Posted on Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hamster Suicide Hotline, May I Help You?

I should never be allowed to own hamsters. I don’t want to go into details here, but my sordid history with hamsters is a multi-part saga fraught with bloodshed and heartbreak. They should make a mini-series about it, like Roots, or maybe just a movie-of-the-week. Or an after-school special on Animal Planet. Or at least a public service announcement on PBS. Anyway, if there were an on-line registry for hamster offenders (the same as they have for sex offenders), my name would be on it. Rodents would be out picketing in front of my house. I’d have to move the whole family out of state.

What I’m trying to make clear is that I should never live under the same roof with a hamster.

So, of course, what does Herbie start bugging us about the minute that damn Hamtaro cartoon premiers? You got it. “Mom, when can I get a hamster?” (Notice the use of the presumptive sell—that’s my boy.)

“When pigs fly, my boy. When the South rises again. When you can ski down the ice-coated sides of the smoking peaks of Hell. That’s when.”

“So, September sounds good. We can make it a birthday present!”

“Let me make this perfectly clear, Herbie: there will be no—and I mean NO—hamsters in this house. Ever. Unless someday I die alone in this house, and hamsters find their way inside to gnaw on my forgotten and moldering remains, you will never see me and a hamster in this house at the same time. Never. As in Not Ever. Got it? NEVER.”

So the next day he goes to Howser and asks, “Dad, when can we get a hamster?”

“Well,” says Howser, “You’d have to have a cage first. They make some really cool hamster cages these days.”

“Could I get one of those balls that the hamster can use to roll across the floor too?”

“Let’s go on-line and see what we can find!”

This, of course, started them down a road from which there was no turning back. They looked at all sorts pet store sites and read customer reviews of the various cages that are out there. Howser, being a potted ficus tree, is a bit of a shut-in, so on-line shopping is his specialty. Together, he and Herbie mentally moved into the Hamster Dream Castle before I even knew they were discussing the subject.

The next thing you know, a cute little teddy-bear hamster named Cinnamon has taken up residence in a multi-level rodent habitat on top of Herbie’s dresser. Everyone was very excited (especially the cat), except for me.

A hamster’s heart is a tiny little doomsday clock, ticking down the moments until the hamster shuffles off his fuzzy coil and leaves some unfortunate adult all alone to handle body disposal (can one flush a hamster? Anybody?) and a grief-stricken child. That day came, predictably, on Herbie’s birthday.

While Herb was still at school, some vague feeling of dread drew me to his room to check on the hamster. I checked the lobby level of Cinnamon’s cage first. Not finding him there, I turned the cage to get a better view into the penthouse. It was then that something fell into the connecting tube from above, landing with a thud against a wad of fetid bedding that I then saw was completely clogging the tube. Face first, as it turns out. As lively as a rock.

Great. Just great.

Evidently Cinnamon, a prodigious pooper from the outset, had become dissatisfied with the bedding he’d fouled in the penthouse. Unwilling to sleep in it, he kicked it down the tube until it was thoroughly clogged. As a result, he blocked off his airflow to the enclosed penthouse, and the blockage itself sent poisonous fumes up to where he was sleeping. In other words, he managed to commit suicide by self-asphyxiation. I only hope there was no auto-erotic element involved. This was going to be hard enough to explain to Herbie without getting into fetishes.

And just how was I going to get a dead hamster dislodged from an acrylic tube before Herbie got home? Finding the tube glued into place in the cage, I took the only reasonable course of action under the circumstances: I got a wire coat-hanger and twisted it into a hook.

After opening the penthouse, I could have gone after the body from above, but, being afraid I might accidentally spear it rather than simply hook it, I elected to use the hanger to start digging out the blockage from below. As I picked away at the wood shavings, I noticed Cinnamon’s back foot twitch. On one hand, a dying hamster might be better than a dead one. Herb would have a chance to say his goodbyes. On the other, we could end up with a rodent in a persistent vegetative state and have to debate about when to discontinue life support. The day was just getting better and better.

As I got more of the shavings loosened, Cinnamon’s head jerked to one side. When I finally dislodged the clog, the hamster slid out the bottom of the tube and took in a couple of huge breaths of air. Then he opened his eyes, much as Dorothy did at the end of the Wizard of Oz, and flipped back onto his stubby little paws. After staggering a couple of drunken turns on his exercise wheel, he was back to the business of begging for pumpkin seeds.

This was several days ago, and Cinnamon is still among the living. Herbie is none the wiser. Because, as it turns out, the best part about hamsters is that one who has suffered long-term brain damage due to lack of oxygen is virtually indistinguishable from any other hamster on the planet. And if Cinnamon ever succeeds at committing suicide in the future, at least it won’t be on Herbie’s birthday.

6 Response to " "

surly girl Says:

an ex of mine cremated a hamster once. i still worry that it might be illegal.

OldHorsetailSnake Says:

The old "suspended animation" trick. Most hamsters know that one. It's used to get a lot of "you poor baby" seeds.

FTS Says:

Ah, so now you have taken that huge step from Cinnamon-hater to Cinnamon savior.

You are destined to be haunted by that hamster from now on, you know, right?

Jona Says:

I read with horrified giggles imagining Herbie arriving home as you skewered poor Cinnamon. Am overjoyed at the outcome! (though I understand your aversion to have him in the house ;o))

Dave Morris Says:

That's why I always prefer guinea pigs.

And what's with the name? They aren't from guinea, nor are they any variety of swine.

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