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The critter, a Syrian hamster we've
named Ursa, is rolling around the house in her plastic ball. We adopted her a
few days ago from a Humane Society station in a pet store. Yes, adopted. After a friend tipped me off
that rescue groups handle these small mammals, we drove 10 miles to a store
that had a display not only filled with kittens, but hamsters—each with their
own name and story. As the volunteer explained, one was the mother. The father,
whose cute name "Curly" didn't reflect his tendency to bite, wasn't
recommended. The rest of the tanks were filled with their offspring, the
products of clueless owners who put two hamsters in a cage and watched them
multiply exponentially within weeks. Eventually, those owners turned in 40 hamsters
to the Humane Society, some of which we were looking at. We zoomed in on a
russet colored 5-week-old female.
I'd spent the first few weeks of
summer window shopping at pet stores, checking out books about animal care, and
thinking up excuses of why we couldn't get one. They're messy. They're smelly.
They inevitably chew on furniture and pee on your freshly refinished floors. They're too much work. And for
I'm not going to let someone pressure me into getting a pet that I'll ultimately end up cleaning up after.
Really, I don't hate animals. I had a
few of my own as a child, beginning with the pair of extra gerbils my mom
brought home from the lab where she worked when I was a preschooler. I pet
them, I fed them, I gave them water. Then one day, as I slipped a gerbil back
into its glass tank, the metal lid slipped out of my little hands, slicing off a
long tail. I screamed. I cried. Meanwhile, the animal scampered around in its
cedar chips, oblivious to its missing body part, horrifying me even more. I
demanded that my father dispose of the entire tank, a task he was only too
happy to oblige.
It's one of my most vivid memories
of childhood, and a story my boys have heard over and over. As I we petted the
various baby hamsters and listened to their family saga, the cynic in me
wondered if it was all a ploy to emotionally soften people and get them to buy
a pet. But if we were going to get one—as I had promised my son—I'd rather
adopt a rescued animal with a great backstory, then one of the neglected pet
store specimens who were trying to gnaw their way through the glass walls.
By the time I was 10, my brother
and I had been the owners not only of the gerbils, but also three parakeets, a
pair of lovebirds and two bunnies. Unlike me, my younger son truly is an
animal person. As a toddler, he jumped out of his stroller to chase after
caterpillars, and he now earns extra money walking the neighbors' dogs. A
well-meaning acquaintance once told me it would be almost cruel not to get him
a pet, something I bristled at. I'm not going to let someone pressure me into
getting a pet that I'll ultimately end up cleaning up after.
I don't know if Ursa will end up to
be another child's passing fad, leaving the mom to feed it and clean its cage
after he's moved on to another interest. But when I hear my sons cooing and
doting over her, I see that she brings out a sweet and nurturing side that the boys
don't often get to express. I guess I'll take my chances.