Friday, July 30, 2004

Living in the hamster years

Published July 2004

We were expecting company. I instructed our children to clean their hamster cages. Dutifully, they set to work. ‘Bosco’, the big hairy teddy bear hamster was overjoyed to be free of his cage. I could hear my son, Conor, squealing as he let him crawl around on his shoulders near his ear. ‘Pinky’, the little dwarf hamster was about to get his cage cleaned too. Pinky isn’t kid-friendly and hates to be handled. I don’t particularly like Pinky.

Meanwhile at another part of the house, I was working on an endless amount of laundry, thinking about matching socks someday and how dirty the house fans looked, when I heard the first scream around noon. “Mom!” hollered my 7-year old daughter, “Hurry up…come quick, Pinky…He’s having a baby”! Yeah right, I whined. I slowly made my way to the kids’ room. Pinky, the biting hamster probably had a poop stuck to his tail, and it would be my job to deliver him.

Peering in to the cage, it was clear the ‘little guy’ was dragging his lower body around the newly cleaned cage and it appeared he was trying to give birth. My thoughts raced and I thoughtfully encouraged “him” to push. The struggle went on for two hours as we all monitored her progress like nervous fathers. This led to conversations with my kids about how hard it was for moms to have babies. We watched her breathing and how she would get excited for a while and then rest for a minute to get her strength back. I was mid-wiving a hamster!

We decided to look at books, call people who knew about hamsters and we Google’d our way on the internet in search of information. Everything seems to point in the direction of leaving her alone and letting nature take its course. I couldn’t improvise myself out of this one with my kids. What do you do if a dwarf hamster needs a C-section? Flashbacks of old ER episodes came to life. “Shannon, get me 3 cc’s of Demerol STAT plus 500 ml glucose IV and page Dr. Hamstersavior in OB now..Go! Go! Go!

Ultimately, the situation became gravely worse as it appeared the hamster had prolapsed but I will spare you the details. I never felt so helpless. She looked terrible but she was still alive. Remember those old movies when “Pa” would pull the rifle off the mantle, pat the young boy on the head and walk silently out the door to the barn where you didn’t see what he was doing but you just heard the sound of the single shot? All this happened while the camera panned down to the sobbing child who always ran away from home “I hate you Pa”…as he fled into the woods overnight just to punish his parents. I didn’t have a hamster rifle over my mantle. Mission level now elevated, I weighed my options in front of my troops. This scene needed a M*A*S*H response and I was Radar O’Reilly.

We headed for the emergency vet where I imagined we’d rack up hundreds of dollars in bills for hamster IV’s, cardio pulmonary hamster-sized resuscitation pads and hamster surgical retractors. Luckily, as I exited highway 50 at Shingle Springs I saw the Lee’s Feed sign like a beacon of salvation to save me from the wrath of J.D. who wouldn’t understand paying such bills for a pregnant dwarf hamster who was supposed to be a boy. I found a sympathetic lady who basically affirmed what I found to be a hopeless situation for Pinky. “If it were me, I would take her home and wrap her in something and put her in the freezer. She’ll go to sleep quickly and it will end her agony. I’m sorry I wish we could do something”.

When we got home I took tissue and wrapped Pinky up and gently laid her in a size 4 coffee filter. My two youngest followed me out the back door in a funeral procession worthy of all the Italian ancestors in our family, saying their woeful goodbyes to Pinky. She was buried under the rock in the front yard the next day. My husband does all the critter funerals because he has such eloquence at times like these. “Pinky Maher was a spunky ol’ gal and we’re gonna miss him”. It brought back fond memories of another hamster funeral 33 years previous presided over by my father, whose own eloquence cannot be overlooked with “God bless the rat”. My hamster’s name was “Snuffy”, a critter who died at the hands of my sister, Trish, who had fed him a box of Vicks cough drops. These were stored by the hamster in both his cheeks until rigor mortis set in.

My job was done. Living in the hamster years means cleaning, nursing and undertaking my kids’ critters. The revelation that stayed with me after this experience was that Pinky had endeared herself to me in her greatest hour of suffering. Even people have a tendency to have that same effect on us, whether we like them or not.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

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