The hamster is fine, thank you

The phone rings while I am at work. “This is Lucy from Pets at Home. Just checking to see how your hamster is settling in.”

I suppress a sigh. This is the third time someone from the company has called – usually in the middle of my working day – to asked our hamster’s health.

About three weeks ago we bought a hamster as a birthday present for my seven-year-old daughter.

I’ll say this for the Pets at Home people – they appear to be very interested in the welfare of the animals. Before we were allowed to buy the hamster we had to listen to a lecture on the perils of various hamster ailments and show them a picture of the cage we had prepared for her at home.

The hamster actually has a palatial cage. As novice hamster owners we read a lot of online reviews and advice when searching for a cage. Many of the cages we looked at had comments underneath from enraged animal lovers along the lines of: “It is cruel to keep a hamster in a cage this small. People who buy this cage SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED TO KEEP ANIMALS AT ALL!!!” So we looked at slightly bigger cages and it was the same thing: “People who put animals in a cage this small SHOULD BE PUT IN A CAGE THEMSELVES!!!!” So we looked at even bigger cages, and still the hamster rights brigade was there, suggesting that anyone even thinking of buying  these cages SHOULD HAVE THEIR GENITALS RIPPED OUT WITH PLIERS!!!. So in the end we bought the largest cage on the market, the only one that didn’t come with a litany of cruelty warnings. It is the size of a toddler bed and barely fits into our house.

I was quite proud showing the pet shop guy the picture of it.

“Look, it even has a penthouse at the top. Two sleep pods. A hamster toilet with special hamster litter. It’s the hamster equivalent of a mansion.”

The Pets at Home man looked unimpressed. “It looks ok,” he said. I wondered for a moment if he was one of the people writing those SHOUTY CAP comments under pictures of hamster cages. But at least we were allowed to take the hamster home.

The hamster was equally unimpressed with the cage. It ignored the specially designed sleep pods and holed up in the small plastic “penthouse” section on top of the cage, dragging all of its food and bedding up there. If I had realised it was going to spend 99 per cent of its time in a space the size of a margarine tub, I might have reconsidered the cage we bought.

Then the phone calls began. Not just one but several calls from the pet shop staff.  “Just want to see how the hamster is settling in.” I am not sure if the staff are just keen, or whether there is something about us that has put our hamster on the “at risk” register.

Now, I DO want the hamster to be happy and healthy, and I am not advocating a return to the bad old days when you could put little Fluffy down the waste disposal unit and no one would care. But I am also struck by the fact that none of the humans in our household is getting this kind of aftercare.

My middle child, for example,  is still recovering from an operation on his ear – and we’ve not received anything like this number of follow-up calls from the hospital. Even when my children were newborns they received less attention than this from the health visitor.

I think about all the things occupying my brain capacity at the moment. The still-bandaged ear. My oldest starting secondary school and the whole family still adjusting to the new routine. A relative dying, brutally, of cancer. A full load at work. The au pair’s dental problem, the leaking washing machine and the mysterious problem with the cold water supply that the water company needs to come and fix. In fact, the only reason I have answered my phone in the middle of a work meeting is because I hoped it was the plumber.

Yes, Lucy, the frickin hamster is just fine.  It is doing better than most of the family, to be honest. It gets its meals delivered and never has to clean up after itself. It does not have to share its toilet with children who have no concept of privacy and a poor aim with urine. Frankly, if the hamster is not interested in using the rest of its cage, I am thinking of moving in there with it.

And even if the hamster wasn’t completely on top form, Lucy, it is pretty far down my priority list right now.

But I don’t say any of this to Lucy, worried that it would land me on some list of deranged people who SHOULD NOT OWN HAMSTERS!!! and I will get even more calls.

“The hamster is doing really well, thank you”, I say, in what I hope is a responsible pet-owner sort of voice. I only add the expletives in my own head.  

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