Once I gave in to the children and acquired Dog, I foolishly believed our menagerie was complete. The kids had a pet. One that they could take for walks, lie on the sofa with, talk to about how beastly their parents were. What else could they possibly need? But a few months ago, Miss Nine became obsessed with hamsters. Overnight. The trigger was a friend’s daughter getting a hamster for her birthday (you know who you are…) It was adorable! So cute! And totally owned by the friend! Not like a *sniff * shared dog. She, Miss Nine, needed a hamster. She’d do anything. Anything. She would take any test we devised to prove her commitment. Looking after it herself? No problem. Cleaning out the cage? She’d be only too glad to do so. She wanted – no, yearned – for the responsibility of her very own pet. The hounding went on for days. Each of those days felt like a year. The conversation was unending and deeply dull, yet emotionally draining. It was also made worse by the fact that rodent-love was contagious. Miss Seven also wanted a hamster. Obvs. She needed her own pet too. That was THE POINT. In the end, I put my foot down. No way. No rodents. We had a hard enough time getting rid of the wild ones. I was absolutely NOT going to buy one. Let alone two.
An hour later, we were at the pet shop. There, we surveyed the information board which showed the benefits of all the pets. For the first time, I could see an upside to the hamster. Rabbits lived for twelve years. (Frankly, too much commitment.) Hamsters? Two. Just twenty-four months to get through. A hamster expert came across to talk to me. It was a long conversation and elicited several startling facts. Despite the fact that hamsters were billed as ‘the ideal first pet for children’, they were nocturnal and some species were prone to biting.
My gaze darkened. ‘So they’re only awake at night? Really?’
‘Yes.’ The hamster expert nodded. ‘And if you wake them unexpectedly, they can nip. It can be quite painful.’
‘Right. So… perhaps not ideal for kids,’ I said. A few feet away, I could hear the Husband saying, ‘Aren’t they cute, girls?’ as he pointed enthusiastically at two Russian Dwarf hamsters and lifted Miss Seven up to get a better look. I sighed. ‘I’m thinking we’ll keep them in the boot room.’
It was Mr Expert’s turn to look at me darkly. ‘Is it heated?’
‘These are desert animals,’ he said, frostily. ‘They need warmth.’
I felt as trapped as the hamsters looked in their little glass box. ‘Right. So I’d have to have them in the house?’ (I wondered whether to mention the mice that seem to thrive in our boot room no matter what the temperature, but decided against it.)
It was clear to me, as I watched Miss Nine and Miss Seven choose the hamsters they wanted and name them, egged on by the Husband, that the battle was lost. Resignedly, we paid for the hamsters (‘Only ten pounds each!’ Miss Nine said) plus the cage, food, entertainment and bedding, before reeling out, a hundred pounds worse off.
Back at home, the new family members were installed in the toy room. There was much fuss made of them by everyone except Dog. She couldn’t quite believe her eyes. Every fibre of her being quivered with outrage as she stared fixedly at the hamsters scurrying around their new abode. What were those creatures doing in her house? Worse than that, they seemed like welcome visitors. Everyone was making a huge fuss over them. Eventually, it was too much for Dog and she snapped at the plastic tunnel the Hammys were taunting her from, only to find herself banned from the toy room. Miss Nine and Miss Seven were outraged. You aren’t allowed to bite family members! (Which just goes to show they did listen to some of the things I said when they were small.)
Several months later, I have to admit that on the whole, the Hammys (Bobby and Speedo – no, I didn’t name them) have been a successful addition to the fold. They are quite cute, relatively low maintenance and sometimes, the promises to clean them out are even kept by Misses Nine and Seven. They do bite (the hamsters, I mean), but we discovered early on that if you wear gardening gloves to wake them during the day and play with them, you normally escape an encounter with your fingers intact.
But. There’s always a but. My complacent assumption that this time the menagerie really was complete was shattered last weekend. We went to Devon to see friends. Friends with kittens (you know who you are…). If I had known that they had kittens, I would have avoided their house until the kittens were cats. Cats with arthritis and failing eyesight. Miss Nine spent the time in Devon stroking a kitten, or looking at a kitten, or taking photos of a kitten, or talking about getting a kitten, or making wild promises about what she would do to get a kitten, or showing me the sheer cuteness of a kitten, or finding a kitten on-line that was for sale near our house. It was a kitten-tastic couple of days. So we’re back to the pet pestering at our house. This time, I’m standing firm. We’re not getting kittens. Definitely not! Certainly not two, because Miss Seven also wants one. There’s no way I’m getting kittens. That’s my final word on the matter.