Like many middle class, midwestern families, we had our fair share of pets when I was growing up. Some were common household pets; cats, dogs, hamsters, rabbits… while others were a little less common; crawfish, chicks, shetland ponies (yep- when I was a kid, my parents bought me a pony… sort of) Most of our pets were wanted, while others, I simply tolerated.
Take our hamsters for instance. Hamsters? Seriously? Not only do their tiny little grippy toes creep me out, but when they’re not biting you, they’re pooping in your hand. I was never a huge fan of hamsters, but when my family was given two as gifts from a family friend, I did my best to enjoy them. We were told they were both males so we named them Sledge & Hammer after the title character of our favorite TV show. (They aired 3 episodes of Sledge Hammer before they pulled it off the air. It was
awesome a piece of shit.)
Shortly after Sledge & Hammer were added to our family, things took a turn for the worse. I headed down the stairs one Saturday morning to peek in on the little fellas. One hamster, it didn’t really matter that we had named them because they looked exactly alike, had been banished to the corner of the cage. The other one was chewing on some sort of hamster toy. Wait, what? Hamsters don’t have chew toys do they? I peered closer into the cage and noticed that the hamster toy had little tiny hamster like grippy toes. Oh, and it had a head, and eyes, and OH GOOD GOD! It was a baby hamster. There was a baby hamster in the cage and Sledge, or Hammer, was eating it. I let out a scream and soon we were all huddled around the hamster cage taking in the scene. That’s when I noticed that the baby was not alone. There was literally a pile of baby hamsters in the cage.
My brother Jeremy: “Mom, what is he doing? Why is he eating that baby?”
Mom: “Why are there babies in this cage?”
Mom: “He said they were both males. Why are there babies in this cage?”
My sister Chelan: “This is so gross. Those babies look disgusting and that one that’s being eaten is making a horrible noise. I’m going to be sick.”
Mom: “How could this possibly have happened? Why are there babies in this cage?”
The chaos was too much. The four of us kids were hysterical due to the carnage happening right before our eyes. Mom whisked the cage out of the room and out of earshot and somehow managed to calm us down. She explained that one of the hamsters must have been a girl, and that sometimes the moms eat the runts… To be honest, I’m not really sure what she said. I was too busy trying to decided if I should cry or barf.
Then dad came home.
Mom: “Vincent. Look in that hamster cage.”
Dad: “Why are there babies in this cage?”
Here are the bits and pieces of the aftermath that I do remember:
Dad decided we needed to put the male hamster (Hammer- it was easier to tell them apart when one of them wasn’t constantly trying to eat its own babies) in a separate cage to prevent him from snacking on his kids as well. Sledge, stayed in the cage with the non-runty babies who were allowed to live.
Now at this point, I must tell you that my parents had refused to buy the fancy plastic hamster cages with the cool attachable tube tunnel thingamajigs that we had wanted. Instead we used the old wire cage that had once housed our rabbit. The wire cage was fine for Sledge & Hammer, if you don’t count all the hamster sex, because they were big. For baby hamsters, however… those poor suckers were falling out of that cage left and right. We didn’t notice at first, but then mom sucked up a couple with the vacuum cleaner. We had to keep the cage inside of a plastic tub, after that, in order to catch the ones who tried to jump ship. (In retrospect, I can’t blame those poor baby hamsters. If I had to chose between risking being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner or having my legs chewed off by my own mother while I slept, I would have tried to jump as well.) The worst were the ones who had fallen out of the cage and landed on the radiator. They didn’t stand a chance.
When all was said and done, as soon as the baby hamsters (the one’s who managed to survive the Great Carnage of 1987) were old enough, they, along with their mother, were all given away to other family friends. (You’re welcome.) Hammer stayed with us and lived a
long happy life.
That is until, SOMEBODY, left him out of the cage and our dog ate him. Well, not so much ate him, as played aggressively with him until the point of his death. We buried Hammer in the backyard in a cardboard Crystal Light canister. Twice. The dog dug him up the first time because we didn’t bury him deep enough.
I really miss that dog.