By a stroke of good fortune, I survived to tell this tale, but last week I nearly died at the hand of a well-meaning human. It was a kill-with-kindness situation which resulted in an unfortunate outcome, reminding me that good intentions can have far-reaching consequences! The human’s generosity toward me, Mitten the hamster, quickly turned into a living nightmare for me and for her too! Of course, I must confess I wasn’t altogether blameless in the fiasco. Desire and greed contributed to my demise.
I’ll share the experience later but first a little history. A few months ago, I was a very unhappy little hamster with no family. I found myself in what the humans call a pet store. I was sad, homeless, and hungry. Although the store humans scattered food around the cavernous cage, it wasn’t like my mother’s cooking. There was a mechanical contraption that dispensed water, but it tasted bitter—not at all like the cold, sweet water I was accustomed to sipping from the woodland streams. The conditions in that store-place were appalling for a well-bred hamster. It was not like my warm, cozy nest under the sheltered tree roots in the wood—the only home I’d known before I was snatched away from my parents and nine siblings.
Home was never like this! This place was an overcrowded, stinky prison where I was forced to endure many indignities, like sharing a small space with others of my species—many were common types who stole food from each other and threatened me harm if I got too close, so I spent most days curled up in a tight ball, trembling in a secluded corner of the cage, hiding as best I could under a few bits of scratchy straw. I tried to sleep and stay out of the way of the other not-so-nice hamsters. Sometimes, a human who worked in the store would open the cage door and remove one of the more boisterous ones. I can’t say for sure what became of them, but chatter from the other hamster inmates suggested that a human bought them. What? Is it legal to steal animals from their families and sell them to humans? Isn’t that animal trafficking? I shuddered at the thought.
One by one, the hamsters disappeared but were soon replaced by others. It was all very puzzling and terrifying. I stressed over what would become of me. Just when I hit an all-time low and arrived at a point where I was depressed and didn’t even care what happened to me, a human boy with a happy, freckled face and a big toothy smile appeared at the cage, right where I was hiding. As I peeked through my fluffed-up fur and a crack in the straw barrier, the boy smiled at me and tried to stroke me through the holes in the wire cage. He had a gentle touch, and I heard him say, “Mom, this is the one I want! He’s so cute! Please, can I have him?”
It was that fast! I was suddenly picked up, whisked away to a backroom, and placed in a cardboard box with a few holes in it. It’ll take me a while to chew my way out, I thought. It was dark in the small container, and I couldn’t see outside as the holes were too small, so I’m not sure exactly what happened, but I think I got a ride in what people call a car. I was petrified but happy to be out of that nasty store. I kept hearing voices saying kind things about me. That at least was reassuring. Apparently, they meant me no harm. The boy called Stephen was doing his best to hold me steady in the box, which was bouncing up and down on his lap, causing me to spin around. Twice he apologized for the rough ride. There was nothing for my feet to grab to stabilize my body, let alone anything I could bite to brace myself. I was dizzy. I was about to throw up my disgusting store breakfast when the jiggling up and down stopped, and we entered a place they said was their home—and now mine—since the boy with the big smile opened the lid, peered in and said, “We’re home little friend! I’m going to call you, Mitten!”
The mom reached in to pick me up, but my nerves were still on edge. Instinct prevailed over good manners. Regrettably, from sheer panic, I sunk my two front teeth into her finger and drew blood, at which time she dropped me back into the box. Within minutes, I calmed down, so I allowed the boy to hold me. He stroked my fur and cuddled me to his chest. Gosh, I hope he doesn’t squeeze me too tight, or I won’t be able to breathe, I said under my breath. Then, as I peered cautiously around, four more friendly faces came into view. The taller humans were the parents, but the other two were children and looked very much like Stephen. I later learned they were siblings, his older brother David, and his little sister Chandra.
Sadness gripped me for a moment as I recalled my own family. I so missed Mom and Dad and my brothers and sisters back home in the wood, but all this attention and love from my new family was comforting, and I felt special. They were treating me like a celebrity hamster. Maybe it’ll be nice to live here, I mused, as my positive attitude resurfaced, and fear began to subside. It seems I was a gift for the boy’s birthday! He chose me. He wanted me over all the other hamsters at the pet store and he saved me from sinking into a pit of hopeless depression. It was almost like home. I felt loved.
I soon settled into my new dwelling place in the Tripp household. Inside my private enclosure, the environment was safe and cozy, and while I could see and hear all that was going on around me, the outside walls protected me from anything harmful. I was part of the family but safe inside my hamster house. I sometimes hid in the tunnel and made funny faces at the other furry, four-legged family pet—the dog! He would often sit and stare at me. That’s rude, I thought. Then he would drool and lick his chops loudly, exposing huge teeth that were as big as my whole leg. My mom would say that’s bad manners. It was fun to tease him! I would stick out my tongue, wiggle my fluffy tail at him, laugh, and then run and hide. I knew I was quite safe in my house. It was hard to know what he had in mind, but I think he just wanted to play because once, while I was running around the living room for playtime, he cornered me and licked me with his tongue, saturating my back with his saliva. Yuck—it was sticky like glue! That was disgusting! It took me a long time to wash all that matted fur.
I enjoyed life with my new family. It was Stephen’s job to serve my food, and there was always plenty to eat. He also filled my drinking dispenser with fresh water every day. Sometimes though, the boy who chose me was bored with his chores, and so the Mom asked David or Chandra to do it. Now and then, even their mother fed me if the children forgot, or were running late for school. I especially looked forward to my veggie treats and often overindulged, stuffing my pouch with way too much food, which meant extra time running in my exercise wheel. I didn’t mind a bit—hamsters love to exercise, especially at night. Occasionally, I would stand up on my hind legs letting my family know I was eager to run loose in the living room. That was so much fun! Indeed, I was one spoiled hamster—and I knew it. I was home, and I was loved. Life was good.
The day when I was almost killed with kindness was not fun, nor was it funny. It was terrifying, and I will never forget it although in retrospect I can see why the humans all had a chuckle after the event. I am just happy that the one who caused the near-death incident also saved my life, so ironically, you might say we’re even-steven! No, it wasn’t the boy Stephen, it was his mother who dealt the deed. Here’s how it came down.
The day of my demise dawned like any other. I arose to find the sun shining brightly on me as I yawned, stretched, and prepared for my morning run in the wheel. The dad had already left for work, and the little humans were scurrying about as they dressed for school. I wondered if I could sneak out with them to see exactly what they did there all day, but before I explored that thought, something else seized my attention.
The most beautiful smell wafted through my whiskers. My face began to twitch involuntarily, as I commanded my nose muscles to engage and follow the scented trail. My strong sense of smell confirmed that it ended in the kitchen. That’s when I spotted the mom assembling sandwiches for the kids’ lunchboxes. She was preoccupied with the task at hand, so she didn’t see my longing look, nor did she hear me smacking my lips impolitely. I guess it requires focus to spoon a sizeable amount of peanut butter from a huge jar, add a dollop of jam, and slap two pieces of bread together to make a sandwich. No, it wasn’t the first time I’d sniffed pulverized peanuts, but this time the scent was very titillating, so much so that I drooled down my chin. Come on, Mitten, I thought, now you’re acting like the bad-mannered dog! So be it! That peanut butter smelled heavenly, and I wanted some in the worst way.
Meanwhile, the three children grabbed their lunch boxes and left for school. I noticed the mom hadn’t screwed the lid back on the peanut butter jar, so the delicious aroma was stronger than ever. It was driving me nuts—no pun intended! The house was quiet, the mom was ready to tidy the kitchen, and I thought it’s now or never. I must get her attention, or I’ll be too late! I must convey my desire for that peanut butter before she hides it away.
I seized my moment. I reared up on my hind legs and clawed vigorously at the door into my dwelling, creating a horrible racket that was most offensive to a hamster’s ear, but she paid no attention! I threw myself on the floor and rolled around in noisy circles. I leaped into the spinning wheel and ran my tail off, until the mechanism squealed for mercy. Surely, she must hear that! Is she ever going to take the hint? I wondered.
She had the peanut butter jar in her hand and was ready to dig the spoon deep down inside to scoop some out. What in the world is she doing? Oh no! Are you kidding me? She’s going to eat the yummy stuff herself! That’s when I panicked. Desperate means were required. I once again reared onto my hind legs, snatched the toy with the bell on its tail, and frantically shook it, beating it savagely against the cage. Finally, she looked over at me, and with the full spoon poised in midair, she came over to investigate the commotion. Whew! It worked!
“What’s the matter, little fellow?” she inquired. Huh, I thought, don’t you know? My crazy antics must have paid off, or she read my mind, because she glanced at the spoonful of peanut butter, looked back at me, and said,
“Would you like a little lick of this?” Hmmm! Would I like a little lick? I thought. How about a giant scoop?
That was the start of my disturbing demise.
Mama Tripp was a kindly soul, and she still liked me even though I bit her when I first arrived. She pushed her loaded spoon through the open door towards me. I grabbed it with my eager little hands, and I was on it! It tasted every bit as delicious as I had imagined. My tongue got a real workout as I licked and licked, sunk my teeth into the gooey mound, and sucked in as much of the creamy yumminess as possible, as fast as I could, as I intended to consume it all. I decided none must go to waste as I may never get another chance. I thought I had died and gone to heaven—for a few seconds.
Suddenly, a large lump of peanut butter stuck in my throat, and the more I gagged in a frantic attempt to dislodge it, the stickier it became. I was soon gasping for air. I fell backward onto the cage floor with my feet in the air—a most undignified position for a hamster of my good breeding. My legs were twitching, and my body was squirming around in the wood chips on the floor. I felt my eyes bulging out of their sockets. I was gulping uncontrollably, and my abdomen was convulsing as I struggled to catch a breath. My surroundings grew foggy, and through the mistiness, I saw events from my young life pass before my eyes. I was fading away. Would I wake up in hamster heaven?
Meanwhile, the children’s mom was panicking. She was white-faced and pleading with her Creator to save my life. She must be wondering how to explain to her children that I died from her negligence! Perhaps she was plotting to replace me before the children returned and pass the new hamster off as me. I felt a fleeting sense of pompous satisfaction that she was suffering too. After all, she was the mother, and she should have known that a greedy little hamster might choke on peanut butter if allowed to overeat. I had no more time to think because the end was near.
That’s when the real drama happened! Right out of the blue, she tore the water dispenser off the wall in my house, and horror of horrors, in a last-ditch effort to save me, she whisked me off the floor with her left hand (rather roughly, I might add) and with her right hand, she rammed the narrow water spout all the way down my throat. That didn’t feel so good, but it pushed the glob of peanut butter out of my throat and into my stomach. One big gasp and life-giving air entered my lungs. I could breathe again. She deposited me gently into the safety of my cage, and straight away she flopped into a nearby chair. I noticed she looked quite disheveled!
Meanwhile, I collapsed onto my carpet of wood chips in a whimpering heap, terrified and exhausted—it was the most uncharacteristic behavior for a hamster of my upbringing. Thoroughly embarrassed, I curled my trembling body into a tight ball, and once my heart stopped pounding, I slept all day.
Later that night, when the children and dad were home, I heard the mom confess her part in the incident. Fortunately for me (and for her too) the story ended happily, and they all had a chuckle at the unfortunate debacle. Mind you, I didn’t think it was funny then, and I don’t think so now, but I am forever grateful I didn’t choke to death on peanut butter, and I still love my human family. I have a happy life, and I have no desire for a lick of peanut butter. No, not even a sniff!
I wonder how almond butter tastes—just kidding! I’ll stick to apple slices and carrot snacks.
Good intentions can have far-reaching consequences!
~ Anthea Gillian Tripp