Thursday, March 17, 2016

The Day the Hamster Died


"You need to come down her and look at this," I told my wife. "The cat caught a mouse."

"Well, take it away from him and throw it out."

"I don't think it's a mouse," I said. "I think it's Hamster."

One year prior we made the mistake of telling our girls that if they displayed some modicum of responsibility we said we'd consider getting them a small pet -- like a hamster. Of course, in toddler speak, that means you're getting them a hamster. Not in a few months, not in a few weeks and not in a few days. To them, that means you are loading up the van, making the mecca to PetSmart, and rescuing some poor, unsuspecting creature from a glorious life behind bullet-proof glass, with an endless supply of food and friends to run around with, and dropping him straight into hamster Hell -- a house with two cats and two toddlers. Because one of the many things I've learned about being a parent is that you can only stand firm for so long against your children before you give up and allow yourself to get willingly steamrolled.

Looking back, it's a miracle his run even lasted two years. The day we brought him home we set up his cage and then went out to eat. We came back home to his cage door unhinged and flung open, and one of the cats sitting with half of her body in the hamster cage and the other half out, and the other cat standing guard one foot away. I yanked the cat out, trying to remember if we had any shoe boxes we could bury this thing in and mentally mapping out the eulogy in my head. I was also thinking about whether or not this was the right time for one of those no-bullshit children's books like The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, and wondered if there was something along the lines of Tough Shit: Your Hamster Died and Your Cats are Assholes. But as I was rustling through the cedar chips, I heard a squeak and saw two very-alive tiny, beady black eyes looking back at me. Against all odds, the little bastard was alive.

We used duct tape and yarn to shore up the weak points the cats had sniffed out, and the hamster would spend the bulk of the next couple of years getting eye-humped by the cats and kicked around the house in a plastic ball by the children. While they weren't ideal conditions, I'm sure there are hamsters out there who have it much worse, and I'm sure there are also some that end up on the losing end of the battle with the cat on their first day.

And so it was for nearly a year -- until we moved.

We'd set the hamster up in the downstairs living area, where he could still get love and where we were fairly certain the cats would leave him alone. And that was the case until I was sitting downstairs one night after everyone else had gone to bed, and I heard something squeaking and saw one of the cats going crazy. I thought a mouse had worked it's way in and the cat was doing his job. So I cheered on the cat until he whacked the mouse against a wall and the mouse stopped moving. Assuming the battle was over, I walked over to the mouse, which looked a lot like the hamster. And then it scurried away. The cat had lost interest, so I chased the creature for a bit, eventually going upstairs to get help from my wife.

She ran downstairs, took a look at the tiny lump of fur, and verified that it was, in fact, the hamster. By that time the cat had regained interest, so my wife was standing downstairs and yelling out a play-by-play of me and the cat attempting to wrangle what looked like an incredibly elusive brown cotton ball. For NFL fans, picture Tony Siragusa trying to tackle Barry Sanders in the open field. For non-NFL fans it was like a monkey trying to hump a coconut. It wasn't pretty, and again I found myself wondering if we had any shoe boxes and trying to remember the eulogy I'd mapped out a year ago. I finally caught the hamster, who had again survived against unlikely odds.

A few weeks later we had some work done in the basement that required an entire day of jack-hammering. So we relocated everything, including the hamster, upstairs. But even the upstairs rattled for the entire day and sounded like we were relentlessly under siege by heavy machine gun fire. After the work was finished, we kept the hamster upstairs as an experiment and went about our marry way.

After a few days of having the hamster upstairs we noticed a weird smell emanating from the vicinity where we'd relocated him. At first we thought something had just died in the walls, so we braced ourselves to ride it out -- until we went to feed and water hamster, and change his bedding. We noticed he hadn't eaten or drank anything, and he hadn't shit at all on his running wheel -- one of the few joys he probably got out of his largely fear-laden life. So I poked around, found him, and fished him out -- validating the source of the smell. The poor guy escaped certain death at the hands of the cats in the open twice only to get taken out by the constant pounding of a jackhammer one level beneath him.

We told the girls that hamster had moved on, like Barney in the book, and they were appropriately sad for five minutes -- before banding together to bang the drum for a dog.

Rest assured, they are not getting a dog -- at least until next weekend.

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