Tete-a-tete Archives

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Tete-a-tete: Sizing up a new family pet, or the difference between a cat and a hamster

Welcoming a new pet into the family is always an adjustment. Every animal is accompanied by its own particular routines, needs, and idiosyncrasies, and it takes time to acclimate.

Following the conclusion of 18 years of cat ownership, we’ve brought a hamster into the mix. And though it sounds a bit ludicrous to spell it out in this way, the thing that’s giving us the most trouble is that hamsters are much smaller than cats.

Cleo, our winsomely cranky family feline, passed away in July at the ripe old age of 22. That’s 22 in human years – in cat years, she was a supercentenarian. Over the years, our vet told us that Cleo must really love us to have persevered in the face of so many medical challenges. This is a kitty who stubbornly taught herself to walk again after suffering a stroke and insisted on navigating through the house on her own in spite of having become deaf and blind – conditions we were not aware of until the day Mom vacuumed around her and barely got a reaction.

Sadly, the hot summer weather proved too much for Cleo’s elderly ticker, and that stubborn little heart of hers finally gave out. She died at home, in Dad’s arms and surrounded by much of her family.

Seeing as Cleo was part of the family longer than 17-year-old Youngest Brother or 15-year-old Younger Sister (a fact I would occasionally point out when they complained about her stealing their spot on the couch), you can understand why we didn’t want to adopt another cat right away. Dad has also mentioned that if we got another cat and it lived as long as Cleo did, it could very well outlive some of us human family members and there might not be anyone to care for it.

The majority of the family had resigned itself to a petless existence, but Younger Sister was not so easily daunted. She is, to put it mildly, a tenacious and resourceful individual and took it upon herself to research cute, furry animals with relatively short life expectancies.

Which is how Younger Sister became the somewhat smug owner of a tan and white hamster named Jinx.

Since we are all rather starved for furry companionship, Younger Sister tends to draw an audience when she takes Jinx out of the cage to play with her. Such was the case one recent evening when Mom, Youngest Brother, Friend of Youngest Brother and I congregated in Younger Sister’s room to watch her clean the cage and let Jinx roam free in her little plastic ball.

At least, that was the ideal. In reality, Mom cleaned the cage while Younger Sister played with the hamster.

Mom asked if she could hold Jinx and attempted to cradle the hamster in the crook of her elbow, the way we used to do with our cat. Cleo would snuggle in this position briefly and then climb her way up the arm of whoever was holding her, ultimately coming to rest on their shoulder and burying her face in their neck or their hair.

Jinx, being much tinier in comparison, viewed this not as an invitation to cuddle but as a launching pad to freedom. She leapt out of Mom’s arms and into the void.

I happened to be occupying the airspace across from Mom at the time, holding the plastic hamster ball in one hand and the lid to the ball in the other. With Jinx hurtling toward me, I knew I only had one option.

Since my life is not an action movie, this option was not catching the hamster inside the ball. Fearful of accidentally squishing our newest addition, I instead permitted her to ricochet off my shoulder and onto Younger Sister’s futon, from which she was rescued – completely unharmed – before she could further broaden her horizons.

Jinx’s brief adventure led to a discussion as to who was ultimately at fault: Mom for attempting to cuddle the hamster in her arms, me for failing to catch the flying hamster, or Younger Sister for taking the hamster out of her cage in the first place. The consensus was that we’re simply not used to having such a small pet.

In Cleo’s younger years, we would often find her curled up in a dresser drawer or squeezed into some narrow crevice between a piece of furniture and the wall. Though it might take us a while to figure out where she was napping on any given day, we never worried that she may have gotten lost inside the house. Stuck somewhere, possibly, but never lost.

Jinx, on the other hand, is in a potentially perilous situation the moment we take her out of her cage. The house is unfamiliar territory to her, and she’s not big enough to really have a perspective as to which room is which. There are also far more places where a hamster can get stuck than a cat. We never had to be concerned, for example, that Cleo might get stuck in an empty mug that Younger Sister left on her bedroom floor.

It’s definitely going to take some time to adjust to the smaller size of our new pet and to learn how to handle her accordingly. In the meantime, we might want to distribute catcher’s mitts to anyone who happens to be in the vicinity when we take Jinx out of her cage.

– Teresa Santoski


Originally published Nov. 6, 2014.

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