Egads! My 7-year-old wants a proper pet. Not a kitten or a puppy – we’ve come out the other side of her dog phase with thankfully nothing but the ability to spell Chihuahua. She wants a pet hamster. We’re not completely new to pets having had goldfish for a while. We’ve done the fish naming, the renaming, the wearing off of the novelty, the renaming (again), the dying, the crying and the burying in the back garden. But a hamster? That’s a proper bona fide pet with personality.
No disrespect to the fish. They need more care than I ever imagined or indeed signed up to. Long gone are the days you could win a goldfish at the fair and simply pop it in a bowl of tap water with a bit of gravel. In favour of fish, their tank has a filter to keep it clean between my irregular interventions with a siphon and we enjoy a pretty hands-off relationship. Hamsters, on the other hand, require handling. They wee in jars and trample it through the cage on their knobbly paws, finger painting with their own urine. They poo tiny pellets that are – to us short-sighted folk – undistinguishable from sock fluff until you give them a little squeeze or sniff. Hamsters bite, escape, demand a never-ending supply of sunflowers seed and toilet rolls and get wet tail.
Despite all this, we’ve not said ‘no’ to welcoming a furry friend into our home. We were already resigned to the fact it was going to happen before my daughter found this ‘helpful’ video on YouTube:
The advice in the video explains some unusual behaviour we’ve seen over the last couple of weeks, namely my daughter’s sudden interest in being helpful. Our first thought was that pocket money was the motivating force, but we were one step behind: responsible behaviour + chores = pocket money = BUY OWN HAMSTER, SO THERE. There had been warning signs. The jar next to her bed labelled ‘money for hamster’ is perhaps something we should have taken more seriously.
Thanks to the internet she’s done her research. (And all without inadvertently stumbling upon anything relating to Richard Gere.) In fact, she’s become a veritable hamster guru. Her friend took me aside before a recent playdate and asked not to be made to watch hamster videos – it’s a fine line between guru and bore. Did you know that mesh wheels are bad for hamsters’ feet? No, nor did I. Did you know that it’s good to feed a hamster cucumber on a car journey to keep it hydrated? No, nor did I. Neither did I envisage that we’d be taking our hamster in a car with enough regularity or for such a distance that we’d need to worry about Hammy shrivelling up.
There, it has a name. Hammy. It’s practically boxed up and on its way out of the pet shop now. But we wouldn’t call it something as unoriginal as Hammy. My daughter had something in mind a bit more Kardashian, a bit more Hollywood: Sadness. (She has also earmarked the names Misery and Silence for her children. And I was surprised when she asked for a wall in her bedroom to be painted black?) Fortunately, Auntie Jackie, the other all-knowing hamster guru in our family, successfully vetoed Sadness and so Precious is now top of the list. Clearly, a good old-fashioned human name isn’t what the modern hamster aspires to. What psychological damage did I do to Oscar, Amy and Henrietta, the hamsters of my own childhood?
I owned several hamsters. They live such a short time, it’s amazing how many you can cram in if you don’t mourn too long. They were all loved and well looked after but strangely they still haunt me. When stressed, most people dream about being chased or sitting in an exam they’ve not revised for. I dream about having forgotten to clean out the hamster. A mere whiff of worry and hello hamster anxiety dream. That’s deep psychological damage I’m about to unearth.
Here’s hoping hamster ownership doesn’t prove to be a nightmare.