The Hamster Chronicles
Monday, October 27, 1997
This past June 11th we adopted our third hamster companion: Buttermilk Biscuit. Since that's a bit long you can call him "Buttermilk" or "B.B.", if you like. (Most of the time I just call them all "Rodent".) Buttermilk is a blond-and-white teddybear hamster we found at the local pet shop. Being a teddybear means he was bred to have more hair than anyone could ever want or need. We cut and brush it now and then, over Buttermilk's vehement protests, but it still does pretty much what it wants. Joanne says Buttermilk is having a "bad hair life".
Back in Part 3, I made the rather naive comment that "... an animal with a brain the size of a grape can hardly be capable of much variety." And yet our three hamsters have had very different personalities.
Paul, we like to think, was an artist. He would spend hours painstakingly arranging strips of paper to form his nest. It was usually in the two-liter bottle attached to his cage, and he would carefully line the entire inside of the bottle, so that no light could get through. Like many truly great artists, Paul was also a little bit nuts. When we cleaned out his cage and destroyed his beautiful creation, he would stuff his cheeks as full as he could and run around like crazy. That may not sound so bad, but Paul would be like that for a couple of days. I suspect this was a manifestation of a grab-what-you-can-and-head-for-the-hills instinct, but it's tough to get to those hills when you're locked in a cage.
Percy was a rebel. He had his ideas about the way the world should work, and he would fight to make sure the world worked that way. Several times, when I had decided he would come out of his cage, and he had decided he wouldn't, he chomped on my finger to make his point.
While Paul's response to stress was to head for the hills, and Percy's was to grab the guns, hide behind the door, and shout, "You'll never take me alive!" Buttermilk just has a violent spasm. He is the jumpiest little critter I have ever seen. Of course, all hamsters are somewhat jumpy (you would be, too, if you were that low on the food chain), but B.B. beats them all. At the slightest unexpected noise, he will jump in the air, flip over, and land in some strange position. This wouldn't be so bad, except that he also likes sitting right on the edge of our table.
Imagine, if you will, a typical evening in the Chappell household. Joanne and I are in the living room talking, while a rumpled hairball is perched on the edge of the coffee table, happily munching away on some tidbit. Suddenly, it happens -- my chair creaks! At the edge of the table is a brief, frantic explosion of light-colored fur, you hear a soft "plop", and now there is a little powder puff with eyes sitting on the floor, looking dazed, wondering what happened. This happens quite regularly; once he landed in my shoe, and we couldn't find him for several minutes.
Along with freaking out, another of Buttermilk's favorite pastimes is digging. Occasionally, we let our hamsters climb around on our plant stand. Paul and Percy usually liked to sit for a while among the leaves of the shamrock. When we put Buttermilk in the shamrock, the first thing he did was to dig a tunnel. Within a minute or so, he was completely underground. Presently, a vaguely hamster-shaped pile of potting soil emerged from the depths. Teddybear fur was not made for digging in dirt piles.
I am told that when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In keeping with this idea, Buttermilk seems to be of the opinion that our walls don't have enough holes in them, and he has exercised his digging talents in an attempt to rectify the situation. Not that we have agreed to this; we keep him locked up in Percy's Palace (perhaps "Percy's Prison" would be more accurate) and never intentionally let him wander around without supervision. But he doesn't like the Palace quite as much as Percy did -- or perhaps he just has a young hamster's desire to explore; twice he has gotten out and started digging through the walls.
The first time, on July 31, we awoke to find a hamster-less cage and a little hole in the wall in back of the washer. After a while, we discerned strange scratching noises coming from inside the wall and an occasional flash of light fur visible through the hole. He stayed in there all day but eventually discovered a surprising flaw in his escape plans: there is no food inside the walls. Thus, Joanne was able to present an irresistible temptation in the form of that sought-after delicacy: a piece of a Wild Berry Pop-Tart. Hunger overcame the desire for freedom, and that was that, except for the hole left in the wall.
The second time, on September 20, he holed up under our kitchen cabinets. Sitting around the table playing a few games of "Boggle" with a friend, I could hear him slowly destroying the underside of the kitchen: "crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch" for 15 seconds, a few minutes of silence, then, "crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch", and so on. It is difficult to play Boggle when, not ten feet away, a tiny beast is noisily vandalizing your home. It was easy to tell where he was, but there was little we could do about it short of ripping the cabinets apart.
As the reader might guess, the food that is not inside the walls is also not under the cabinets. So, I tried that sly, devious Pop-Tart trick again. A little pink nose and a complete set of quivering whiskers poked out from under the cabinet, followed by a pair of black eyeballs and a whole lot of hair. The nose sniffed out the situation, the eyeballs looked around, and the quivering whiskers ... quivered. Then the itty-bitty brain behind it all hatched a cunning strategy to let him have his Pop-Tart and eat it, too. He quickly leaned out as far as he could, snapped up the morsel, and zoomed back under the cabinet with his prize, leaving me Pop-Tart-less and feeling foolish. At this point, there *was* some food under the cabinet, but at least he had something to chew on besides the wall; during another game of Boggle, the "crunch, crunch, crunch" was not to be heard. A few minutes later, I offered a second Pop-Tart lure. Once again, nose, whiskers, eyeballs, and ridiculously abundant hair made their appearance, but this time the itty-bitty brain met its match, and shortly I had him wriggling in my clutches.
A third escape came a week ago last Wednesday. We went out for the evening, and when we came home Buttermilk was happily sitting on top of the Palace, looking cute and innocent. Fortunately, he hadn't yet gotten a chance to dig a hole in anything valuable. To be fair, he has only escaped when I have left the cage unlatched. Why do I leave a known wall-chewer's cage unlatched? Stupidity, I guess. That itty-bitty-brain syndrome must be contagious. (I can hear it now: "Mr. Chappell, I'm afraid you've got IBBS; there is no known cure.")
Some supplemental restraint for our little hairball seems to be in order, and so I have recently resumed my project of making a hamster harness/leash. This time, despite all these itty-bitty-brain troubles, I am actually having some success. I'll write about that next time.
Copyright 1997 Glenn G. Chappell. "The Hamster Chronicles, Part 10" 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Next comes Part 11. Or go back to the Table of Contents.