This story has nothing to do with anything, just a twitter thread reminded me of this hilarious saga so I thought I’d share. There’s no lesson or point other than it still makes me laugh years later 😊

My daughter Julia loves animals and always says she can’t live in a house without them. I’m a little sensitive to the idea of her not living here because of a traumatic custody battle years ago. I also carry a lot of guilt for accidentally killing one of her hamsters. So, yes, I drove ninety minutes (each way!) to buy her two baby Russian Dwarf Hamsters for her twelfth birthday. They were $10 each. Free hamsters are pretty easy to come by, but Russian Dwarf Hamsters were the only kind she wanted because they can share cages and not eat each other, unlike other hamsters. Animals that don’t eat each other seemed a reasonable birthday request.

She named the little darlings Twilight and Dawn before we even got back in our car for the drive home. I had to admit they had beautiful colouring, these baby boys from the large hamster habitat in the kijiji lady’s home (kijiji = Canadian version of craigslist). It was sad to take them from their family, but kijiji-lady assured me that they were old enough to be weaned at two weeks. It was after my daughter’s birthday already so we didn’t want to wait any longer and made the drive on their 14th day in this world. 

There’s a signal, like the bat signal but with high-pitched squeals of delight, that goes out through neighbourhoods when small animals are brought home. It’s only twelve-year old girls who respond to the squeal, though we all friggin’ hear it. They arrived in gaggles, fawned over Twilight and Dawn, and squealed some more to summon other tweens who may have been underwater or in outer space the first time. I overheard my daughter tell them, “Mom loves these ones so much more than the other ones,” which surprised me because she didn’t even know about my earlier hamster murder. But I did love them more; for some reason I felt very maternal towards them. 

To clear things up about the murder, it was an unfortunate fluke and it took at most a few hours or days off the little guy’s life. He was an elderly, lonely, ill hamster. His brother had died a couple of months prior, and he was nearing the end of his lifespan (which was approximately eighteen months, according to the stacks of hamster books that grew like weeds in Julia’s room). I struggled with the idea of paying a tiny animal vet to look at the growths taking over his body, but he was clearly in pain while also clearly staying alive, so I didn’t know what else to do. Julia understood the vet would probably ‘put him down’ so she said her goodbyes before going off to her dad’s house the day before the vet visit. She left and I picked him up to see how he was doing. His body spasmed in pain, I spasmed in surprise – my grip tightened, and that was the end of his pain. I told my daughter he died quickly but spared her the details of exactly how that happened.

Maybe that’s why I was so motherly with these little guys, maybe it was because they were so young and so very tiny. They grew quickly – their father’s name was Tank and he’d been the biggest dwarf hamster imaginable. After a few days of adjustment, they started eating and growing huge right before our eyes. We laughed about them being tanks like their dad, one of them in particular was round like a ball within weeks. We’d put him in the hamster ball and enjoy the awkwardness of this roly-poly creature trying to roll. 

I no longer have a facebook account, but when I did, this was one of my most popular posts:

Sunday, June 11, 2017 at 5:54pm EDT
Karen Lowry is celebrating baby shower.
I am now the proud grandmother (aunt? cousin twice removed?) of an undetermined number of hamster babies. Since we got our two (adorable) male hamster babies just over a month ago, I was a little surprised to find a litter of newborns (actually a week old... should clean it more often) in the cage this morning. There are so many hilarious things about this, I've been laughing all day - while finding fascinating websites like "3 Ways to Sex a Hamster"
hamster on girl's shoulder
This is a BIG dwarf hamster. Possibly pregnant.

Yes, one of our boys was a girl. At the tender age of barely-weaned she got pregnant by her brother. The weeks following were a blur of revelations: Hamsters shouldn’t be weaned until they’re three weeks old, they shouldn’t be ‘allowed’ to get pregnant until about three months old, and incest is generally as frowned upon with hamsters as with other animals. Oh, and also, females are highly fertile right after they give birth. Which would be before oblivious owners even know they’re female.

So, another day, another unexpected litter of hamster babies. This poor little mother was still nursing her first litter when the second was born. Luckily, we hadn’t put her in the hamster ball to roll around during this pregnancy, small mercy. 

tiny hamster bodies in their nest
babies!

We also knew how young females can get pregnant and I got a bit frantic about separating out the boys from the girls. For the first time, I appreciated the elaborate set up of cages and tubes we had (we called it Hamsterdam) because it made it easy to create segregated living arrangements.

I would like to point out that telling the difference in genitals on baby dwarf hamsters is a near-impossible task, and is how we ended up in this predicament in the first place. I turned to the internet for help. For the love of all you hold dear, please don’t ever google “hamster sex” without a few other words – “differentiation” would’ve been a good idea, or “determining” at the start, wise. I had revelations I can’t unsee. Why on earth would so many people think to put a hamster there?!? And why would they post pictures of it? 

There may be a difference in the squeal emitted when there are extra baby hamsters, but it’s been too long since I was a twelve-year old for me to tell. The gaggles congregated again, this time doing their own googling (Supervised! So supervised!) but they’ve been raised right, they didn’t care about gender. They were looking up “ways to convince your parents to let you have a hamster”. Some were successful, despite our now fourteen young critters being a bit of a warning to most rational adults. 

We were also saved by a reply to my desperate-to-give-away-hamsters kjiji ad. A woman who does small animal rescue offered to take the mother and her new litter of babies. It was such a relief. This stressed out young mother was exhausted and the noise/smell/gawking gaggles were getting to be too much. Did I mention that Hamsterdam was in the dining room of our small hundred-year old house? That room is our main living space and our hamster village was consuming our lives. 

Before we got back home from dropping off Dawn and her newborns, the small animal rescue lady texted to tell us that one of the babies only had three legs. We weren’t sure if she was asking us if we had the missing one? But she found a special home with a friend for the three-legged babe, she just wanted us to know about it. She wanted to know the mother’s name, too. ❤️

We gradually gave away all but four males. Their lives were not without drama, but they were indeed all males and there were no further litters. Two of them lived long lives – one maybe setting a record for Russian Dwarf Hamsters, but we don’t know for sure because we never could figure out which was the father and which the sons, so we didn’t know the exact age of the father-brother-son who lived the longest. Anyway, by that time we had a firmly ingrained household ban on googling anything remotely related to hamsters.

We now live with two wonderful, male, fixed cats and have a whole lot of hamster cages and tubes available if you’re interested.

5 comments

  1. Note to self: don’t google “hamster sex”! This made me laugh so much, Karen – especially the squeals to “summon other tweens who may have been underwater or in outer space” and the missing leg.

    We had something very similar happen to us when I was growing up in Australia. We got 2 female guinea pigs called Misty and Sue. Before we knew it we had about 15 baby guinea pigs. Sue was hastily renamed A Boy Named Sue and we were giving away guinea pigs to all and sundry. The woman we got them from swore blind they were both girls…

  2. Lol loved this I’m obsessed with hammies but always stuck to the one hampster per container rule to avoid and babies being made. You handled it quite well 👍

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