Disappearing Act: Case of the Houdini Hamsters

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By Cate Drew
What kid doesn’t want a pet? Our kids started asking as soon as they could say the word “pet.” We lived in an apartment at the time, and dogs and cats were out, but we started to consider adding to the family. Certain pets were out. Parakeets (boring), fish (really boring) and snakes (really scary) were eliminated, and we finally settled on two hamsters the kids named Lionel and Tiger.

They were pretty cute, but it turned out that Lionel and Tiger were not only cute, they were talented. We had bought the twin Houdinis of the rodent world. These guys disappeared regularly, getting out of their cage so easily and so quickly I suspected they had found that crack in the time-space continuum Einstein spent his life trying to prove.

The escapes were bad enough when we lived in the apartment, but when we moved to the house, our search and rescue expeditions lasted for days. The two shared a cage in Ben’s room, but once they were out, they moved fast and they could be anywhere. Hamsters, we discovered, are only active at night and they like tiny, cramped quarters. I once found Lionel in Matt’s closet, in an empty shoe box, behind a big wadded up piece of tissue paper, and I only looked in the box after noticing a telltale shredded paper trail.

We decided to move the cage from Ben’s desk to his dresser, figuring the height would make them think twice. Nope. They got out of that cage and did what only could have been swan dives off the dresser and off they went. Lionel once dove off the dresser in the wrong direction and ended up wedged between the wall and dresser for what we estimate was at least two days.

The final straw came one night, when Matt grabbed my arm, and whispered, “Cate! A hamster just ran into our bedroom.” The man who doesn’t wake up when three alarm clocks go off simultaneously is telling me he heard a hamster run into our carpeted room under cover of darkness? I told him he was dreaming, but he insisted, so I reached over to turn the light on to tell him he was nuts to his face, and damn if I didn’t look over the side of my bed and saw Tiger sitting there, looking up at me.

Despite their talents, Lionel and Tiger were just hamsters, of course, with limited life spans. One developed an abscess that required being “put down” via a can of ether sprayed into a grocery bag and the other died of natural causes — or perhaps boredom. They’re buried in our yard, with miniature tombstones and American flags on the graves.

At least I think they’re there. Some nights I’m convinced I hear the pitter-patter of little feet making yet another break for it.

About Cate Drew

I’m on the high side of 40, with three dogs, two teens and one husband, living in a small New England town in a house that’s never quiet. Ever. It’s not that I have a really colorful life – I just tend to write colorfully about it. And there’s plenty of material: marriage to the Man of a Thousand Bad Ideas,.. my mom, who moved Dad’s coffin closer to the street six months after he died so she could visit his grave as a kind of drive-up window…our dog posse…our kids…lots of siblings and in-laws, former co-workers, old boyfriends -- they’re all here. Toss in 14 years of Catholic school and you’ve got a lot of guilt, too. Which reminds me: forget “high side of 40.” I’m 51, damnit.