Hamster Education

by Brian on December 20, 2007

in A Parent in Israel,Just For Fun

After the fourth litter, we started to reconsider whether to continue our inadvertent role of playing birthing hospital to a family of incestuous rodents.

14-year-old Merav has had hamsters for a year and a half now. We started with just one, a male, but Merav felt he’d be lonely, so we got him a companion, a female. We thought it would be educational to have little hamster babies. And so it was the first time. Merav went positively ga-ga when Mazie the mother started squeezing out these tiny pink little peanut shaped critters. The babies, blind and unable to crawl, let alone walk, squirmed and nursed and were as adorable as little rodents can be.

When Mazie started to eat the runts, however, Merav had a different reaction. “How can she do that?” Merav implored, finding fur and bones in the cage one morning. But that too was an education in the vicissitudes of hamster life.

The surviving babies grew and ran on the wheel, climbed the monkey bars and kicked their food onto the rug in Merav’s room. The more hamsters there were, the more pungent the smell. But everything was still so educational

Then came the second litter. We’re not sure who mated with whom. Baby hamsters become sexually mature in only a few months. The result is a fact of life, but the thought of mother and child “doing it,” as Merav so diminutively put it, was nevertheless not a little bit “icky.”

Shortly thereafter, the mother died. It was undoubtedly from old age (hamsters only live a couple of years and she was fully grown when we’d bought her). Merav was nevertheless choked up and we gave the hamster mom a short funeral before burying her in a flower pot.

Regardless of mom’s departure, the hamster cage was getting full. Fortunately, our local pet store has a policy of buying back baby hamsters for a few shekels. Merav reluctantly parted with some of the older ones from the first litter but wasn’t able to tell which of the remaining babies were males and which were females.

Not surprisingly, a third litter followed. By this time, the incestuous predilections of hamsters were clear and it was all we could do to keep up with their unholy unions, and take more hamsters to the pet store. Our educational process was starting to resemble the Israeli school system: overcrowded and rife with discipline problems.

The more hamsters we had, the more aggressive they became. One day, Merav returned from school to find one of the smaller hamsters with an injured foot. He’d gotten in a tussle with one of his older siblings (or was it a parent?) and was now bleeding and limping around the cage. Merav insisted we call a veterinarian, but I protested: what could a vet do for a broken hamster paw – apply a little hamster cast perhaps?

The next day, the other hamsters had decapitated their injured peer and eaten most of his body.

That was the last straw for Merav. “A year and a half is enough,” she said. She would get rid of all of them.

Bad news was waiting for us: the pet store was all full up. Not only were they not paying, they weren’t taking any new hamsters at all. Merav was in a panic “What am I going to do?” she asked. “Another baby is going to get hurt.”

She called several pet stores until she found one on the other side of town that would take four – but only the young ones. The six-month-old adults were already too “elderly.” Merav brought in the hamsters to the store and we said a not particularly tearful goodbye.

But what would we do with the remaining three? “We could feed them to Bob’s snakes,” I suggested not entirely in jest. Bob already buys frozen mice to feed to his pets; a live hamster would be a real delicacy.

“Abba, that’s disgusting!” Merav replied curtly, visibly offended that I would even think of such a thing.

“Well, we could set them free,” I offered.

“No!” Merav shrieked. “They wouldn’t last an hour. They’d get eaten by cats.”

“We could let them go in the Jerusalem Forest. There are no cats there.” (Well, not many, I thought.)

Merav pondered about that for a while. We debated the pros and cons of freeing pets into the wild. While they probably wouldn’t survive long, they might really enjoy their brief moments of freedom beyond the cage.

The hamsters’ savior came in the form of a phone call from our friend Naomi. She would take them. She had little kids who would enjoy watching the hamsters play. But only the girl hamsters. Naomi wasn’t interested in opening her own breeding facility. Fortunately, the babies had grown up enough to be able to distinguish which sex was which.

That left Merav with one male who is now living a life of solitary confinement. We figure his days as one of the “old men” are numbered anyway. No need to shorten them with a trip to the great outdoors.

If you’re thinking of getting hamsters to entertain or educate your kids, just keep in mind it’s not for the squeamish. Birth, death, even murder – in our hamster education, we’ve seen it all.

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