By Gretchen Wehmhoff
Raise your hand if you’ve ever brought a pet into your home based on the desires of your child. Keep your hand up if you hesitated because you knew who would really take care of that pet after the novelty wore off.
Example four (we are slow learners): Sammy the Hamster.
Examples one through three can be found in an earlier piece, “Diva Destructo the Cannonball Dog.” I haven’t yet written about example five, but I’ll get to it.
Our ten-year-old daughter (D) wanted a hamster. Her friend had one. It was cute. The friend offered her a hamster cage with a wheel. It was in our driveway.
“Please. He could stay in my room,” D pleaded.
“What about when you go to your mom’s on weekends?” I countered.
“I can clean the cage before I go and make sure it has water and food,” she promised.
Yes, you see it coming.
D and I visited the pet store. I never had small furry pets in my childhood and Joe, my husband, referred to them as rodents. This was a gamble.
At first look, they are adorable. Without the long tail, they almost looked like miniature guinea pigs. She chose a reddish blonde cutie with a nose in constant motion.
The clerk removed the hamster from the cage and placed it in an colorful cardboard box, similar to a Happy Meal ® box. It was designed as a small house with the handles at the top, folded together. He placed the box in a bag. I started to say, “We didn’t need the bag if we had the box.”
“Yes, you need this,” he said, adding a ‘trust me’ nod.
“What will you name it?” I asked D.
“I think I’ll name it Sammy.”
D was so pleased and grateful. She searched for a way to do something for me.
“Would you like to go to dinner at a Mexican restaurant?”
She had tired of me taking her to Mexican restaurants, and even though I would buy, she knew I would enjoy it.
We arrived at a local favorite. As I pulled up, I realized the winter temperature would be a challenge.
“We can’t leave it in the car. Maybe another time.”
“We can take him in. I’ll hold on to the bag.”
Just call me sucker.
We were seated in a booth near the back of the restaurant, the brown bag by her side.
Halfway through the meal, I asked how Sammy was doing.
She slowly opened the bag, just enough to peek, then squished it shut.
“He’s chewing through the box!”
I nearly tackled the food server with my voice.
“Excuse me. Could we please have a couple of boxes and the check. It’s kind of urgent.”
Fears of the rodent being released into a local eatery had me in major situational awareness. What would happen if the hamster broke through the bag? How would we contain it? We couldn’t. What would we do? Scenarios streamed through my brain.
“Excuse me, our hamster is under your feet, do you mind?” Headlines the next day might read: Local restaurant closed due to rodent sighting.
“Start shaking the bag. Don’t let it chew more,” I commanded.
The box was cardboard, the bag was a thin wall of paper. She started furiously shaking the bag. I told her a little gentler, please.
The wait staff brought the boxes and the checks. He asked what was in the bag.
“A hamster,” D said.
The server immediately started helping fill the containers. I paid in cash.
“Keep the change and thank you,”
We made it safely back to the car. D checked on the hamster.
“He’s out of the box.”
“Keep shaking the bag!”
I called Joe.
“Honey, we need the hamster cage ready as soon as we enter the driveway.”
“I’m still cleaning it,” he said,
“Please, it’s okay if it’s not dry. We’ll be there in 10 minutes.”
As I left the parking lot, I heard a tear.
“He’s chewing through the paper!” said D.
I glanced while shifting into third. A tiny head with a wiggly nose poked out of the bag.
“You may have to hold him, D,” I warned. “If he gets out, just cup him in your hands.
We were on the highway, cautiously over the speed limit. Just three miles from home Sammy broke free and D caught him like a bumble bee.
“I got him!”
She let out a scream. He had bitten her between her thumb and forefinger, escaping her grip. He was loose.
“Honey, you have to try to catch him in the bag.”
The hamster started crawling around her seat, dropped to the floorboards and nearly crossed over into my side. Thank goodness for the stick shift. I wasn’t sure how I could drive and use the clutch with a small animal running at my feet.
D captured the pet, still nursing her bite.
We pulled into the driveway. Joe was waiting with an innocent smile.
“Hi. Let me see him.”
“Later. Open the cage!”
I grabbed the bag with two hands and stuffed it into the cage. Both D and I finally let our breath out. We had a new pet, and it would stay in the cage.
(Ha, I know you know that was a wishful thought).
We placed Sammy’s cage on D’s dresser.
The next day we hunted for him.
Evidently there is an art to securing a hamster lock. We also learned that hamsters can reach through the bars. The bottom of D’s curtains were shredded and now a part of Sammy’s new nest.
She was surprised to find hamsters are nocturnal.
“He’s keeping me awake. His wheel squeaks. I can’t sleep,” D complained.
Her room was the only place to house the cage. We had a large German Shepherd and, no, the hamster wasn’t going to stink up my office.
I tried cooking spray to fix the noisy wheel. It worked, but we needed to get Sammy tired during the day. I picked up a cool plastic hamster ball at the store.
This is where I learned that both my husband and D were not fond of picking up the “rodent.”
I let Sammy walk around on my arms.
“Look. He’s fine. He was just scared when he bit you.”
D wasn’t convinced and Joe wasn’t touching him.
We opened the ball and dropped him in. We probably should have figured out how to close the ball before inserting the hamster.
I caught him and we tried again.
The ball was fun. It seemed like a good exercise toy for the hamster … and the German Shepherd. New rule: dog goes outside when the hamster plays in the ball.
The ball lasted two weeks until the day no one was watching as the ball rolled down the stairs. It even bounced. The ball lay cracked and Sammy was making his move.
Back to the cage.
We had some arguments about cleaning the cage. It was a chore that did not happen before she left for the weekend.
“My mom’s waiting. I don’t have time!”
Joe and I tired of taking care of the rodent. I even let out a scream as I got out of the shower and met Sammy in the upstairs bathroom.
Our first attempt at a child’s pet was educational. But like many, these parents didn’t really learn. There would be more.