Pauline Harte

The hell of hamster ownership

Pauline Harte · June 17, 1997

I wandered my local pet shop the other day, buying my weekly truckload of pet food and supplies, when I overheard the desperate, whining pleas of a child who wanted something "even more than in-line skates." His grating, unrelenting wheeling eventually paid off, and mom gave a reluctant OK to what turned out to be a hamster.

I wanted to yell out, "Don't do it, mom! Buy something easy, like a horse!"

But I knew she probably wouldn't believe my dire warnings and would just have to find out for herself that no animal is too small to be a humongous pain in the posterior.

My own tortuous trip through hamster hell began when my "friend's" son gave my two daughters a couple of "free" hamsters, surplus children from his mommy hamster. My kids told me they would clean the cages every day themselves and I wouldn't have to do anything. I still can't believe I fell for that tired, old line. So off we went to the pet shop to buy a couple of cages and some food.

Boy, did I have a lot to learn about hamsters!

Hamsters cannot live in small cages. At least, that is what you will be told by pet shop shills. Actually, they can live, but they will not enjoy a "quality of life." Well, that was certainly the right thing to say to this animal lover. All of my animals enjoy a quality of life that Donald Trump would envy. I was led to the "luxury condo-estate" aisle.

Mama mia! Two-story hamster condos? These plastic paradises would take up half of a bedroom. IF I moved out half the furniture, and miles of plastic tubing encircled these meandering monstrosities to form a hamster cul-de-sac!

There were lofts and wheels and stairs and enclosed balconies and room additions and MORE plastic tubing. Barbie's Dream House looked like a tenement slum compared to these hamster heavens. They began to resemble the Kennedy compound!

"How much?" I asked. After much choking, gagging and stunned disbelief, I informed the patron saint of rodents that Palm Beach was a little too rich for my blood. AND my wallet. I asked to be shown something in low-income, subsidized housing, and ended up with a couple of hamster hovels, each holding one wheel and a feeding cup and a water dispenser. They would get to Palm Beach when I did.

Now for the hamster food, bedding, and accessories. I bought everything on the aisle just to make up for not buying the grandiose hamster hamlet.

Hamsters and kids live in different time zones. Hamsters come alive only at night and wake during the day only long enough to viciously bite the fingers of kids who attempt to play with them. My kids were terrified of the cranky beasts by the end of the first week, which meant that I had to take over cage cleanings.

Gosh, what a surprise!

Hamsters live to escape. I had several yards of duct tape wrapped around each plastic hut, but the dynamic duo still managed to break out. Miraculously, I always managed to find them before the three cats did.

Hamsters run on those spinning wheels ALL NIGHT LONG. The ceaseless, nocturnal hamster races made sleep and sanity virtually impossible. Every night we locked the furry fiends in a downstairs bathroom, away from the cats, and every morning they were locked back up in the kids' rooms. MY quality of life was diminishing rapidly.

I was told by former hamster owners that these worthless creatures live only a few months, but of course mine were around for over a year. Cramped quarters obviously agreed with them.

I tried to appear appropriately glum at their funerals, but it was really tough. As the kids patted down the final soup spoon of dirt over the last tiny grave, I looked forward to a bright future sans cage cleanings and vibrating wheels. I almost felt guilty. Almost.

The very next day, my kids came home with a baby bird that had fallen from a nest, and a hamster cage became a bird cage. Cleaning cages was just meant to be a part of my life.

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