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.