I woke up this morning exhausted after a restless night involving being mauled by a lion, so it didn’t start well. When I got up, I walked towards the bathroom, passing my hamsters’ cage. I didn’t make it to the bathroom. Lying on her back in the sawdust was one of my hamsters, Juju. She wasn’t moving, and I knew straight away that she’d passed away. I knew, but I didn’t believe. I didn’t want to believe.
I have—or should I say had—two hamsters, Yuki and Juju. I bought them last March to celebrate being asked to stay permanently at my first ‘real’ job, at which point they were already about 6 weeks old. They were sisters, both albino, but they were nothing alike. While Juju was curious, active and receptive to being picked up, Yuki was difficult from the beginning, with a knack for drawing blood and hiding away. That’s why I call her my hampire, especially with her bright red eyes. If I’d have given it thought before, I would have guessed that Yuki would go first, as she didn’t get a lot of exercise or seem that interested in food. Juju was always running, exploring and the first to get to a newly refilled bowl.
So it was with dismay and some denial that I watched Juju start to get thinner and more frail. Her fur started thinning, and she was frequently scratching. I knew they were both getting older, but it seemed so strange that two sisters could age at different rates.
I did what I could. I made sure there was fresh food, including bits of cucumber and other nutritious treats. I made sure the cage was cleaned weekly and lots of bedding was put down to keep them warm as the weather got colder. I even got some tea tree oil cream from the pet shop to see if that helped with Juju’s itching.
Juju seemed worse than usual last night, and I wonder if she could sense her time was up. In the past, if I’ve made any noises or opened the cage, she’d at least peek her little twitchy nose out from wherever she was sleeping. As I said earlier, if I put any new food in the cage, she’d come scurrying at high speed. Last night, she didn’t make an appearance, even when I put some dried banana chips (her favourite) outside her cave. It was only when I slightly lifted up the cave that she came out a little. Flan had earlier had to actually reach in under the cave to get her to rub some cream on her skin, and he’d said her breathing sounded papery.
I was terrified, and I made up my mind to call the vet first thing in the morning. I didn’t want my poor baby suffering if there was something more I could do, medication to give her. I think that’s what made it so much harder this morning. I’d committed to taking her to the vet, and then it was too late.
I couldn’t go to work. It took me over an hour to work up the courage to get her out of the cage, and then it was only with Flan’s motorcycle glove and a lot of paper towel to carefully wrap her in (with paper bedding to pad around her legs, which were stiff with rigor mortis). I then put her in a biodegradable bin bag and put her to the side. I couldn’t handle the next stage: what to do with her body. I don’t have a proper garden; the small yard is covered in stone tiles and gravel. After lunch, tired and numb, I finally decided to go to the nearest garden centre, where I picked up an outdoor pot, soil and some plants. Despite not being one for gardening and plants in general, I found burying her under pretty flowers to be very therapeutic. I avoided it for hours, but I was glad once I’d finally finished the task.
Now I know some people might say, “She was just a hamster.” I know because I’ve been told this. I realise losing a hamster is not quite like losing a human friend or family member, or even like losing a dog you’ve had for many years. Juju was only about 20 months old, but that was plenty of time for me to form an attachment to a small, fluffy creature that depended on me for her wellbeing. I don’t appreciate having my grief belittled by people who think I’m silly for caring about an insignificant animal. I loved my hamster, one of the many beautiful creatures on this planet, and I’m entitled to feel her loss even if she doesn’t have the brain size of a human.
Rest in peace, my sweet, cuddly ball of fur.