend here and there.
I did it once, last fall, and though I don’t want to get into the details let’s just say we had a close call that left me trembling and clammy. Apple the Hamster nearly became Apple the Dearly Departed. It was horrible. The shame of being the veterinarian who lost the class hamster would have left me no other option than harakiri, or perhaps retiring to a remote Tibetan monastery to reflect on my life.
After this brush with the Reaper, I lied and told my daughter I was allergic to hamsters so it couldn’t be let out of its cage for the remainder of the weekend. On Monday, I delivered Apple safe and sound back to Room 23 and vowed never to take it home again.
Fast forward a few months. Apple the long haired Teddy Bear hamster came back from Christmas break reincarnated for the new year as Apple the short haired Golden hamster, thanks to some incident at a classmate’s house over vacation. They claim he ran away, so we are hopeful that the original hamster is living out his days in their backyard somewhere. I guess it could happen. I am just glad the shame and guilt is on someone else’s shoulders (though to be honest they were decidedly unapologetic, having shown up with a replacement that in no way even attempted to resemble the original.)
I found out on Friday that I had been volunteered to again host the hamster sleepover.
“Your daughter told me you said it was OK,” the teacher said in response to my perplexed stare. I nodded glumly. No going back now.
“Would you mind telling me,” she asked, “If this is a nice hamster?”
I took the hamster home gingerly. Placed him immediately in seclusion in my daughter’s room, shut all the doors, and threatened the children with grievous consequences should those doors wind up open at any time over the course of the weekend.
That evening, I surveyed the hamster habitat. It was pretty gross. I don’t think anyone in the past few weeks had done much maintenance to the cage, and it showed -and smelled. I looked at him, and he looked back, yawning to display his long yellow teeth (discolored, no doubt, with the dried blood of multitudinous children.)
With no other options than to empty the cage and start over, I sighed and ushered the hamster into his ball. He went willingly. When he tried to climb out, I nudged him back in, and miracle of miracles, he didn’t bite me.
My husband monitored the hamster while I cleaned everything out and put in fresh bedding. When I came back with the clean cage, I found the kids on the floor, delightedly playing with the hamster. There was no blood anywhere. I was shocked. My servitude, apparently, had pleased him.
Apple has enjoyed a weekend of relative peace and solitude, being left to his own devices while we went on with our weekend routine. I did catch Brody sitting in front of the bureau, just staring with that intent look he gets shortly before tearing off after Apollo, but he got shoo’ed out quickly enough. It has been pleasant.
Apple does not, I am happy to report, have devil-eyes.
He’s chubby and jolly and even- dare I say it?- kinda cute. As I write this, he is propped up in the corner like a furry Buddha, meditatively contemplating a piece of dried corn. More Shrek than Ugluk, he sits atop a pile of grains he has buried beneath him, visible through the strata of bedding like an archaeologic dig. He is a pacifist hamster, needing only fresh bedding and peace offerings of food for quiescence.
Yes Virginia, there is a Nice Hamster.
* Note- I know that that is a guinea pig from G Force in the first picture. I like the picture and it captures the ‘evil’ look pretty well, so you are just going to have to deal with the inaccuracy. If it bothers you that much, seriously, you’re at the wrong site.
awww hammys I love how cute they look. Rats make way better pets!!! I have had three and all of them were very speical to me and the cats loved them too.
So glad adventures in Hammy land were successful!
Georgia Jewel says
We had a teddy bear hamster that had been hand raised and he was a total sweetheart. My boys had no trouble holding him. The more socialization and handling they get , the better they are with people. RIP Buddy, we still miss you!
Hamster Dance all around 🙂
One Christmas break my daughter brought home the class hermit crab. I faithfully put food in it’s tank every day but it wasn’t until the end of vacation that I figured out the damn thing was dead– and had been for quite some time as it stank and was moldy!!! But what bothered me more than anything was; what had eaten it’s food??
Dr. V says
OMG- lolol! Geez! 😀
My sister had 4 hermit crabs when we were kids. One died, (I think Ethel) and we had a little funeral. Then we found Ethel in a new shell. She had molted her skin and upgraded her home. We had buried the moltings!
Not the circle of life lesson my parents had planned!
lol, Syrian hamsters (including any hamster that includes “golden,” “teddy bear,” “panda bear,” etc in the name) tend to be nice creatures, for the most part. They are much more docile and patient than their russian/roborovski cousins, who are all lightning fast helldemons if you ask me. I’ve only met maybe 2 or 3 nice russian hamsters, and I’m an exotic pet vet, so I see a lot of them 😉 You can educate and impress your daughter’s class by informing them that hamsters are omnivores and should be eating lab block supplemented by small amounts of fresh veggies, occasional fruit, cheese, lean meat and/or nuts as treats. Russian hamsters are a totally different game and cannot have the seed mix crap they sell in the pet stores, as it makes them prone to diabetes. They need a diet high in vegetable and grain content (think oats and barley, not millet and sunflower seeds which is what is in those seed mixes). You should throw that out at them, and they will be amazed by your hamster know-how. We also recommend paper-based bedding (like Carefresh) instead of pine or cedar, which can be irritating to mucous membranes and predispose to respiratory infection. Common syrian hamster ailments include abscesses, wet tail (diarrhea), heart disease and cutaneous (skin based) lymphoma. Woo! I’m on a roll. Apple the hamster is very cute 🙂 glad you had a stress-free weekend free of ocelot attacks!
Dr. V says
Wow, will you look at that. You are a veritable fount of hamster-knowledge.
I’m glad it went smoothly!
I have to say that one thing makes me really annoyed, though–the dirty cage. How is a hamster supposed to teach the kids compassion and responsibility if the teacher allows his cage to be dirty during the week? Arrgh.
Dr. V says
Susan Montgomery says
Not hamster fan, everyone of my friends who had them growing up would lose them pretty quickly. They would them hear the hamster in their walls, and find evidence here and there of them, but never actually see them again. Give me a G-pig any day! Easy to cuddle, comes when you call (or at least when you crinkle lettuce) and easy to find if they get loose because they have a constant commentary going on. You can also make them wear your doll clothes. (Don’t ask my how I know that)
Lisa W says
I used to have a Teddy Bear hamster named Joey, who was a real sweetie. He was very well-socialized. Loved to be cuddled, used to run its ball over and deliberately bump into our poor old beagle, who just looked resignedly at the thing and sighed.I agree with Susan as far as guinea pigs being better pets, though. as they have more of a personality, but I can’t attest to any doll clothes experiments!!!
Dirty cage = big yuckiness!
What I’m dying to know is what Apple’s fate will be once summer rolls around. Will the little hammy be stuck with the teacher who doesn’t seem to care for cleaning his cage?
Dr. V says
He goes home with one of the kids (not me).
heather t says
My little sister had to bring home the class hamster once when I was a teenager……”Elvis”, he was very rowdy and seemed to be hyped up on sugar or something. Sunday morning came along, and ther was poor Elvis, dies inside one of the tubes in his hamster mansion, upside down no less. Boy was my mom embarrassed;)
I have fond — and not so fond — memories of my hamsters, Leba and Niac (Cain and Abel spelled backwards, so named because they were the offspring of my friend’s hamsters, Adam and Eve, but were both female). Hamsters were the only pets permitted in my Brooklyn household — my mother feared all creatures great and small — and when they escaped their cage one day my mother was horrified. Leba and Niac were finally recovered, dusty but otherwise unharmed, from their sojourn behind the refrigerator.
Leba and Niac were not docile cage mates and used to attack each other with great enthusiasm. I finally separated them, thinking that there was a chance to save Leba, who bore the brunt of Niac’s hamster ire. Now this may seem odd, but I’m sure I called an animal rescue group to help me save Leba (going to a vet wasn’t an option, which is even odder, looking back at it). The reason I remember calling for outside help: The man who came over to get Leba took one look in her cage and said, “Girly, that hamster’s dead. We don’t take dead hamsters.” And he left, leaving me distraught and leaving my father to deal with the hamster disposal.
Dr. V says
That is hysterical (in retrospect.) It’s like a Monty Python skit.
Shelley @ Green Eggs & Hamlet says
Great job on the hamster-sitting. Growing up, my brother’s class had a bunny with the same story – travel to a different child’s home each weekend. The bunny was as bad as Apple I – didn’t want to be held and had a penchant for biting. I’d take sweet Apple II any day. (Maybe I should call it Apple Jr. as Apple II sounds like an old computer?)
i had a few teddy bear hamsters when i was in high school and college. they were all pretty oblivious to anything that you did to them and i don’t recall ever being bit. at the time, they were the only pets i was allowed, other than the family dog. ;iuved my little hamsters, but they seem superfluous now that i can have ‘real’ pets.
maybe the original apple was cranky from being around children all the time. i could understand that. he/she must have had lots of bad experiences, i would think.
I am not a huge hamster fan, but I do have to admit that a well-socialized hamster is an absolute joy. I’d rather have a rat, personally (they’re like having tiny dogs!), but hamsters have that adorable face. Err… when they lack devil eyes.
I had a hamster escape for a whole week once. I’d given her up for lost when I found her in the bottom of a vase of peacock feathers. She can’t have been there an entire week but thank goodness I found her when I did–not only for the obvious “yay I saved my ham!” reason, but also because can you imagine trying to find where the smell was coming from when it was under a thicket of peacock feathers? *shudder*
She was sweet. I miss having a hamster at times, just to watch them stuff their little cheekies. Miratelly could get a whole cherry in each of hers.