How do you measure the extent of grief when you lose a pet? Is there a formula of sorts? An accepted ratio for the portion of your heart that you can give in direct correlation to the size of the animal? Should one grieve less for a wee creature than for a bounding larger one that you can take in your arms?
Our hamster died today. I knew it was coming. Call it a premonition of sorts. He had grown slower during the past two weeks, emerging from his little hut less frequently and sometimes even skipping a night altogether. He was three years and four months old, far exceeding the life expectancy of Chinese dwarf hamsters. My boys, technically his keepers had long outgrown him. So it was myself, along with my little dog Anabel that became Milo’s nightly companions.
Every evening around 7PM we would hear the whir of the wheel spinning signaling Milo had arisen. Anabel and I would approach the cage and Milo would walk slowly over to where Anabel and I sat. And the two would touch noses gently through the wire of the home-made cage my husband had constructed. Anabel is a Toy Fox Terrier, a dog bred to hunt Milo’s kind. But alas, somewhere her genetics failed and instead she found a best friend in the peaceful hamster and would sit by the cage for well over an hour watching Milo spin. Milo’s favorite treat? Pumpkin seeds and Trader Joe’s frozen edamame. When I placed the pumpkin seed in his dish he would run up immediately, take it in his tiny paws and hustle it quickly back to his hut, no doubt to be enjoyed for a late night snack.
Three years ago, when we finally gave in to our son’s pleas of “can we have a hamster?” we discovered a wonderful woman who in addition to her full-time job, took in, cared for and adopted out hamsters. All were welcome, sick, old, abandoned. No hamster in crisis was ever turned away. A covenant house of sorts, a haven. She was known as “The Hamster Whisperer and one Christmas Eve we brought our sons to her home under the guise we were visiting an old friend. Entering her tidy home with a suite all its own reserved for her family of hamsters, the boys stared in awe at a simple cage adorned with a big red bow. It was beautiful. And memorable. She allowed the boys to choose the hamster of their choice and then educated them in the proper care for well over an hour and a half. Once, before we adopted, I casually mentioned to her that I had visited a shelter wherein three Syrian hamsters shared a cage. “Together?” she queried me in alarm. “Syrians can never be housed together as adults. They will fight sometimes till death!” Even before I could answer I knew what she would do and sure enough I learned that she had driven over an hour to the shelter that very evening to rescue the trio. Even with limited space, she separated the three and nursed them back to health as they had indeed had injuries from fighting. That incident reveals all you really need to know about Claudie and her love of hamsters. And so began our journey into the world of hamster ownership and our relationship with a true angel of a woman who cared for these creatures with a love equal to that of any mother and child. She was the first person I told of Milo’s passing…
We buried him in a simple box with soft cotton as his blanket, under a beautiful tree in our front garden. Its branches gently droop down over the spot where he lies as if in a gesture of protection. Although I am catholic by religion we enclosed two smooth white pumpkin seeds within, an Egyptian tradition I recalled involving bringing something you valued in your earthly life to the next one. Milo loved those pumpkin seeds.
And as I presently sit and stare at our hamster’s barren cage I wonder if my sadness is not so much a reflection of the loss of Milo but as the loss of a part of our earlier lives that too has died. Today is a beautiful crisp fall day. Perfect for a ride to visit Claudie.