I was wrapping up the leftover pizza from dinner Friday night. Meka went into the living room, sniffing the air with an odd expression on her face. She wandered around the couch and the chair and found her way to the buffet where our hamster cage sits next to the aquarium. She bent down and I saw her suddenly recoil as if she’d been punched in the face. She looked over at me in horror, but I already knew what she had found.
We’ve had a pair of dwarf hamsters – Zachary and Hamstersaurus Rex – for a couple of years. That’s a pretty good run for dwarf hamsters. Normally, you can’t put two hamsters in a cage together. They will kill each other. However, our breeder (yes, we went through a hamster breeder) said two brother hamsters would live together peacefully.
Well, not quite.
Zachary was the “alpha hamster”. When they were young, he was bigger than Hamstersaurus Rex. Zachary would chase him off the wheel, kick him out of the food dish, and push him out of the little hamster potty where they could wipe themselves off with special sand. In the evenings they would wrestle for dominance, rolling over and over each other until one would grudgingly squeak “uncle”. Other times, they would fight over food or treats, going after one another in – I kid you not – hamster slap fights. Their little front paws would whack away at each other so quickly, fur would literally fly.
Eventually, Zachary plumped out to Jabba the Hut like proportions and couldn’t catch Hamstersaurus Rex. They both reached an accord and seemed to enjoy each other’s company going into hamster middle age. They liked their treats around dinnertime. Meka would place them in the cage and they’d come out of the little wooden house they shared. They would sniff around and grab the mock acorn or whatever, find a place in the cage that would comfortably fit a hamster and a half, and sit and munch their treats together in peace.
While Hamstersaurus Rex had some gray streaks in his dark fur and the white on his paws stretched higher up his legs, it was Zachary who changed the most this winter. Within a couple of weeks, he dwindled down to half his size. Meka would bodily take him out of their house and place him in the food dish. Otherwise, he seemed like he couldn’t find it. Zachary regressed to his early behavior. He’d jump on Hamstersaurus Rex and take his treats away. Hamstersaurus Rex was literally twice the size of Zachary at this point, but let him get away with it. I think he knew the score. I tried to think back when I last saw Zachary and remembered seeing him wander around the cage on New Year’s Eve like he’d already had a few too many. I like to think he celebrated the coming of 2009 with the rest of the family and quietly expired among the torn shreds of toilet paper he and Hamstersaurus Rex called home.
I feel bad not giving Zachary a more dignified send off, but it was obvious he had gone gently into that good night, leaving his mortal coil at room temperature in an enclosed area for a couple of days. I found a Ziploc baggie and Meka scooped his remains out of the cage. Together we poured out the hamster bedding that somehow absorbed and magnified the rotten hamster smell. I like to think if there is a hamster afterlife, Zachary is among the phodopus campbelli celestia. Maybe he’s got little wings and hamster halo, maybe he’s shredding puffy clouds into cosmic nesting material. Maybe he’s spending time after a life of celibacy with seventy hamster virgins. In any case, it’s his little hamster spirit and the fond hamster memories we have of Zachary that are important. I kept telling myself that as I dumped him into the trash can out in the garage.