What can you say about a 2 year old hamster who died? That she was cute and furry? That she loved corn, her wheel, and Lucy? Poor Lucy was born into the wrong family when it comes to pets. She would own a zoo if it were up to her. Her ideal home would have seven cats, four dogs, three rats, and maybe a couple guinea pigs. Dash is skittish about most animals, and has always been especially scared of dogs. Rich likes dogs, but Dash’s phobia
gives me an easy out makes them not an option. I only really like cats. I got two kittens when I was living in my first apartment way back in 1994; Lula lived for 17 years, and Maggie was with me until 2014. As soon as Maggie died, Lucy started asking for a new cat, but it’s been a no for a few reasons. First, Maggie was three weeks old when I got her, and I had her for almost 20 years. She was my cat for half my life, and I don’t want another cat, I want my cat. It’s been three years and I’m still not over it and I’m not ready to love a different cat. (I miss Lula too, but Maggie was a much more affectionate cat. There’s also another, greater, Lula in our lives now, so we upgraded.) The other reasons are less sentimental. I now realize a cat can be a 20 year commitment, I now have two little humans to take care of, and it’s been really nice not having a litter box in the house.
We said no to new pets for a long time, but then finally in September of 2015, Lucy wore us down, and while we still weren’t willing to get a cat, we told her she could get something smaller. I was hoping a goldfish or maybe an ant farm would satisfy her, but she asked, “What’s the biggest pet I can get?” and the answer turned out to be a hamster. Couple things we didn’t know about hamsters before we got one. Did you know they are nocturnal? And that they are escape artists? They really should tell you that at the store. We set up the little hamster habitat in Lucy’s room for exactly one day, then we quickly learned that whole nocturnal thing after she woke everyone up a bunch of times throughout the night. So the next day we moved her down to the playroom in the basement; she didn’t wake anyone up that second night, but when we checked on her in the morning, she was gone. Rich managed to find her hidden behind a bookcase, and that’s how we learned our second fun fact about hamsters. PSA: Those habitats with all the tubes and trails look fun and all, but they have about 52 million ways to escape, and your hamster will find them. We got lucky that first time, and the second time, but the third time she escaped she was gone for at least three days. We went to Portland for a long weekend, and when we got back, she had somehow managed to pull a cap off an opening in the top and climb out. We spent the next couple days fruitlessly searching for her, then we set up a humane trap next to a bin, and the next morning she turned up…in the bin!
After that, we got a boring but secure little cage and the next year and a half went by with only one escape, which was maaaaybe due to someone not closing the lid all the way. But who can really say? What I can say is that we did all sort of grow to love our little Hazelnut, and she seemed happy, I guess, I mean, how would you ever know? She did let us pick her up all the time and she hardly ever bit anyone.
Saturday morning, Rich got up early to do a long bike ride, I was reading in bed, Dash was still sleeping, and Lucy told me she was going downstairs. Two minutes later, she yelled, “Mom! MAAAHHHHMMMMM!” and I just knew. It was like in the beginning of The Right Stuff, when the test pilot dies and they show his wife startle awake at home, like she felt his spirit go. It was exactly like that.
“What is it, Lucy?”
“Hazel’s dead!” Damn.
Dash got up and we went downstairs to confirm. Yep, there she was, lifelessly sprawled across her little wheel. I’m proud of her for exercising until the very end, it reminded me of those stories of 85 year old marathoners who run their last race then quietly go home for a nap and never wake up. A true inspiration.
I don’t know why it makes such a difference, but even though I’d picked that hamster up a bunch of times while she was alive, now that she was dead it creeped me out to even be in the same room with her. I tried to sell the kids the, “This is a job for daddy,” line, but they weren’t buying it. Rich wasn’t going to be home for a few hours, and they wanted this taken care of now, please. Hamster funeral hadn’t been on my to-do list that morning, but I could at least cross off “Ask Jessica if she can take Hazel while we’re away,” so it was a wash. Lucy was as squeamish about it as I was, but between the two of us we managed to get her into a little shoebox, then carried her outside. The kids dug a little hole in the yard and we all threw some dirt on the box and said a few words. Lucy wanted to keep hers private, but Dash really nailed the spirit of it all as he held back tears and said, “Hazel, the last time I played with you, I knew you were really old and would probably die soon. Goodbye.” Then we went inside, washed our hands, and made Nutella pancakes in honor of our Hazelnut. That part was so nice, I’m voting we name the next one Ella.