Tag Archives: pets for children

Hamster’s escape act becoming a talent

IT had already been a frantic evening. And then we lost Jemima the hamster, Billy’s most beloved thing in the world.

Bloke was away that night with work, so I’d collected and fed the kids, put Bonnie to bed, and was trying to fit in a quick shower and slap of make-up before I was due to attend a friend’s leaving do.

I was already an hour late, when Billy, who was being put to bed by babysitter Jed, shouted: “Hey, Jemima’s cage tubes have gone.”

It took a few seconds for this to register. Jemima has two cages, one on top of a very tall bookcase that the kids can’t reach, and a smaller one on a tall chest of drawers. The two are linked by a series of interlinked tubes.

If the tubes had fallen off and Jemima was in the top cage at the time, she’d have an open hole to a very long drop (about 12feet).

If she’d been in the bottom cage, she’d have had an open hole to a five-foot drop.

Half-dressed and with wet hair, I checked she wasn’t hiding in either cage. She wasn’t.

Billy hadn’t started to panic, but he wasn’t far off. Our eight-year-old has a habit of going into wailing hysterics around potential disaster so I wanted to get him out of the room in case we were going to find Miss Jemima had shuffled off this mortal coil to visit the cosy shredded paper nest in the sky.

Billy was dispatched on a very-important-task to another room.

It wasn’t looking good. The tubes were in a disconnected mess all over the floor, but no sign of squished pet. Perhaps she’d been in the tubes when they fell, and they’d hit the shelves, breaking her fall.

I always wondered how hamsters managed to ‘escape’ so frequently, seeing as ours is meant to stay in her sealed cage, unless she’s having her fifteen minutes a day roll around the room in her ball.

The last time Jemima ‘escaped’ (the lid was left open), we found her in the most impossible to reach corner of the boys’ room chewing away on some power cables, having already stuffed a tissue in one cheek pouch and a bit of dirty sock in the other.

I’ve heard stories of them chewing through cages, and into wood, make a Tom and Jerry style hole in the skirting, and then living beyond reach in the wall cavity.

A reader told me of her family’s apparently indestructible hamster who had one night been discovered dodging traffic outside in the street before a keen-eyed neighbor had rescued the tiny pet.

The same hamster eventually met her adventurous end after going missing for two weeks. The children had accepted that Hammy had gone to hamster heaven, when she turned up on the back doorstep, considerably thinner, but unfortunately with two broken legs. Presumably she’d had a fight with a cat and had escaped. Amazingly, after surviving all that time in the suburban wild, her instinct had led her home.

Despite the Second Coming though, the poor thing had to be taken to the vet and, as my reader put it to her kids, ‘transferred indefinitely to the lovely hamster hospital’ (where no visitors are allowed).

I was desperately hoping Jemima was not going to end up in the same place. Semilong cats are pretty tough.

By this stage I’d forgotten about going out and expected to spend the evening comforting a bereaved, hysterical eight-year-old. Then he wanders back into the room, looks under his bed and fishes out a bewildered but fully intact Jemima, as though nothing has happened. (And yes, we DID look there.)

Perhaps the bond between Child and Pet shouldn’t be underestimated. Now would be the time to get Billy to train Jemima up to do tricks, so they form some Ashleigh & Pudsey-style talent act and perform for the Queen . . .

Or maybe not.

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Meet Jemima, the latest addition to an already overcrowded house

Billy and Jemima

MEET Jemima, the latest addition to the household.

Yes, yes, I know I was avoiding getting a pet as we can barely keep up with the four little monkeys for whom we’re already responsible.

But I was sucker for those big eyes, that doleful expression . . . not from the hamster, from Billy.

So for his 8th birthday, we surprised him with Jemima, a Syrian hamster.

Actually, it wasn’t even his birthday yet. I collected her the day before, and I had three-year-old Bonnie with me.

There was no way we were going to be able to keep a secret for 24 hours, even though she and I had several chats about what a secret was.

“I know secrets,” she said, slightly put-out that I would think otherwise. “Peppa Pig has a secret box and then George cries and then they have a secret club with Susie Sheep but Mummy Pig gets it wrong.”

To tell her NOT to talk about it when we picked up the boys from school was a big ask.

The older two, who were in on the secret, managed to talk loudly over Bonnie in the car when it seemed she was about to blab.

We realised there was no way Jemima was going to stay in our room overnight without Bonnie exploding with excitement, so we brought her cage into the boys’ room early. Billy was delighted.

We had a hamster before, when Jed and Doug were little, and to be frank, it wasn’t a happy arrangement. They were probably too young.

Doug had been nipped on the finger early on and had refused to have anything to do with the (oddly-named) Outfit from that point. Jed was sporadically interested but all the mucking out and feeding fell inevitably to me. When Bloke bought a more interesting cage with tunnels and pipes, Outfit stubbornly set up camp in one corner and refused to move.

Jemima is a whole different hamster. She was her pet shop’s ‘handling hamster’ during children’s clubs and so doesn’t mind being picked up and held.

She gets excited and swings from paw to paw along the roof of her cage when Billy gets up in the morning and comes home from school.

She takes to her exercise ball like an Olympic athlete in a Zorbing ball, shooting across the room bashing into the piles of discarded clothes and general rubbish scattered around the boys’ room. She doesn’t even wake them up when spinning in her cage wheel at night.

Sometimes, when I’m popping in to pick up the aforementioned laundry, she comes to see who’s there. I find myself mesmerised as she scurries around her cage, swinging and climbing, stashing food in her cheeks for later.

Both the older boys enjoy her company, putting her in her ball when they are meant to be doing homework. And as for Bonnie, she has introduced yet more conditions into her daily routine, including saying Good Morning and Goodnight to the hamster that so far hasn’t bitten her.

Of course, within the first few hours she’d had a nibble on both Dougie and Billy’s fingers. It was just after reminded them that fingers must never be poked into the cage as Jemima will think it’s a carrot. They learned their lesson, and thankfully we’ve had no nipping since.

In short, we’ve been very lucky to get such a lovely hamster. Only thing is, because she was adopted, we haven’t a clue how old she is. They live around three years, and we’re hoping she’s not actually an unusually active granny hamster otherwise we’ll soon have a houseful of heartbreak on our hands.

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Chickens as pets? No clucking hope

It seems to be the accepted truth that anyone with children must, by default, have pets too.

But we don’t.

No dogs, cats, fish, lizards, rats, rabbits, snakes, gerbils, geckos or guinea pigs cluttering up and stinking out our house. (Just Bloke and the kids cluttering up and stinking out our house).Weird huh?

It’s not like it hasn’t been discussed. And often.

Bloke and I both had dogs we adored while growing up, and have wavered many times over the years about getting one, but could never really agree. He doesn’t like small dogs and I don’t want a whopper. We both agreed if we did get one it would be a puppy from a rescue centre and be a mongrel, but then, what if the dog was unpredictable around kids? And what about the extra mouth to feed? And vet’s bills? And being able to go on holiday?

Ultimately, the big “No” came because we thought it wouldn’t be fair on the dog. We both work and a puppy needs round-the-clock attention. Even though I’m a freelancer and often at home, sometimes I’m not, and that unpredictability is the issue. It might be fine, it might not.

I’ve always felt that it wasn’t the right time. After all, we sometimes struggle to keep up with the demands of four small humans, without adding another being into the mix.

We actually had a hamster, once upon-a-time, when Jed and Doug were about four and five. It was called ‘Outfit,’ and named after Dougie mis-heard the name of a cartoon hamster called “Elephant.” (Something to do with American accents).

Despite all the promises, Outfit’s care, attention and cleaning out ended-up being my sole responsibility. Everyone else in the house seemed to lose all sense of smell and forgot that the poor little critter quite liked a tumble around the living-room in his plastic ball. And although the books claim hamsters only live a couple of years, Outfit seemed to last FOR EVER. Until, of course, he died.

And then suddenly everyone behaved like they’d lost their best friend. Weeping went on for days. We had a solemn burial in the back garden where the overflowing compost heap now stands.

After Outfit’s demise, we had two more children to distract everyone from getting pets.

But for the past few years, the nagging has returned. Dougie is actually a little fearful of dogs, having been flattened by an over-amorous Bernese Mountain Dog when he was about seven, but still begs us for a dog he can care for and take for walks.

Billy asks for a Real Dog every birthday and Christmas. Jed too promises he’ll care it and walk it, even if it’s December and raining. “And it’s not like it could make the house look any worse,” they plead.

I stand resolute. “Maybe one day. . .”

This weekend, Bonnie and I ended up at Bell Plantation garden centre in Towcester. If you’ve never been, it has an impressive poultry section. As well and loads of different hens and cockerels, it has rabbits and ducks and has recently added three pigs. (Bonnie decided they were called Peppa, George and Chloe, after the characters in her favourite TV show, but the store has yet to announce their names by a public vote).

Bonnie was initially impressed by the pigs, but they were too busy eating to even look at her. She was far more interested in the chickens. They did, predictably, cluck over her, coming to the front of the hen houses and not even nipping her when she disobeyed orders and stuck her digits through the wire.

“Can we take hens home?” she asked, optimistically.

I admit it, I wavered, despite the potential cost and smell. (I grew up in Devon, spent much of my childhood on farms and can officially confirm that chicken poo and pig poo are next in line behind humans for olfactory offensiveness).

Bonnie with pigs 'Peppa, George and Chloe'

It does sound nice, doesn’t it, having fresh eggs from the garden? Hearing that gentle clucking? They are supposed to be ‘easy’ to keep and good with children? The hen-houses on sale look study and could fit in our small garden?

Have I been mean by never letting my own children know the joy a family pet can bring?

Bloke was consulted. “The fox will get them. It will be carnage.”

“What fox?”

“The fox that lives in every urban street, the one which will kill any chickens we get.”

While a dog will continue to be the number one choice, it still appeals to me, keeping chickens, although the boys wouldn’t have anything to take for a walk and they don’t lend themselves to being house-trained or snuggling up on your lap.

I must stand resolute. “Maybe one day. . .”

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