Did you know that the only animals besides humans with the propensity to become alcoholic are hamsters? I gleaned this delectable tidbit of knowledge while researching holistic remedies for lowering blood pressure.|
There is an herbal supplement called kudzu, which in addition to lowering blood pressure in humans, was found to successfully reduce alcohol cravings in hamsters. Of course, this means that somewhere, in some twisted laboratory, researchers saw fit to turn these poor little rodents into lushes, and then treat them with herbs. PETA would not be pleased. But that is for another story.
This is a story about my would-be drinking-buddy hamster, Sully.
By curious coincidence, I got an email from my friend, Maryann, the very day after I learned about the alcoholic hamsters. Her son’s hamster, Snowball, had given birth to sextuplets. Poor Maryann already had a house full of animals and I wanted to help her. I shared what I learned about alcoholic hamsters and offered to adopt the runt of the litter after the pups were weaned and reached hamster drinking age.
It was early in September, a little more than a month before my birthday, and my friend offered to set me up with one of the babies and the necessary hamster equipment as a birthday present. I was excited and a bit nervous to hold responsibility for the welfare of a little rodent, but intrigued at the thought of having a furry little drinking buddy. Since the smoking ban went into effect, I’ve pretty much stopped going to bars and nightclubs, preferring to save money by indulging in my vices in the comfort and privacy of my home.
And so one sunny Saturday morning, Maryann came to my house bearing a snazzy and colorful hamster condo with a fluffy white hamster slumbering comfortably in the tunnel between the main living area and the loft. She brought bedding and food and even hamster treats. I found an aesthetically pleasing corner of the living room for him between the fountain, lava lamp and baby palm tree. Maryann and I sat and drank mimosas and talked hamsters until it was time for her to go to work.
Hamsters are nocturnal and when Sully awoke that evening, we began to bond. Sully had little red eyes and tiny pink hands. I gave him some peas and he picked one up and nibbled on it while holding it in his pink hands and standing on his hind legs. He looked just like a little man. Throughout the following week, Sully and I had great fun. I experimented with exotic treats for him. He loved gruyere and appenzeller cheeses and scrambled eggs, but peas were still his favorite.
One Friday evening, my friend, Michelle, came over to visit. Michelle is afraid of rodents and asked me not to take Sully out. After Michelle left, I was afraid that the little fellow might have felt neglected. Unaware that hamsters dislike hip-hop and fast movement, I put on Snoop Dogg and brought Sully out of his cage to dance with me.
After our dance, I returned Sully to his cage, gave him some peas and gruyere and retired for the evening. I awoke the next morning to find the door to Sully’s cage agape and my little friend gone missing. I called for him, but he did not come and I was sick with worry.
The door to Sully’s cage opened like a staircase, so I placed in on the floor, filled his dish with peas and gruyere and waited for his return. I dozed off for about an hour and when I woke up, Sully’s food was gone. He had returned to his cage, less than ten feet away from me and I missed him. Frustrated, I refilled his dish.
When I went to bed that night, I heard a tapping in the baseboards. I tapped back.
“Sully, is that you?” I whispered.
The tapping stopped. He was playing with me.
When I awoke the next morning, his dish was empty, but there was no other sign of him. I was relieved that he was able to find his food and water, but concerned about him navigating alone the wild and dangerous landscape of my apartment.
I thought that it would be easy to catch him coming back into his cage for food at night, but he was quiet as a hamster and every morning I awoke to find his dish empty of food and his cage unoccupied. At least he wasn’t starving.
I emailed Maryann. “Sully has gone missing. My hamster is on the lam.” I lamented. She wrote me back. “Snowball just escaped too.”
I decided to conduct some research. I went on hamsters.com and learned that the hamster is a very clever escape artist. I discovered instructions on the site for a homemade hamster strap that involved creating a small staircase with books leading to the top of a plastic bucket filled with fragrant treats. I carefully fashioned a staircase leading to top of my deepest mixing bowl, figuring that it would serve the same purpose as a bucket. I put some bedding at the bottom and a little bowl filled with peas and gruyere and waited.
A couple of hours later I heard a sound. When I looked over, I saw that the staircase had collapsed. Next to the tumbled pile of books, frozen like a deer in headlights, was my little Sully. I gasped with delight.
“Sully, you’ve come home.” I cried.
And he scampered away and disappeared behind the sofa. I feared that if I moved the sofa, I might squish him. I rebuilt the staircase, but much sturdier this time, then retired for the evening.
When I woke up the next morning I immediately checked to see if my homemade hamster trap was successful. I found the peas and gruyere gone, but nary a sign of my Sully. He had escaped the trap! I realized that Sully was a very gifted little fellow and I had gravely underestimated his hamster prowess.
I would have to find another way. I called my father.
“Dad, may I borrow your squirrel trap?”
“What the hell do you need that for?”
“It’s Sully, he’s gone missing. He escaped my homemade hamster trap and he’s on his own in my apartment. I’m sick with worry.”
“Fucrissakes, how the hell did that happen?”
“I went to bed, and when I woke up I found that he had escaped.”
I decided to leave out the part about Snoop Dogg. He just wouldn’t understand.
“You’ve got troubles now, Christine. That squirrel trap won’t catch him. He’s not heavy enough to trip it.”
“Can’t I just try?” I pleaded.
“Of course. But I’m telling you now that it’s not going to work. Don’t worry, you’ll find him eventually. You’ll probably smell him after he dies.”
“He’s not going to die!” I cried.
I went online again and found a humane hamster trap for sale. It was like a tiny version of my father’s squirrel trap and I ordered it immediately.
When I emailed Maryann to bring her up to date on my futile efforts, I learned that Snowball had independently returned to her cage and was slumbering comfortably in her loft. Did Sully so dislike his home? Was I a bad mother to my hamster?
The humane hamster trap finally arrived. It was a small rectangular aluminum box. One end could be opened and, inside the center, there was a small ramp of sorts. When Sully smelled the gruyere, he would walk over the ramp towards it, the humane hamster trap door would close behind him, and I would finally be able to return him to the safety of his cage. I set the humane hamster trap up next to Sully’s cage, leaving the regular boring hamster food in his cage and putting all the fragrant treats in the trap.
In the middle of the night I was awakened by a sound. I crept out to the living room and the humane hamster trap was rattling like a Mexican jumping bean. I breathed a great sigh of relief. My hamster was finally home. I carefully opened the door to the trap and as soon as I did, Sully flew out and, with the grace and agility of a tiny gazelle, leapt two feet across the floor and scampered like lightening into my room.
“I’m an idiot.” I muttered to myself and returned to bed, tired and frustrated.
I emailed Maryann the next day to fill her in on my lack of progress.
“Snowball escaped again and Jimmy found her on the bookcase. He picked her up by her buttskin and put her back in her cage.” She told me.
“Buttskin you say?”
I reset the humane hamster trap when I got home that night. Sully didn’t fall for it right away, but two days later I discovered that he had, once again, been captured.
I refused to leave room for any more mistakes this time. I carefully brought the humane hamster trap along with Sully’s cage into the bathroom and shut the door. I opened the shower curtain and plugged the drain. I placed the humane trap in the bathtub and opened the door. Sully jumped out and started scampering around the tub. I carefully picked him up by his buttskin and returned him to his cage! Finally my prodigal hamster was home. But I was in danger of being late for work. I put his cage back in its place and headed to my thankless job.
I emailed Maryann, “The buttskin trick was the key. My little hamster is home. Thank you.”
Over the weekend I noticed that Sully was not quite himself. Perhaps he was so enjoying his free run of the house that the abrupt return to his cage had made him depressed. It was a lovely cage though, and so colorful. I tried to think of ways to make him more comfortable. Perhaps a mural and some fake flowers to mimic a landscape. I gave him a big dish of peas and placed his cage closer to the fountain. Surely that would lift his spirits.
Sunday night I noticed that he had a black spot on his face. Did he get into some dirt that I hadn’t noticed before? When I looked closer it appeared to be a small wound. I tried to take him out of the cage to spray some saline solution on it, but he scampered away from me. His appetite seemed okay and he was getting around well, so I wasn’t terribly worried.
When I returned from work on Monday night, my little friend was very lethargic. I gave him some gruyere, but he just sniffed it and walked away. I tried some peas, but he had no interest in them either. This would have to be addressed. Did they even have vets for hamsters? I made some calls. Eventually I found a place that would treat hamsters so I made an appointment for him the following evening. They only available appointment was at 5:00 p.m. This meant I would need permission to leave the aforementioned thankless job early and, unfortunately; I was unable to do so. I made some more calls and found a hamster-friendly vet with an emergency room that would be open until 8:00 that night. I decided to take him as soon as I got home.
I got an email from Maryann that afternoon asking after Sully. I updated her on the upsetting turn of events. “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine,” she assured me.
But when I got home, it was too late. He had left me for that big exercise wheel in the sky. I found his lifeless body nestled peacefully in his pine bedding.
It hardly seemed fair. Snowball had safely navigated Maryann’s house, despite her two frisky dogs and flight of stairs. Could it have been the humane hamster trap that injured him? I certainly couldn’t rule it out.
But the bottom line was I was a bad mother to my hamster. What would Maryann say? I had let her and her whole family down. When her impressionable young sons learned of this, they would think me a monster and never want to come to my house and shoot me with their toy machine guns again. I cursed myself for ever playing Snoop Dogg and dancing with my hamster on that fateful Friday night.
Suddenly the phone rang. When I looked over at the caller ID, I saw that it was Maryann, most likely calling to check on Sully.
Editor's note: Sully passed away before he ever had a chance to get drunk.