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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It really does not take much to win my heart. I wear it pinned on my sleeve. And where small helpless young things are concerned I probably have an overactive maternal instinct. Which, on the whole, has been a very good thing. I've raised hummingbirds and chimney swifts and phoebes and waxwings to name just a few, and two very very sweet children and sometimes I find myself daydreaming about baby knuckles with dimples instead of bumps and I know it's going to be a very long wait until Phoebe gives forth with a grandchild, but I can wait. I cherish the still-little parts of Phoebe and Liam, and I have a dog who looks like a baby, and life is very good.

My kids are getting to the age where they want pets, their OWN pets, something young and helpless they can care for, and that is a beautiful thing. Since we have the Dog to End All Dogs there are no puppies on the horizon. Liam talks about a bearded dragon and I think that's going to stay in the realm of talk. The $100 price tag on one is just the beginning of some expensive upkeep. And I dunno, lizards...we've met some very sweet ones but they're still a a little foreign and spiky, a little salmonellaey for me. We have a line on a hatchling box turtle who needs to be raised for release on our place, and it's been promised to Liam, so we'll go with that.

A while ago we met a Chinese dwarf hamster named Monster who belongs to Phoebe's cousins. I was never much for hamsters, not after my sister brought one home from the biolabs at William and Mary, and we named her Maggie, and long after she'd been in residence rocketing around her cage and throwing cedar shavings all over the place, long after she should have been the Virgin Maggie, she popped out some little red beanie babies, and proceeded to throw them against the bars of the cage and do other unspeakable things to them. She must've stored the sperm for a couple of months. It was upsetting to a nine year old who was trying to do everything right. So hamsters, ehhhh.

And then along came Monster. Monster is calm and quiet and very sweet and she doesn't bite unless your hands smell of food. She walks slowly over your hands and arms and doesn't make any sudden moves and she crawled into the crook of my arm and found a spot of sun and fell asleep on me and my heart melted clean away. So did Phoebe's. It had to do with being trusted utterly by a small helpless animal who should by all rights be afraid of me.

Right then and there I decided to try to find a Chinese dwarf hamster just like Monster for Phoebe, which proved to be harder than I thought. All the area pet stores have Russian dwarves which seem to be fast and nippy and rather nasty on the whole. I have yet to meet a pet store employee who likes them. There are regular Siberians like Maggie which I'm sure are fine, but they don't appeal to Phoebe.

Marietta doesn't have them, and Columbus doesn't have CDH's. So Phoebe went to and found someone about three hours away from us, but still in Ohio, who breeds the durn things. She emailed the breeder and the breeder emailed back. Why, that's just how I met Jane, Chet's breeder! Last we heard, she was introducing a male and female CDH and lo and behold they liked each other and have been sleeping together. She said you can't tell the females are pregnant until three days before they give birth at which point they look like a furry ping pong ball. Oh, joy. So we're waiting. Maybe two, three months. It reminds me of waiting for Chet Baker to be born. I like the idea of getting a pet directly from a home breeder. It sure worked out well with Chet. I don't mind driving three hours for a good hamster. We drove eight hours to get Chet from Pups Will Travel.

I know what you're thinking. So: What about that Bacon? who is at this very moment standing with his pawdies on the edge of the kitchen table murpphing for his second bikkit of the night. Would a CDH just be another bikkit for him? Well, despite his insatiable appetite for chasing small furry rodents outdoors, The Bacon is a very good boy. He has spent a couple of hours with his jellybean nose pressed up against the bars of Monster's cage, mere inches from her, and has never tried anything. He just likes to look. He will not jump up to try to grab Monster while you're holding her and he knows in his bones that hurting her would be a bad, bad thing to do. It is probably the ultimate test of a Boston's self-restraint, but we think he's up to it. Needless to say her tank will be on a high shelf. And he will be behind closed doors when Monster goes walkabout. But we believe in The Bacon.


There's yer Chetfix. And for the hammie fans, a Hamfix. The first, but I hope not the last one.


The endless capacity of creatures to trust us humans--who so many times have done unspeakable things to then--just amazes me.
Our first ever pet (our being my husband and me) was the classroom gerbil my science teacher husband brought home over summer. Joe Gerbil lived for 3 years, winning my heart completely. He would climb out of his cage, sniff me, nip me lightly--as if to say "is it you"--and then go back in the cage. We buried him under a tree at our first house.

And the endless capacity of humans to love them back amazes me. We are funny and wonderful beasts.

I remember trying to bring a hamster home from Woolworth's when I was a kid. My mom freaked out, and made us march right back in to get a refund. Too close to a rat for her I suppose. Hope the breeding is successful and that Phoebe finds a sweet pet of her very own.

I really enjoyed this post because both Hamsters and Gerbils always seemed like bitey unpettable "pets" to me.

I had G.Pigs as a kid and they were holdable and had the sweet habit of whistling at you when you walked in the room ... pretty endearing.

Later with my kids, we owned a succession of female rats which were tons of fun to play with, but such short lives. Too many repeated heartaches and after a while we just couldn't do it any more.

Love that pic of Chet. What terrier restraint.

Yes, FC, the 2-3 year lifespan is going to be a problem, I can already see. Sometimes when I'm bumming out about another dying fish in my Amazon tank, I stop and have to realize the poor thing is seven or eight years old...Methuselah for a tetra! I doubt we'll handle the hamster burnthrough well.

I wish you would have at least mentioned that you TRIED to find a rescue group or shelter before supporting pet stores or breeders. Do you not know about the pet overpopulation crisis? It is just as acute for small animals, like birds and rodents, as it is for cats and are supporting an industry, which includes home breeders, that makes money by churning out more and more PRODUCT for the trade, while perfectly wonderful and loveable pets languish in shelters and are put to sleep by the millions. Yes, shelters get small animals too. My local shelter usually has at least a dozen rabbits waiting for home, a couple of birds and assorted reptiles and rodents. It's disappointing to me because I have a lot of respect and admiration for you but you seem to think breeders and pet stores are perfectly ok places to get animals and they are not. They are a money making, exploitive industry. Most pets from breeders will not be as lucky as the ones that come to live in YOUR wonderful home.

Mrs. Tiggywinkle, well loved guinea pig lady, was my daughters' pet for several years when they were little. The tank was up high, as you suggest, since Penny our Airedale terrier was not the mannerly creature Chet is. She was a whistler, just like FC mentioned. And like Donna said, she is buried under a tree in the backyard.

Dear Maggie,

I appreciate your passion in making your views known, but I suspect that you live in an urban area, if your pet shelters are overflowing with exotica. Ours out here in the Ohio sticks are full of cats and large dogs. With a two to three-year lifespan, I’d be very surprised if any Chinese dwarf hamsters ended up in animal shelters.

I won’t set foot in a pet store that sells puppies and kittens. I don’t happen to think they are “perfectly ok places” to get animals. But I’d counter by asking you this: What demonstrable harm is being done by buying a captive-bred hamster from someone who's breeding them in her home on a low level?

On the "industry" side of your argument, if you find a good, small-scale home breeder who's willing to welcome you into her living room to meet the parents and grandparents of the puppy you're purchasing, who is making a killing on the pets she sells, tell me about it. I know several people who'd like to know the secret to that. Buying a pet from a home breeder, for me, is entering into a buisness and personal relationship with that person. You may rest assured that I do not patronize animal “mills.”

This is a personal blog, not the mission statement of a corporation or conservation nonprofit. It's my life, offered up free every day for the entertainment of my readers.

Thanks for expressing your views.


I am remembering when my daughter's new Siberian hamster got out in the car on the way home, chewed its way right out of that hampster carton--very exciting to even think about hitting the brake. Bring something metal. Also, hamster balls are amusing not just to the hamster. --Jane (a longtime reader)

Yeah, yeah, but which hamster balls are amusing? The ones they roll around in the floor inside or the other ones? Which are the reason we are getting a hen hamster.

And my friend Boneman tells me that the garden variety hamster, the brown and white one with round ears, actually comes from Syria, and I believe him. My mistake. Not Siberia. Well, maybe the Russian dwarves come from Siberia, I don't know. Wherever they come from it seems to make them kind of mean.

When I was working at the public library in Akron(before retiring)-someone left a hamster on one of the book shelves. Probably thought "Hey-lets scare the librarian." I walked over to the shelf, picked up the hamster, and put her in my pocket. I took her home and had her 2 years before she developed a huge lump on her jaw. I was tempting fate, at that time I had 21 (yes 21) cats--all indoor. I had to hang the hamster's cage from middle of the ceiling in my bathroom. I loved having Hammie look down at me when I was, uh..using the facilities.

Sandy B

Mix up your film with that of your 7 year-old's first photographic attempts and you get expensive enlargements of the hamster on the Barbie bed, on the Barbie pony and on the Barbiehouse balcony. Twentyfour versions, all hilarious.

Great to read your thoughts...nice to visit your blog..thanks for sharing with us..

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