Just say no to mutant hamsters

People get ornery sometimes. Some people go shopping, or go out to get really drunk. For a long time, when I felt ornery, I’d stop by pet stores that weren’t on the way home.

So one day, there I was in a local pet shop, browsing for nothing in particular, in aisles I had no business being in. Turned the corner to find a table with the biggest hamster I’ve ever seen in a very small, clear plastic box.

hamster

A sign in front of the box said:

HAMSTER (M)
FREE

The beefy brown thing was fiercely burrowing into one corner. He wouldn’t stop. I felt sorry for him, remembering the hamsters I loved as a child.

The pet store attendant saw my pause and slid in for the kill.

“He’s free… we can give you a discount on a cage…”

My pregnancy nesting instinct kicked into overdrive. I remembered the 30 gallon aquarium sitting empty in my home office. That giant, mutant hamster could live comfortably there. I would be his happy hamster savior.

“I’ll take him.”

The next 30 minutes were a shopping spree of colorful plastic toys, stinky pellets, and a vacuum-packed case of wood shavings. I cooed at him all the way home; made haste to prepare his spacious, luxury dwelling. He totally upgraded from prisoner to upper-middle class.

Two days later, after a nice dinner out, I decided to check on my new little pet. He was hidden by his plastic cave, so I lifted it. He just laid there like a puddle. Is he dead? I touched him. He was warm, but seemed abnormally still. I started to pick him up… then saw the jangle of tiny furry babies dangling from its belly.

I shrieked and dropped them.

Well, that explains the odd behavior and the monster size. And, come to think of it, the weird smell in the office. I peeked into the aquarium, and, after some gentle nudging, finally got a headcount.

There were ten babies.

Never having been a steward of lactating animals, I trusted nature to take its course, and decided to enjoy watching the miracle of life unfold. I’m pregnant, after all. What a warm, joyful experience this will be.

So the next day, I dared peek into Mama’s nest to see how the babies were doing. But there were only nine of them. Maybe I counted them wrong the first time.

The next day, there were only eight babies.

OK, now I KNOW I counted nine the day before. Five gray, and four peach.

Is she… eating her babies?

I pondered the situation. Maybe I counted wrong, and she ate only one. Maybe she thought nine was too many also. Jeez, I don’t blame her. And this is just part of nature’s miracle, right?

Checking again on Hamster Family the following day, I lifted the plastic cave to find her munching away on a baby. She looked up at me, then went back to her meal.

OK, THIS MIRACLE OF NATURE HAS TO STOP NOW!

After regaining my composure, I looked up solutions on the internet. Apparently, her body knew she needed more protein to make milk, and her tastier looking babies were a perfect source for such protein. Luckily, horrified human onlookers could easily provide a substitute in hardboiled eggs. Without delay I cooked a couple and offered them with the plea, “Please don’t be a cannibal mutant hamster anymore.”

It worked. We were down to six babies and a well-fed mother.

The successful research on hamsters provoked me to learn more. Hamsters reach sexual maturity quite early, so it is critical that the males and females be separated soon after weaning.

OK, now I have to learn how to identify hamster gender… time to Google “hamster genitals.” I really don’t want to be doing this. My husband is sitting at his desk, laughing at me.

Now to flip each pup belly-up for a junk inspection. Arg, I can’t tell one kind from the other! They’re so wiggly and furry and small!

There was only one thing to do – separate all of them from each other. Let there be no accidental mating!

I called the original pet store to explain the situation and ask them to take the babies. The manager said “no way, but you can have a half dozen free 10-gallon aquariums to house them.” Not knowing what else to do, I accepted.

Three weeks later, I was tired of having an office full of hamsters, and two cats on the other side of the door that wanted REALLY BADLY to find out what smelled so good in there. My husband finally said, “maybe another pet store will take them.”

He was right. A shop on the far side of town said they’d accept them, aquarium and all. I decided to keep one peach pup and slip the creepy brown mother in with the rest. The delivery went off without a hitch.

A month later, the last hamster disappeared. We surmised the custom-built cardboard and toilet-paper-roll jungle gym was built a bit too tall. The hamster escaped; hopefully not to be eaten by one of my cats.

I had no idea hamsters were such a delicacy.

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