Note: this story doesn’t have a happy ending…
Last December, my sister-in-law talked to us about buying a hamster and cage for our nine-year-old daughter Clara. I was a little hesitant, but we said yes. It was the right choice. Come Christmas, we went to my in-laws’ place and swapped gifts. When it was Clara’s turn, we brought her back to the bedroom so she could see the little teddy bear hamster in his new cage.
Her reaction was pure, wide-eyed, hands-over-the-mouth joy. She’s always loved animals. She has a fish, and she’s raised frogs and butterflies, but this was different. This was rainbows and unicorns and true love at first sight. She named him Sammy.
She took better care of that little guy than I ever did with my pets as a kid. He nipped her a few times in the beginning, but she was very patient, making sure he got to play every day, that he got his treats, and eventually taming him so she could pet him and carry him around.
And then he figured out how to open his cage.
He was found and returned several times. At first we thought someone was simply forgetting to shut the smaller door on top. Then we realized he was opening it from inside. We tried a couple of things to make it more secure, including setting his food bag on top of the upper door to hold it shut. It wasn’t enough.
Two weeks ago, the night before my wife and I left for Vegas, we were all in the family room. The kids were reading and getting ready for bed, when Clara started screaming. I couldn’t see what was going on, but my wife yelled, and my five-year-old son Jackson started screaming too.
One of the cats had strolled past with Sammy in his mouth.
I jumped up and ran to the back of the room. I saw the cat vanish down the stairs, but couldn’t see whether or not he had Sammy. Clara was still screaming “No! No! No!” and Jackson was crying and yelling “Sammy’s dead!”
I spotted the cat downstairs, sans hamster. I chased all three cats into the cat room and blocked them in, then started searching for Sammy. I had no idea what I would find. The kids followed me down. I hugged them both and sent them upstairs to Mama. If this was bad, I didn’t want them to see.
I didn’t find Sammy downstairs. I came back up, and we eventually discovered him cowering behind the fish tank. He had peed all over himself, but he appeared to be okay. No blood, though his little heart was buzzing away. I brought him to Clara, who held him and started to calm down.
We thought everything was going to be okay.
The next day Sammy wasn’t doing so well, but my wife and I had to leave for Vegas and my friend’s wedding around lunchtime. Two hours later, we got a phone call. Sammy was dead.
I’ve had lots of pets. Some died of old age. Others died suddenly. I’ve learned how to deal with that.
I don’t know how to deal with it when it’s my daughter. It’s been two weeks, and I can still hear her screaming.
She was crushed. She and grandpa buried him in our yard while we were away. When we got back, she talked about how nothing felt right. I know it was just a hamster, but it was her hamster, and she loved him so damn much.
So now Clara is learning how to grieve. She’s learning that bad things happen, sometimes for no reason, and it sucks. She’s learning that her parents can’t fix everything. All important lessons, and I hate it. I was on the verge of tears while talking to her Friday night, not so much for the hamster, but because I couldn’t protect her, and I couldn’t make it stop hurting. I could hold her and listen and put together a montage picture of Sammy for her room, but it never feels like enough.
Clara’s doing a little better, but she’s going to hurt for a while. She’s not angry at the cat, though she doesn’t really like him anymore. I can’t blame her. And I know she’ll be all right. I just wish there was more I could do to help her be all right sooner.