The Hamster Chronicles
Wednesday, October 8, 1997
My more alert readers (and some of my less alert readers) will note that Part 7 of these Chronicles ended with an exhortation to stay tuned for more Percy anecdotes, while Part 8 began with news of his demise. However, Percy's life was neither unusually short nor uneventful. Nearly two years separate Parts 7 and 8, and during those years I was finishing a Ph.D., finding a job, moving, and getting settled in a new town, all of which left little time for chronicling.
Here, then, are a few Percy stories I've been able to dig up. I'll begin with a "chroniclette", written mostly on October 4, 1995.
Several hamster books assure us that, after you and your hamster get to know each other, you'll be able to teach him tricks. In my experience, that's only true if you allow a very loose definition of "trick".Here are some more reminiscences from 1995.
By this loose definition I've actually taught Percy one "trick" already: that of riding on my shoulder. In fact, recently, a fellow posted on the net pets group that rats were better than hamsters, since rats could easily be trained to ride on shoulders, while he had never heard of anyone doing that with a hamster. I replied that at least one person had.
It all started when we found that Percy likes skydiving as much as Paul did, but, since we now know how dangerous it is, we wanted to discourage him as much as possible. We decided to whack him in the nose every time he tried to jump off some high place. We found that it doesn't take much of a whack to send two ounces of hamster sailing through the air -- not good when the goal is to stop him from jumping. But at his full-grown weight of five or six ounces this isn't much of a problem, and, in any case, the technique is working, so we don't have to whack him much any more. Now, when Joanne and I take a walk in the evening, I can put Percy on my shoulder and, as we walk, he runs back and forth like a maniac -- but he doesn't jump off.
Actually, sitting on a shoulder for thirty minutes is probably rough (psychologically) on a hamster, since he can't run anywhere, and he can't hide. Therefore, I usually give him the option of sitting on my arms, too. The rule is that when my arms are crossed, he can come down, but when they're not, he gets whacked if he tries. He is (slowly) learning this part of the system, too. He does have the annoying habit of trying to dig holes in my arms, but at least that is better than diving to his death off my shoulder.
The other day, Percy was awake and feeling friendly at the absurd hour of 11 a.m. I picked him up and went for a walk in the park across the street with a little fur ball perched on my shoulder.Some time in 1995, we bought Percy an aquarium and filled it with sand for him to dig in. We found that there is actually something that hamsters can do well: they aren't much good for climbing, running, or jumping, but they can dig. He puts his whole body into it, digging the hole with his front legs and pushing the pile of sand out of the way with his back legs. For some reason, he only liked to dig in the corners; the center was left untouched. I put some sunflower seeds in for him to dig up. The ones in the center didn't get dug up, and so they sprouted in the slightly damp sand. As a result, we learned that Percy liked sunflower sprouts, too.
Last year I took Paul over there and put him on the "track" (really a beaten-down path through the grass). Paul trotted along the path about two-thirds of the way around -- something like one sixth of a mile -- before he decided the track was boring and set off into the tall grass. This was Paul's basic response to being set down in the outdoors: pick a direction ("Today, I will run west-southwest!") and go for it. Percy, on the other hand, seems to be afraid of the outdoors. If I set him down outside, he runs in circles and hides between my feet; so, I let him ride on my shoulder.
After a brief walk, we made a pilgrimage to Paul's grave, in among the trees by the park. An unexpected hole in the ground indicated that one of Paul's woodland cousins had decided that the nice soft dirt pile on the grave would make a good place for a burrow. Our friendly neighborhood grave desecrator had even dug into the "coffin" itself, as was proven by several shreds of cardboard lying about. I don't know what the critter thought when he found himself face-to-face with a hamster corpse, though.
At that point, I set Percy down and let him wander, figuring, first, that he would be less afraid among the trees than he would out in an open field and, second, that since visibility was very good in the grove, I would have no trouble watching him and picking him up when it was time to leave. As they say, one out of two isn't bad.
After a brief sniff of his new surroundings, Percy decided it was time to do a little sprinting. Yes, I could see him with no trouble, but there were suddenly a number of branches between us. I took off after him and quickly learned that, in a dense forest, Percy's top speed and mine were roughly the same. It didn't help that, as Percy was trotting along, some huge beast was crashing through the trees behind him, scaring him into running faster. Fortunately, he stopped to investigate some interesting plant, and his brief flirtation with freedom came to an end.
Shortly thereafter, I made a rectangular box out of garden fencing and placed it over both the old hamster cage and the aquarium. The result is a much larger hamster cage; we called it "Percy's Palace". I filled it with cardboard boxes and other goodies for him to investigate.
Percy absolutely loved it. Formerly, he, like most other hamsters, was an expert escape artist. Once I built the Palace, he never wanted to leave his cage; he even tried to figure out how to break back in when he was outside. At least twice I found him sitting forlornly on top of the Palace, looking depressed, because he couldn't figure out how to get in. I cut a hole in the side and made a door we could open up to form a ramp so he could get in. Thereafter, we would often leave him in our bedroom with the door closed when we went to bed. The next morning, he would always be asleep in his cage.
Still, for reasons I don't quite understand, he hated the ramp. If I left the top of the Palace open, he would climb all the way up the side and jump in -- usually landing on his nose -- rather than go up the ramp.
Here is a note from Joanne, dated March 22, 1996.
Percy went a little crazy last night. He had the opening to his bottle covered up with cloth and bedding. Every time Glenn tried to remove the stuff from the doorway, Percy went into attack mode. Glenn started using a spoon to move things, and Percy started to attack the spoon. Glenn thought it not wise to pick up Percy at that time. The inside of the bottle was wet. He had been using the inside of the bottle as a toilet. That was strange because he has been pretty well toilet-trained for a while. I finally opened up the bottle, and we took him out the top. After he came out he was acting more normal, but he was stinky. Glenn cleaned out the bottle. He was still trying to use the bottle as a toilet. I wouldn't let him. I put some food in the bottle. He finally got the idea. He used his real toilet. We don't know why he was so strange; it wasn't even a full moon.Percy eventually lost his gray color. By the beginning of this year he was unquestionably brown and white, and as cute and contrary as ever.
Joanne says that she and Percy could understand each other, since they were both home-bodies. But Percy and I never saw eye-to-eye. Our contests of will were rather one-sided, since I was (I like to think) quite a bit stronger than he was. On the other hand, he had sharper teeth and a great willingness to use them; he chomped on my finger in a quite purposeful manner at least three times during his life.
We buried Percy among the trees on a hill by the river (we live close to the Mississippi), high enough to avoid most of the floods.
And, on June 11, we bought a 1.2-ounce ball of hair that we've dubbed "Buttermilk Biscuit" -- we're saving the ordinary human names for little humans. He's another male Syrian, blond and white this time. He also has lots of hair, being of the teddybear (long hair) breed. I'll tell y'all about his antics some other time.
Copyright 1997 Glenn G. Chappell. "The Hamster Chronicles, Part 9" may be freely copied and distributed provided that the text is unchanged, this notice is retained, and no fee is charged for said distribution. Distribution for a fee may only be done with express written permission of the author. While it is not strictly required, the author would also appreciate being notified if The Hamster Chronicles are made available to the public free of charge. E-mail: email@example.com
Next comes Part 10. Or go back to the Table of Contents.