A couple days ago, I had a dream. Lucian, my handsome little hamster, was still alive, yet I realized I hadn’t been feeding him for the months I thought he was dead. I ran through the house frantically, trying to find him. Then, because I lived in a mansion in my dream, he was in the very room I never enter.
There he was. Among all the old bric-a-brac, the obsolote computers and an inordinate amount of sewing machines, was his cage. Lucian was inside. His hamster chest rose and fell. He was breathing weakly but he was alive. I promised him I would get him food and put him back on his feet. Then, in the sort of despair that comes from dreams, I could not move fast enough nor did I know my palatial house enough to find food and water to nourish this dying tiny life.
When I am awake, my responsibility is to my guinea pigs now. I must forget hamsters and concentrate on the cuteness of guinea pigs. YouTube, that internet thing I hate so much, provided me with cute guinea pigs, neatly packaged with Moldovan music:
Now that we’ve switched to guinea pigs, Ivan is having identity issues again. This time, he’s gone a bit further:
Matt described the event: “The pigs actually weren’t very disturbed when Ivan climbed in there, so I didn’t worry about them too much (Chuy actually likes Ivan quite a bit, and will follow him around), but about 30 minutes later, the fact that they’d shared naptime with a cat seemed to have sunk in, and they were a little retroactively freaked out, requiring lots of cilantro and fresh hay to compensate for. . . . ”
Apparently, there was some hay-eating on Ivan’s part too.
Paco is a pet name for Francisco. But he went directly to being a Paco (and sometimes a Paquito) without ever having gone through being called a Francisco.
He’s a guinea pig, you see, and a Peruvian animal, hence, thanks to cultural imperialism, he’s a Spanish speaker. Hamsters, because of their link to Romania, get Romanian names (preferably ones only Romanians understand).
And here is Chuy:
Chuy is a pet name for JesÃºs. It’s pronounced something like “Chew-y” (though not quite so bi-syllabic, says Matt). It’s also the name of a Tex-Mex restaurant chain in Matt’s homeland. On another food-related note, Chuy is one letter off cuy, the guinea pig dish that shocks and delights tourists in Peru.
Chuy is the shyer of the two. Already Paco has taken a liking to Matt, while Chuy prefers me. Paco also feels some compulsion to bite Matt every time Matt picks him up.
Other things we’ve noticed in the few hours hours lives have intermeshed:
1. There have been bubbling, wheating, sneezing, whimpering and chattering noises. We look forward to learning the mysterious language of the guinea pigs.
2. Paco is afraid of the dark.
3. Paco and Chuy love carrots and cilantro.
4. Matt has taken to calling them The Cattle. “Our living room smells barn-y,” said Matt, sniffing at the hay that is the staple guinea pig food.
5. Our friend S. of Small Animal Rescue of BC called Paco and Chuy the “Brillo pigs.” Their fur is indeed very bristly, nothing like the amazing softness of a Syrian hamster.
6. Paco and Chuy like Ivan better than us.
7. Guinea pigs don’t need as much sleep as hamsters.
8. We have noticed two kinds of guinea pig poops. Are guinea pigs coprophagic?
9. Paco has a black paw and a white paw.
10. Guinea pigs can sure run.
Why did we decide to give up on hamsters? Well, we didn’t really. After Lucian’s sudden death last September, we’ve been quite unhappy. We still aren’t ready to replace Lucian with another hamster. Nor can we quite yet bear to fall in love with a new hamster and have our hearts torn when that new hamster inevitably passes away.
Whereas a hamster has a life-span averaging around two years, Paco and Chuy, both at three months, will be part of the household until about 2013.
This morning at 10:30 am, after procrastinating for a long time, I buried Lucian in a corner of our neighbourhood park:
With my new trowel, I managed to get only about 5 cm into the ground below a blackberry bush:
The plaid thing is his shroud. A pair of Matt’s boxers collapsed recently and this morning Matt asked me where the clothing recycling bag is – after Matt left for work, I cut the butt part off to make the shroud. Don’t worry: the boxers were freshly laundered.
I collected dirt from around the park to augment the mound on the grave.
I took one last photograph of Lucian in the sunshine. It was, I realized, the only time he ever had the sun on his face.
A friend reminded me about Lucian a few months ago and then I cried.
Matt wondered if Ivan the cat knew all along that Lucian was sick. In the last month, Ivan would lay in front of the cage and watch Lucian for hours at a time. Why did the cat suddenly take in interest in the hamster?
I worried all day that his grave would not protect him from raccoons or coyotes, so I got a flashlight tonight to examine it. So far, so good.
Tomorrow I will buy some bleach to disinfect his cage and personal effects.
It was only on Saturday night when I edited it, when I could enlarge his eye, that I saw that there was something wrong with it. Hamsters, for you non-hamster owners out there, are very fidgety. You can never get a really good look at them unless they are asleep, dead or caught on film after many, many blurred shots. This is why it took me twenty-four hours to figure out that something was wrong.
I immediately looked up vets open on Sundays. One was.
When I phoned up the vet the next morning, they warned me that they were full that day and gave me an 11 am appointment for Monday morning. Yesterday Lucian was still his usual run-around self.
This morning, he got up as usual to go for a drink and a morning snack. Then he collapsed on his food dish.
The vet wanted me to wait until my appointment, but I told him this hamster was awfully sick. So in I went with Lucian, an hour earlier than scheduled.
Well, Lucian is a very sick hamster and has been for a while. He has lost far too much weight, though his fluffy fur made him bigger than he really was. He is cold to the touch and incontinent. His once-mighty testicles have shrivelled up and disappeared within his emaciated frame. His teeth have become loose and an abcess is forming below his chin. The vet said he cannot remove the teeth at this point. The verdict is that he has liver or kidney failure.
I bought a round of antibiotics – two drops a day for ten days – but it’s probably too late. The vet suggested I use a syringe to give him water and to keep him warm.
Matt and I thought we came up with the cleverest game ever to play with a hamster.
We thought the hamsters would play along.
Hamsters really like to make nests out of tissue paper; my hamsters get a wad of toilet paper a week to build their nest; thus, we concluded, a whole roll of toilet paper would be a dream come true to a hamster.
We thought we would document the daily unraveling of the toilet paper roll and that the hamster would fill up the cage with scrunched up bits of toilet paper.
It would have been so cute.
Last January, when CrenguÈ›a still lived, we awarded her with a whole roll:
She tore off a bit of toilet paper. Then she stopped.
You can see the nest in the top left corner. (All the black oblong shapes are hamster poops.)
This is as big as her nest ever got:
This January, we decided to replicate the experiment with Lucian.
After a week, here’s what his cage looks like:
The little guy only took what he needed. In fact, less than he needed. He built up the rest of his nest with the newspaper that lines his cage.
The hamsters’ lack of a sense of fun leaves me disappointed in their kind. It may be a generalization, but I suspect the entire species of being no fun.
Where’s the wanton greed? Where’s the unfettered extravagance?
Hamsters have a lot to learn from humans.
Here’s something to keep in mind, hamsters of the world:
Each American [human] will consume 700,000 kilograms (1.5 million lbs.) of minerals (mostly sand and gravel), and 24 billion BTUs of energy â€” equivalent to 4000 barrels of oil (40% in petroleum products, 25% each in natural gas and coal). In a lifetime, an average American [human] will eat 25,000 kilograms (55,000 lbs.) of plant foods (20% each in vegetables, sweeteners, fruits & juices, grains, and other plant products) and 28,000 kilograms (60,000 lbs.) of animal products (70% milk, 7% each beef, chicken and pork), provided in part by slaughtering 2000 animals (>90% poultry).*
Hamsters, you only have, on average, a two-year lifespan vs. a human’s 70-80 years. I highly doubt you’re even close to a two-year-old human’s consumption levels.
Yeah, sure, you are eating your way to that 25,000 kg of plant foods, but have you stopped to think about how close you are to slaughtering your allotted 2000 animals? I haven’t seen any hamsters lately sinking their teeth into any fat juicy steaks.
And how about those forests? Sheesh, you’re making us humans do all the work in destroying them. Can’t you at least do your part? A whole roll of toilet paper and you’re like, what, saving it for something?
Waste already! It’s so much fun! That’s why we live in a free country! We can do whatever we —
Hey! Punk! I’m talking to you! Are you even listening?
Above: My former, very much feral hamster, CrenguÅ£Äƒ.
Matt found this passage in David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest (page 93):
It’s a herd of feral hamsters, a major herd, thundering across the yellow plains of the southern reachs of the Great Concavity in what used to be Vermont, raising dust that forms a uremic-hued cloud with somatic shapes interpretable from as far away as Boston and Montreal. The herd is descended from two domestic hamsters set free by a Waterton NY boy at the beginning of the Experialist migration in the subsidized Year of the Whopper. The boy now attends college at Champaign IL and has forgotten that his hamsters were named Ward and June.
The noise of the herd is tornadic, locomotival. The expression on the hamsters’ whiskered faces is businesslike and implacable – it’s that implacable-herd expression. They thunder eastward across pedalferrous terrain that today is fallow, denuded. To the eat, dimmed by the fulvous cloud the hamsters send up, is the vivid verdant ragged outline of the annularly overfertilized forests of what used to be central Maine.
All these territories are now property of Canada.
With respect to a herd of this size, please exercise the sort of common sense that come to think of it would keep your thinking man out of the southwest Concavity anyway. Feral hamsters are not pets. They mean business. Wide berth advised. Carry nothing even remotely vegetablish if in the path of a feral herd. If in the path of such a herd, move quickly and calmly in a direction perpendicular to their own. If American, north is not advisable. Move south, calmly and in all haste, toward some border metropolis – Rome NNY or Glen Falls NNY or Beverly MA, say, or those bordered points between them at which the giant protective ATHSCME fans atop the hugely convex protective walls of anodized Lucite hold off the drooling and piss-colored [sic] bank of teratogenic Concavity clouds and move the bank well back, north, away, jaggedly, over your protected head.
Matt is already on page 103 and says tha hamsters have not returned.
In the past, Ivan’s stay has produced some weird behaviour.
It must have been the hamsters.
Hamsters, in their domesticated environment, use tissue for their bedding. Each hamster had her style; AniÅŸoara had a thing for for tissue curtains on her house, CrenguÅ£Äƒ for a neatly lined nest, Valentina merely had a free-for-all disaster area going*.
After a couple of weeks with me, Ivan returned home. Then Matt discovered this:
As you can see, Ivan lined his own cat bed with paper towels. Just like the hamsters.
But the hamsterification of the cat is not over.
Ivan discovered the hamster treat bucket.
Whenever I go to the pet store, I always throw in a few hamster extras for the little ones. I’ve accumulated a bucket’s worth of little packets of “hamster ravioli” and “hamster yoghurt drops” and the like. I left the bucket out by the hamster cage and Ivan explored.
He took out one bag, chewed it open, took out one hamster treat, licked it and was horrified. He tried another one from the same bag. He spat it out. Then he picked up another bag, chewed it open and same reaction. You could almost see the despair on his face: “What the hell are these hamsters eating?”
During the night he opened one more bag and spat out the one nibblet.
At least Lucian had no problem with the regurgitated treats.