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The Inconvenient Hamster Truth

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Parenthood and pet ownership go hand-in-hand

Our family has owned a hamster for five months, but not the same hamster. We try to be conscientious pet owners. We prepared for our new pet in the same way we prepared for a baby: we read a manual, created a lovely habitat, and bought all the accessories and accoutrements needed to make our new addition comfortable. Just like many expecting parents, we even gave our hamster a name ahead of time: Penny.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

On the way home we noticed that Penny was different; Penny had red eyes. It made her look a little evil and rat-like, but it didn’t matter. We were already in love with our odd little hamster.

As the days went on, her oddity became more serious. It turned out that Penny had a major drinking problem. She would finish a whole water bottle in one day and completely soak a corner of the habitat with her waste. She also was very irritable. Anyone who dared to handle Penny ended up with an imprint of her little hamster-rat teeth. The red eyes, excessive drinking and anger management issues did not make for an ideal pet.

A month later we noticed she was shaky and reclusive. We went out for the evening and when we came back she was dead, most likely from liver failure. We knew this day would come. Hamsters, like goldfish, aren’t known for their longevity.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave

My husband and I had already sent the kids to bed, so they had no idea. I dreaded telling them. My husband was going out of town the next day and I did not want to deal with the death of a family pet on my own. So we concocted a plan to replace her with an identical hamster. We wanted to give Penny a proper burial in the backyard fit for a beloved pet, but being afraid that the sound of digging a grave would wake the kids, my husband unceremoniously wrapped her in a paper towel, put her in a box and threw her away.

The next day, I micromanaged the whole morning so the kids would not look in the habitat and notice Penny was gone. Then I dropped them off at my parents’ house and went to the pet store.

Finding a proper replacement was harder than I thought. Although the hamsters were similar, they were not identical. I picked one whose fur I thought matched the closest.

Nothing gets past them

So I took Penny No. 2 home and placed her in the habitat. This hamster ended up looking a lot different than the first one. My kids noticed right away.

“Mom, Penny looks different. She is fatter and her eyes aren’t red anymore.”

I made the excuse that she was going through a “life change.”

“Hamsters are a lot like people. When they get older they change. Just like your cousin. He is 13 now and he is changing, too.”

They completely accepted that answer. It didn’t hurt that they idolize their older cousin. After that explanation, my kids never questioned that it was not the same hamster.

Fast forward three months. I left town for the weekend and my husband decided it was time the kids knew the truth. I was up at the Glenwood Caverns about to go on the cave tour with a group of friends when I received a text message on my phone that said, “I told the kids the truth about Penny.”

What?! Why in the world?

He told me that he wanted them to understand how fragile hamsters are. After a day of handling and mishandling, Penny No. 2 was looking a little dazed and confused. He said they needed to know the reasons why we have so many rules to protect her. He professed they took the news about their first hamster really well and said I was concerned for nothing.

To date, Penny No. 2 has outlasted Penny No. 1 by four months. I hope she lives to a ripe old hamster age of two or three years, because I don’t think I can get away with the Penny switcheroo again.

Unless I manage to find another angry, red-eyed hamster with a drinking problem.


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  • comment avatar Nancy Face September 22, 2007

    Penny #1 strangely resembles a vampire…her burial seems somehow appropriate! LOVE the puberty excuse, haha!

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine September 22, 2007

    that story is hilarious. before you got to the part saying the kids DID notice, i was thinking, “oh, they WILL notice that it’s a different hamster.” your reasoning was pretty logical.

  • comment avatar Kayelyn September 22, 2007

    I love this story, being a hamster lover and all. I had to give them up since I am no good at grieving so often. Perhaps Penny should have given up her drinking?

    I could never get away with a hamster switcharoo, My S would notice right away.

  • comment avatar Tori :) September 22, 2007

    I’ve done the same thing with goldfish!! Poor, poor Penny.

  • comment avatar yvonne September 22, 2007

    I have to say your explanation was VERY BELIEVABLE.

  • comment avatar Heffalump September 22, 2007

    We have pet snails. Our first one died, and I wasn’t going to get another one, but one day walking home from dropping #4 at school, there were two snails right there! So we brought them home and they are doing fine. The nice thing about snail is that if I get tired of them, I can just put them outside and I don’t have to feel bad since that is where they came from.

  • comment avatar socesboys September 23, 2007

    Okay, so this shows my age, I guess. I thought the “life change” was menopause…well, at least until you compared it to their cousin. We have had many a cermony over the toilet bowl mourning the loss of yet another fish.

  • comment avatar elasticwaistbandlady September 23, 2007

    I would have just told the kids that Penny #1 is somewhere doing the Hamster Dance up in that Hamster Heaven in the skies.

  • comment avatar Julie September 23, 2007

    Life change…(snort)

    We had a few of those Beelzebub hamsters too. Hamster pee is putrid, isn’t it?

  • comment avatar serf 'rett September 24, 2007

    Turtles are more durable and have a longer life span. I have a couple of red eared sliders if you or anyone else is interested.

  • comment avatar chris p September 25, 2007

    Pretty good sis but i know those kids are smart! at least they didn’t want to know if penny could fly 🙂 love to all

  • comment avatar Aunt panub January 12, 2008


    Very cute…thanks for sharing!