This is Part 11 of The Hamster Chronicles, part of Glenn's Hamster Page, by Glenn G. Chappell.

The Hamster Chronicles
Part 11

Monday, May 18, 1998

Yesterday morning I was awakened by a rodent being dropped on me. Not being a big fan of paratrooper-style activities involving small mammals in the early morning hours, I brushed him off. Presently, he was dropped on me again. "I found him in the middle of the kitchen floor," said a voice. Our little furball had successfully completed escape number five.

Last time, I described escapes one through three. During number two, Buttermilk hid under our kitchen cabinets, gleefully snatching away the Pop-Tarts intended to lure him out. Frank Sheeran, my Boggle opponent for the evening, writes

Butterball also took some poptart from me. Getting outsmarted by a pea-sized brain hurt even more than paying $180 for winter biking clothes today.

Escape number four was only last Wednesday. I first noticed that Buttermilk was missing when I tried to give him his after-dinner treat bowl.

Seven p.m. is "Treat Bowl Time" at our house. In a desperate effort to get our local fuzzball to think positively about being taken out of his beloved cage, we have stopped giving him his favorite foods except when we pick him up. Now, at seven, the sound of a peanut bottle being shaken lures Buttermilk out of his burrow, and he cautiously sniffs the air and inches out into the open over a period of about two minutes (after all, we've only done this about 200 times; you never know what may happen). When he has grudgingly dragged himself entirely out into the open, the Giant Hand From The Sky lifts him up and spirits him off to the Land of Tasty Treats, a.k.a. the kitchen table, where a bowl of sunflower seeds and bits of crackers, noodles, nuts, or veggies awaits.

At this point, a number of things may happen. He may grab a few tidbits and sit quietly munching behind the pepper grinder. Or, if his hoard seems a bit low, he will engage in a mad, crazy face-stuffing frenzy, diving down deep into his 2-inch-high bowl, with his legs sticking up in the air behind him, trying to get "the good stuff", which, he believes, is buried at the bottom (it isn't, by the way).

At the end of a frenzy, he takes his now-enormous head to a corner of the table and indicates, as clearly as he is able, that he would like to go home now, thank you. If the Giant Hand From The Sky is willing, he soon finds himself back on the top ledge of his cage. Ignoring the lovingly hand-crafted ramp leading down to his burrow entrance, he walks to the back, leans over the side of the ledge, hangs by one foot for a moment, then drops and lands, face first, in the toilet.

Now, the situation is not quite as bad as it sounds. The ledge is not terribly high, and a pile of nice, soft bedding awaits him at the bottom. Furthermore, the "toilet", which is his hamster potty, is not used as such very often. They say it is easy to potty-train a hamster. Just pick a particular spot, put some soiled bedding there, and wait for him to get the idea. This worked with Percy, but Buttermilk has never really figured it out. When we introduced Buttermilk to the hamster potty (made from an old plastic milk jug) he decided it would be a good place to store food. I still catch him munching there now and then, but these days it is primarily a crash-landing site, as described above.

This means it is tough to tell whether Buttermilk has had his evening bathroom break when we take him out. We have to be on the lookout for the ominous warning signs: nervousness and a preference for turning in circles mean that disaster is only seconds away. The regulation method for dealing with such impending calamity is for one of us to charge screaming through the house, with a bewildered rodent held upside-down at arm's length. Said rodent is tossed into the hamster potty, there to do his business.

Happily, he usually does, which is not to say he is anything but a complete klutz about it. A couple of weeks ago, the nervousness, circles, screaming charge, and toss-into-the-potty having run their course, Buttermilk set about getting the job done. He lifted his rear in the air, as hamsters will. Unfortunately, he lifted it too far, stood up on the tip of his nose for a moment, and then fell over on his back, meanwhile spraying the vicinity. Such incompetence is probably why Syrian hamsters are extinct in the wild.

As I was saying, last Wednesday I went over to the cage to give Buttermilk his treat bowl, but he was not there. I commenced wandering around the house, looking under beds and furniture, shaking a jar of peanuts, producing a terrible racket, and generally making a fool out of myself. But this time it actually worked. After about fifteen minutes of this silliness, fuzzball lumbered out from behind a bookcase with an "anything-is-preferable-to-dying-of-thirst" look on his face.

After that, we began wiring his cage shut each night, a habit we had given up a couple of months ago. I secured him well the night before last, or so I thought, but he got out anyway. It is amazing what you can accomplish when you have nothing else to do but sit and think about how to escape.

Last time I promised to say something about my effort to design a hamster harness. This began back in 1994 when we first got Paul. What appeared at first to be an easy project quickly began to look impossible. Hamsters, it seems, are shaped like sausages. You simply cannot restrain a sausage using only a collar; a sausage has no neck.

But a hamster has something sausages do not have: legs. Most of my harness designs have involved straps looping around the front legs. Unfortunately, in their normal walking gait, hamsters move their front legs from the all-the-way-forward position to the all-the-way-back position. Anything that hampers leg movement makes them nearly unable to walk. They never complain, though; not once the harness is on.

Getting the harness on is a different matter. To a hamster, having elastic bands placed around him is cause for a fight to the death. But once those bands are in place, he will trot away unconcernedly, despite the fact that his legs are sticking straight out sideways, making him look like a furry four-legged crab.

So: loops around the front legs are not practical. My most recent design involves a band around the "neck", which can easily slide forward, but not backward, because of the front legs. There is another band around the middle, which can easily slide backward, but not forward, again because of the front legs. Hooking these two bands together produces a harness that will not come off (at least in theory) and involves no loops around the legs.

As with earlier designs, putting on the harness is a fight-to-the-death struggle, followed by a firmly harnessed rodent happily ambling away. Until he reaches the end of the leash.

I think we can all agree that there is not much point in putting a harness on a hamster if the only result is that the beastie who is digging a hole in my wall happens to have a harness on while he does it. Therefore, I have attached a small metal ring to the top of the harness. I tie one end of a piece of yarn to the ring and attach the other end to some large, heavy object. Beastie is now confined to a nice, safe area in the middle of the living room.

And so he crawls away, usually in the direction of the back of the bookshelf. But just short of his goal, a mysterious evil force impedes his progress. With grim determination, he opposes this sinister force with all his strength. Frantically struggling, he staggers around in a circle whose radius is, oddly enough, precisely the length of the leash. After a couple of minutes of this, an idea begins working its way into his meager collection of brain cells: the loop around his neck is somehow connected with this terrible force that opposes him. He tries to insert a leg into the loop and, after a minute or so, succeeds. Result: a three-legged hamster staggering in a circle. A mournful sigh is heard, and the Giant Hand From The Sky comes to the rescue.

The World's Most Brilliant Rodent now considers himself to be under attack again: the Giant Hand is (gasp!) trying to take the harness off! Another fight to the death ensues. Fortunately, it never occurs to Buttermilk to bite (lack of intelligence has its benefits, now and then); otherwise he might still have that harness on. But the harness comes off eventually. The Giant Hand is now his dearest friend (more or less) once again, and Buttermilk gladly receives the gift of a few of sunflower seeds, to compensate him for his troubles.

Meanwhile, the brain behind the Giant Hand wonders whether there is any practical way of preventing a hamster from running into whatever dark corner he chooses and eating holes in ones house. "Don't buy a hamster," comes to mind, but of course that would never be practical.

Copyright 1999 Glenn G. Chappell. "The Hamster Chronicles, Part 11" 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:

Next comes Part 12. Or go back to the Table of Contents.

The Hamster Chronicles, Part 11 / Last update: 25 Jan 2001 / Glenn G. Chappell /