Pet Downsizing: My Hamster’s Smarter Than Your Hamster

Biscuit the Hamster

Being of a certain age, my peers consider rites of passage, like “downsizing,” part of the process of aging. While I’m not thrilled about getting old, for me, downsizing equates to giving up, a throwing in of the home ownership towel, and a spurning of the responsibilities involved with maintaining a property. Things like fewer bedrooms, smaller yards, and less upkeep motivate some people, but I plan to stay put, at least for a while. Living on a multigenerational compound with my daughter and her family next door, the decision, in some ways, made itself. The land where I was born and raised, and raised my own family, is my fate for the foreseeable future.

I wish the choices were as clear when it comes to my love of animals. For the past forty years, we have had dogs, three of them, who have filled our house with energy and fun. Tasha, our black lab, preceded children and grew alongside them. After Tasha passed, Taffy, a small terrier/cocker spaniel mix, occupied a special space in our hearts and our family for sixteen years. And last, but certainly not least, Muffy, a five-year-old miniature poodle left behind when my godmother passed away unexpectedly, joined Taffy, bridged us through her passing, and lived for additional twelve years. Going from a black lab to a terrier mix to a poodle was our form of downsizing. Still, I never imagined a day when there wouldn’t be a dog under foot.

After the loss of each of our pups, Tim always threatened the end of the Cahalane canines. I know he misses his dogs and losing them is difficult for both of us. He spent the months before last January preparing me for a pet-free life. When we found ourselves making the dreadful decision to put seventeen-year-old Muffy to sleep, he repeated his tradition of ‘no more dogs’ decrees; usually, he quickly reneged on the threat. When he said, “This is it. When Muffy’s gone, no more dogs,” I honestly believed he could be swayed like he had with our other dogs.

In the early days, as I mourned my best buddy and my shadow, I knew nothing would replace her. I easily pushed Tim’s threats out of my mind. Overwhelmed with sadness, I resisted my urge to buck him, but as the weeks passed, my loneliness convinced me to revive the conversation, only to be shut down once again. After forty-one years of marriage, I assumed I had the power to persuade him otherwise but, this time, he really meant it. Temper tantrums got me nowhere.

I understood his point on an intellectual level. We travel frequently and having a dog complicates the ability to pick up and go. But then I devised a cost/benefit analysis in my head: four weeks of travel a year, forty-eight weeks at home. The ratio negates the issue, in my opinion. Clearly, a dog would enhance the better part of our life. My emotional side took over: I wanted a pet, preferably a dog.

When my granddaughter began lobbying her parents in the cause of getting a small animal of some sort–guinea pig, hamster, hedgehog, my daughter dismissed her pleas. She said, “You have a dog. You’re all set,” but Molly seldom takes ‘no’ for an answer. A natural problem solver, she tapped into my neediness and suggested getting a hamster to fill the void left by Muffy. The rodent would live at my house but she would share ownership. I resisted, until I gave in. Enter Biscuit, the teddy bear hamster.

A fixture in my kitchen, Biscuit’s aquarium cage is hard to ignore. In general, she herself is a presence. Always looking to be freed from her confinement, Miss Bis stands on tiptoes, pleading for attention and an escape from her glassy four walls. When she is out and about in her ball, a hollow orb that keeps her contained yet mobile, she roams the house freely. At times, we lose track of her as she moves from hallway to bedroom to den to kitchen to livingroom. She knows the layout and has a few favorite places to roll her way into and get stuck, like between the toilet and the radiator. Once freed, few things are as humorous as a hamster rolling by a doorway, seeming to know where she’s going. In less than two months, Biscuit has made herself the centerpiece of family entertainment. 

I’ve had many rodents in my life: four gerbils that expanded to thirty before I understood about procreation; a rat and a mouse rescued from the Bio lab at my high school; and a succession of hamsters, ending with Tasha the dog and babies. In my life with tiny, furry friends, I never remembered having a hamster so active. Always on the move, I feel guilty leaving her in her tiny cage. I needed to do more for her and I researched my options. At that moment, hamster ownership took a bad turn down a very obsessive road.

Today, a wooden playground arrived via Amazon. A seesaw, a bridge, a playhouse, a few rattan balls, and a swing await the hamster playpen I ordered and expect to arrive tomorrow. I expect a positive reaction to her expanded repertoire of toys and accessories. Two weeks ago, we added a litter box, a small, plastic, turquoise-colored, cat-shaped container, complete with bathing/peeing sand. I had little hope for its usefulness but Biscuit proved her brilliance once again. I placed the litter box in the corner of the cage and she instantly responded with a pee, creating a clump that I removed from the container with a tiny, matching scoop. The feat amazed us and now we reap the benefits of a clean, odor-free cage. 

I enjoy having Biscuit in the family but I can’t lie. I have looked the small animal in the eyes and longed for the soulfulness of Muffy’s gaze. I might have even channeled Lloyd Bentsen circa 1988 when I said, “I knew Muffy Cahalane and you, Miss, are no Muffy Cahalane.” Although I slowly accept the reality of a future of rodents and, when I tire of them, a fishbowl and a betta, I miss the days of wet noses and muddy paws.

Although he limits his interaction with our new pet to changing her water or to slip her a slice of cantaloupe or cucumber, I realized just how much Tim appreciates having a clever hamster in the house. I overheard him bragging to another hamster owner about how we have a one who knows how to use the potty. While it is pretty amazing, I wonder if his emotional investment in our latest addition might soften him to the idea of a new dog. I doubt it, but I won’t stop trying.

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