My daughter really wanted a hamster. Really, really wanted a hamster.
“I’ll keep my room clean, I’ll keep the cage clean, and I’ll love it every day,” my fifth-grade girl bargained.
No rats in the house. That was my husband’s first response. It will stink. That was his second response. We already have a dog. That was his third response.
My daughter persisted, and I relented. She had straight A’s on her report card, and we went to the pet store. My decision was not based on her constant pleading or a desire to get back at my husband. It was a heart decision. I had hamsters when I was a girl, and I loved them. I loved watching them fill their cheeks to near explosion size. I loved holding them and feeling those little whiskers twitch against my skin. I loved that my hamster listened to me when no one else would. Every kid deserves to have a hamster at least once.
We bought a wire cage, bedding, food, exercise wheel and all the chew sticks a little hamster could desire. My daughter selected her new friend, a small golden teddy bear hamster with whiskers that exceeded her body size. She named her Nugget – as in “gold nugget” NOT “chicken nugget.”
My husband came home and met Nugget. Seeing the kids’ excitement, he melted and actually said sweet things to the little rodent as she turned her exercise wheel. Our dog, a schnauzer mix named Macy, also seemed to find Nugget sweet. She sniffed the cage and wagged her tail. My daughter brought Nugget up to her room and set the cage on her nightstand. All was well in the Roadkill Goldfish house.
All was well for about 18 hours. The kids left for school the next morning, and I got to work on a few client projects in my office. All of a sudden, I heard a tremendous CRASH in my daughter’s room. I dashed up the stairs to find the hamster cage thrown to the floor and my dog salivating and furiously pawing at the metal bars. Nugget was able to pull herself into a far corner, and her buckteeth were chattering like that creepy zombie from “World War Z.” I managed to pull the dog off the cage and set Nugget’s home back on my daughter’s night stand. Nugget hissed. She sounded like a very ticked off cat. She hissed for hours. I honestly thought the fall may have caused brain damage or turned her psychotic. My daughter would never be able to hold her hamster again because the fluffball would go all Monty-Python-killer-rabbit on her face.
I called a vet who worked with pocket pets. She was sympathetic with my plight and told me there was probably nothing wrong with the hamster, but it would probably be a good idea not to handle her for a few days. She also said to keep the dog far away from the cage.
As I vacuumed up the bedding fuzz that covered my daughter’s floor, I realized a very important fact. Macy is part schnauzer. Schnauzers were bred to be vermin hunters. She was simply doing her innate doggy job, and the hamster was like crack cocaine to her DNA. It was a true DUH moment on my part.
Nugget lived with us for two years until her last ride on the exercise wheel. She recovered from her psychological trauma without the use of therapy or antidepressants. She never nipped at us and would greet us by climbing on top of the wheel whenever we came in the room. She was the best hamster in the world.
During those two years, Macy would visit Nugget in my daughter’s room. We moved the hamster home to a higher table, and Macy would sit for hours in front of the cage. She wouldn’t bark, growl, salivate or whimper. She sat. Motionless. Waiting for the day that Nugget tried to escape. Waiting for the day she could indulge that insatiable craving for schnauzer crack.