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Hamster Escapades

We got a hamster for the library. It was my idea. (See? My raging desire to nurture something is even following me to work.) I had a number of hamsters growing up. I think I counted one time, and I’ve had a total of twelve hamsters from the time I was six until the time I went off to college. Mooney, Rose, Squirt, Alice, Creamy, Calico, Smokey, Sparkles, and Soybean are the hamsters I remember with clarity. There was a string of three in the middle there that died within days of bringing them home. I think one of them was called Mustard.

So, there was this library somewhat near here that adopted a stray cat that they named Dewey. Dewey lived in the library and welcomed patrons. He climbed around on the shelves and the library director cleaned his litter box and made sure he had food to eat. Now there are books written about him. National Library Week is coming next week, and those of us on the planning committee for this Big Event in the library world decided that we would like to have a pet in the library too. Not feeling quite ambitious enough to take on a cat (and not wanting to deal with allergy problems that would certainly arise), we decided a hamster was a good choice for a library pet.

Hammy and me at the library

The rest of the committee was willing to go along with this plan, but I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t propelled the idea forward, it wouldn’t have happened. You see, I loved having hamsters when I was little. I carried them around in a little plastic traveling case all day as I went around the block visiting friends. The poor nocturnal rodent—he just curled up right there in the middle of this little plastic case rocking back and forth and slept as best he could. My friends and I built mazes for the hamsters out of Duplos and toilet paper tubes. I even have a faint memory of carrying one of my hamsters (probably Mooney or Rose—bless their little hearts for being the pets of a six-year-old) around on a tennis racket and bouncing him up and down. Gently.

My friend Allison and I once tried to introduce my hamster, Mooney, to her hamster, Peaches. They immediately latched onto each other in what looked like a furry trembling ball. We couldn’t even see their heads. At first, I think I thought they were hugging (I was only six, after all.) But we quickly realized they were not hugging and we should probably separate them. One nasty hamster bite later, I learned never to introduce adult male hamsters to each other and expect them to be friends.

Squirt was my only dwarf hamster. He was too squirmy for me, though. He escaped from his cage one night, disappeared (probably down the heat register) and was never seen again. Alice was my only albino hamster. When I was little, I had a fixation on being albino. I still have pictures I drew of myself as an albino human being. Alice allowed me to experience the thrill of being albino vicariously.

Creamy is the hamster I remember with the most fondness. Creamy was a long-haired hamster, so I could brush him with a Barbie brush. He moved with me from Wisconsin to Iowa when I was nine and I considered him my only friend for a while. He also escaped down the heat register once, but thankfully during the summer. After he didn’t turn up for a few days, my mom and I went down to the basement and opened up the side of the furnace. There he was, a lovely shade of grey from all the dust, curled up in a ball, sleeping right in the middle of the furnace.

Sparkles probably should have lived longer than she did. I was fifteen when I got her, and I had three very rambunctious guy friends who hung out at my house most weekends. They took a liking to Sparkles right away, but not because he was furry and cuddly. They played catch with Sparkles. Sparkles was the ball. At first they were content to toss him from about four feet apart. After a while, they became so confident in their hamster acrobatics that they would put her in the middle of a throw pillow, pull it taut suddenly at an angle, and Sparkles would fly through the air toward the other boy with another throw pillow. (Please try to refrain from sending me hate mail for my animal abuse. I was an irresponsible sixteen-year-old, and I really am quite horrified at my past self!)

Soybean was the last hamster I had before I went to college, and he spent most of his life in his cage. I was too busy with school and friends and extracurricular activities. I had no time for a hamster. I can remember many times when I suddenly remembered I needed to feed Soybean or give him some water that I would think to myself, I’m so glad God doesn’t care for  me the way I care for this hamster!I wouldn’t say I was terribly neglectful, but I wasn’t a good pet owner at age eighteen.

And now, I have the library hamster to take care of. He doesn’t have a name yet. I’m going to let the kids vote between a couple of names during National Library Week. He will either be called Humphrey, Reepicheep, Freddy, or Midnight. Humphrey and Freddy are both hamster characters from book series. Reepicheep is the adventurous mouse in the Chronicles of Narnia, and Midnight is just a name I thought preschoolers might prefer if the names I gave my hamsters at that age are any indication.

But I really do enjoy taking care of little Library Hammy. One of the hardest things to do with a new hamster is tame it. You need to make it feel comfortable with your hand reaching in the cage, comfortable with your smell as a human (so it doesn’t try to nip curiously at any hand thrust into the cage), and comfortable with being picked up. I’m finally to the picking-up stage, which is by far the most fun. Hammy is comfortable enough now with me that he will let me scoop him up in my hands and carry him around the library (before it opens—I’m still not sure he’s ready for a stampede of children clamoring to pet him).

Contrary to what it might seem from the stories above, I do think I was a good hamster-owner, and I really did like having hamsters. I like having one in the library.

I realize that this is not a baby:

But it is kind of fun to care for, all the same.

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