As most parents would attest, there comes a time when “Can we please get a dog/cat/parrot/budgie/any kind of living,breathing animal?”, becomes such a torturous refrain that one nearly always succumbs. (Unless, of course, you have nerves of steel, a platinum spine and a heart made out of lead). Our turn came about six years ago. We had tried all the logical arguments, but failed in the face of “But we’ll do the cleaning/feeding/taking for walks etc…..Please! Please!!” Our only compromise was that we would settle on a hamster. Since a few close friends had started with hamsters too, we figured we could glean as much information as we required off them, and wing it thereon. Hamsters were meant to be great starter pets.
Our first hamster, monikered Chuckle, a small dwarf hamster, leapt out of my hands, barely two days in. He ran and hid under the dishwasher, never to be domesticated again. Oh, we mounted a campaign to recapture him alright. We barricaded the area, laid out food and water, even sat up half the night for the nocturnal, nimble footed Houdini to reappear. All to no avail. Chuckle made his great escape, chuckling all the way to freedom.
The kids were inconsolable. As the guilty party, I compensated by buying them a Syrian hamster next. This was a rodent of more generous proportions, and we handled him with a lot of care, taking many many precautionary measures. Flexxy turned out to be a sweet soul, regardless of the racket he created at night,or the few chomp downs he inflicted on unsuspecting fingers. True to her word, first born took good care of him. Between them, the girls would share the duties of entertaining Flexxy, by allowing him to run around in the downstairs loo (door closed!) while the other hosed out the cage, replaced the sawdust, and replenished the food and water.Kind hearted neighbours were enlisted in the feeding and caring, while we vacationed.
For all intents and purposes, we were pet owners, with relatively content children. Until, that is, Flexxy started to look decidedly mangy. At eighteen months, his little life was nearing a close. We took him to the vet. He was diagnosed as having a rash, and a cream and oral medication were dispensed. Daughter number one turned Florence Nightingale with a vengeance. Never was a pet cared for as tenderly. Consequently, she managed to prolong his life by six months. No mean feat.
Underneath all that was also the realisation that Flexxy, despite all ministrations, would not last forever. So, in her crafts class, she made him a little wooden coffin. Inside she painted the four of us, so he would never feel alone. On the roof she painted the night sky, so he could look up at the stars, as he lay in eternal rest. On top she wrote, ‘RIP Flexxy’. We buried him in his personalised coffin, in the front garden. Many a tear was shed. Many a speech was read.
And so came an end to the rodent rigmarole. It was time to graduate to a different category. Previous hamster owners were moving on to dogs and cats, with a few guinea pigs thrown in. After a suitable mourning period, the song started up again. This time, the second born was the lead vocalist. As she saw it, her sister had had her jab at pet choosing and keeping. It was her turn now.
To be continued……