Friday, April 8, 2011

RIP Ditto

Hamster (ASPCA Pet Care Guides for Kids) by Mark Evans
Weight: 9.6 oz.
Method of Disposal: Donating

On April 5, 2011 a beautiful, clean, and curious Black-eyed Cream Syrian hamster named Ditto passed away in her hut at an old age, 2.5 years. We do not know what the start of her life was like, who her mom was, or much about her before she arrived at one of the big name pet stores. We can surmise that she went through a lot as a tiny puppy and was lucky(?) to be alive by the time she arrived at the retail store. PETA exposed cruelty at a major small pet supplier, and it was all over the news just last year. I am not always a fan of PETA but, in this instance, I am thankful for their undercover footage. I also know, from talking to multiple friends who worked at these retail chains, that life in the store was not idyllic either. Many hamsters never made it out alive, they got sick and received little to no treatment, or were sold to people who did not have the best of intentions. I remember one story about someone’s first month on the job. This particular store requires that you fill out a form to buy a hamster, stating that the animal will not be used as feeder. A man turned in the form stating he was No Body from Somewhere, Ga. The manager said there was nothing they could do and to let it go. There were worse stories about animals suffocating in too close quarters and arriving dead or injured.

A woman decided she would purchase her young son a hamster to teach him about responsibility. Ditto was chosen from her litter. She was given a name (Sandy) and taken home. She lived with this family for about a year, but when the woman realized she was pregnant she spoke with her doctor who told her she could no longer clean her cage, and there was no one else who could help her. She knew it would be even more difficult when she was recovering from her C-Section. She placed an ad to get rid of her and all her things for free. We made plans to meet. I picked Ditto up in a public parking lot. I had wanted a hamster, but I knew I would never be able to buy another one from the pet store. I was thankful to have her in my life. I was told that she was not big into being handled and knew to crawl into her running ball when it was time for her to leave the cage. I drove her home. She was scared and angry.

My friend, Skye, was the first person who would be able to lure her into their hands, later that same night, and I was the next. She was a sweet girl, after all, she was just terrified and had been through quite a lot in her short life. I threw out the cage I had been given for free and all of its components. I could not get the urine smell out of it, and so we started with a fresh cage. I named her Ditto after the most fabulous Beth Ditto, a strong woman for sure. She had plenty of treats, toys, and nests. She always had food, water, and a clean cage. She often roamed the house in her ball, running alongside my dog Sergei (who ignored her or was slightly scared of her) and some of my foster babies. She loved papaya treats above all others. My friend, Jasmin, once startled her while she was asleep and she promptly bit her finger, causing her to bleed, but she never hurt anyone else. Jasmin still hates her to this day. She escaped once and was caught in the act once. The first time, I was beside myself with worry and was frantic for hours, trying to find her. She chewed up the carpet, tore up some insulation, and left sunflower seed shells in various corners, but I did find her eventually. I was worried about her for days, but she continued living for a long time after that. The next time I caught her she was tightrope walking right beside her cage. I fixed it to where she could not escape again. I lamented her lack of freedom, but I had to protect her from the dogs and potential toxins.

Ditto was less social than my other rescued hamsters, and it would take just a little patience and time to gain her trust. I have always respected that in an animal, and it seems reasonable considering her rocky start. She was intelligent, curious, and energetic. She made me laugh. I felt an overwhelming amount of love for her.

She is now buried and gone, but I will never forget what an amazing little rodent and friend she was.

I am donating the ASPCA book in hopes that a parent and child will read it together before adopting a hamster. So often, parents think a hamster is a good starter pet, but they do not realize how fragile they can be. This is an excellent book explaining how to care for your buddy, describing what makes hamsters so incredible, and encouraging a healthy life overall for the little rodents. It tells you everything you need to know and more.

-In the wild, hamsters run as much as 5 miles in a night.
-Hamsters can have up to 16 nipples—large litters!
-Hamsters have 16 teeth in that tiny little mouth.
-The Siberian hamster became a pet in 1940, not that long ago. The smaller hamsters, like Roborovsky’s were even more recently introduced.
-Dwarf hamsters and Chinese hamsters like to live in pairs, but Syrians cannot live together after they are 5 months old. They will fight each other.

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