Wednesday, January 21, 2009
We Have Loved!
It was a little over 4 years ago since we brought our first pet into our home.
Sonny came back one day with a hamster in a cage. It was his Primary school class project about caring and responsibility. Sonny had volunteered to care for the hamster during their one week school holiday.
Wifey was apprehensive when the hamster first arrived. She never had her own pet before, most probably because she had childhood asthma, so animal dander was a no-no. She warmed-up to and was taken by it because of its massive cuteness factor.
It turned out to be such an interesting and wonderful one week we had as a family with our "foster" pet.
By the time the week was up and Sonny had to return it back to his classroom, we felt sad parting with it... watched as the cute little creature left the house.
Until today, I am not sure whether that class project was ever successful at all in teaching the students as intended. Coming from Sonny, his classmates lost interest to care for it after a few weeks when the novelty wore off. One time, someone left the cage door open and the hamster escaped and was nowhere to be found until a day later.
By some unknown, cosmic reason, Sonny's teacher decided to give it away. Not many students wanted it, the ones who did, did not pass their parents' permission.
Sonny got to bring it home for good. We were thrilled to receive the hamster back into our home. From that day onwards, the internet and library were our prime sources of information of its breed and tips to care for it.
We named our first pet Russian Winter White Dwarf hamster, Puffy, assuming it was female from whatever new knowledge we picked up from the sources to identify its gender.
Somehow, Puffy seemed lonely. We collectively agreed that she should have a friend. With Puffy in her cage, we brought her along to a pet shop in Marine Parade.
After several matching sessions, one was an immediate choice by Puffy herself. She accepted her new friend without putting up a fight. It was the first time we saw how a cute hamster could become aggressive.
We learnt from the pet shop owner that Puffy was indeed female and she selected a male to be her new buddy while rejecting the rest. We named her new buddy... well, Buddy.
We had lots of fun loving our pets. The two were the centre of our attention putting the TV down to second spot. Our TV was turned off for many nights; an achievement of sorts. And instead, we watched our pets' antics and had fun playing with it. We loved it!
I noticed that Wifey was the happiest among us. She had the most time with Puffy and Buddy since she was a stay-home Mom. I also believe it was like she was given a chance to finally own a pet and enjoying the experience.
Many happy months passed and then came an unexpected surprise. It was nice to see Puffy well and happy, and even puffier than her normal self. We thought we overfed her, but only to realize that she was in fact pregnant when she gave birth to 8 liters.
We were even happier to receive the babies and were oblivious to a creeping nightmare. It was rather an interesting experience to witness the birth of each baby and saw them grew-up fast through the weeks under the mother's care.
All was well until the babies grew up to be young hammies themselves.
The parents started rejecting them and became aggressive towards them. So too were the young hammies with each other, especially during meal times. We soon learnt that they were territorial and needed their own space.
Before we could effectively separate them into the same gender, they procreated like wild fire. Inbreed was the prime concern then, but those we thought we separated into the same gender in one cage turned-out to be not so accurate after all.
More pets and bigger cages but soon the population exploded before we could figure out a way to contain it. It was totally out of control. At one point, we had a whole "village" of them we called HamsterVille.
At its peak, we had a population of 57 hammies segregated in 13 or more cages in our service balcony, separated between genders as far as we could correctly identify them as possible.
It took us 3 to 4 hours just cleaning all the cage every other weekend. It was hard work. Lots of money was spent too on their expensive food and bedding, but it was our labor of love. We also had to fork out bigger sums of money for veterinarian care of between S$20 and S$80 at at time when there were sick ones.
It all became too much to bear, to upkeep. Too many little cute ones to handle, so we posted the hammies for adoption in the local Pet Lovers website. We instantly received text responses from across the island. After filtering through the genuine pet lovers from novelty-craved youngsters to our best instinct, we gave most of the hammies away a few at a time over several weeks.
Each time a hamster left our home with its new owner, our heart sank. It was painful to see them go. It was like giving away our babies that we have been attached too for some time. Yet we knew the hammies would be better off and cared for by their new owners.
When the adoption period was over, we were left with 27. As much as the sadness we felt during the adoption period, it was even more painful to experience our first death. Puffy died. The night before she died, Puffy stayed really still in our palm looking at us with her bright eyes. She kept looking at us and remained at the cage door even after we placed her back in. It was a strange incident we thought until the next morning. She had passed.
Due to their short lifespan of about 2 to 3 years, we witnessed each of our hammies die. Each death was as painful as the last one. It was quite devastating to experience such moments too often, but death is part of life.
Yesterday, marked the end of many such sad moments when our last hammie we called May, died in the morning. It was a day after the other one called Annette died. Annette was probably the longest surviving hammie of all. She lived more than 3 years.
May's best friend. She had to follow her friend.
Sonny buried his last hammie last night. Under the same water-apple tree where her sisters and brothers, parents and grandparents were buried before... a place we called CemeTree, over-looking our bedroom window, May was laid down to rest.
Wifey had her last cleaning too. Instead of setting the fresh bedding, the last cage was flattened and put away.
"Feel something is missing whenever I'm at the Service balcony." Wifey quipped suddenly tonight. Standing at the doorway... talking to me, but her mind was somewhere else...
"We should have gotten a parrot!" Sonny exclaimed after appearing out from the kitchen, "Parrots live much longer."
Me, I understand that we deal with sudden loss in our own way, at our own pace. Time will heal and set things right again and we will go on with our lives.
We now have more weekend times to spend outdoors and with each other. Heck, we can now take longer vacations without worrying about our pets anymore.
Nonetheless, the experience was wonderful. We have loved all our hammies. Though lots of time and care were taken away from us, but it was worth the journey we had with them.
"I don't want anymore hamsters," Wifey said, "they live short lives and it hurts when they die."
I have to agree with her. It was painful every time that happened, many times. Yet, it was worth the pain when we compare it to the fun and funny times, the love we gave and felt with each one of them. We will love them forever.