Monday, February 11, 2013

Farewell, Furry Family Member

Yesterday morning Ruby sensed something was wrong with her pet hamster, Puddles. Puddles is sleeping outside her hideaway, she said. She never does that. We looked together and saw that the hamster was breathing. Her eyes opened and closed. I hoped that Puddles was okay, but the truth is, I had no idea. I have a good sense of when a child is ill or in need--I haven't a clue about a hamster.

Just before bedtime last night, Josh and Ruby went to check on Puddles. Luckily, they were together when they discovered that the hamster had died. We don't know why she died, although once the cage was cleaned and there was no potty corner as is typical, it seems she may have had an intestinal obstruction of some kind. 

 Aside from a despondent girl, we had a situation on our hands: what do we with Puddles? We live in Manhattan, where, even if the ground wasn't covered in snow, you're not allowed to bury a pet on public ground. We have to take care of this, I whispered. Now. Josh whispered back that he could bring her down to the basement. To the trash cans?! We can't just throw her out. Ruby, crying, said maybe we should bring her back to Petco "so they can check her to see if she's just sick." Josh provided reassurance(?), that she was, in fact, dead (he had put her in a Ziploc bag, and left her on the table--I insisted that he at least put the Ziploc in a bag we couldn't see through). Ruby then had another suggestion: we should Google what to do. So I did. I found and called Pet Haven, a pet cemetery and crematory (no answer), imagining the subway ride with the deceased hamster in my purse. Then I called Petco. The bewildered operator (what, they don't get calls about beloved dead hamsters in NYC apartments every day?!), put someone on the phone who said we could bring Puddles in...something about freezing and a collection service...I didn't focus on the details. I thanked him, twice, for giving us a way to act, and now. They'd be open until 10pm.

I asked Ruby and Bella to write goodbye notes to Puddles. They were both sniffling, but they took well to having a plan of action. We read the notes aloud and put them in the bag with Puddles's body. We said goodbye, and Josh left to deliver the bag to Petco. On his way out, he said he'd tell them to bury Puddles in the Jewish section of the pet cemetery, and we (the adults) chuckled. 

I told Ruby it was okay to mourn and be sad, but it was also okay to be happy. It's a process, I told her. It will take time.


It took months for Ruby to convince us to get her a hamster. After sharing our food pantry and fruit bowl with a persistent (and apparently, brilliant) city mouse, I was not eager to welcome a rodent into our home. I've always held firmly to my plea that I take care of kids--not pets. But Ruby wanted this hamster like nothing she's ever wanted before. She spent hours on the internet researching and taking notes about hamster types and behavior and needs. She promised that she would do everything to care for her pet: give it food and water, and clean the cage (the unpleasant part, from what I'd heard). She was so focused on the hamster that it started to seem cruel to deny her a little harmless creature for her to care for and love. 

A week before her eighth birthday, I went to Petco and bought a cage and hamster food (also for mice, I read on the package, appalled) and wood shavings for the hamster's bedding. I grilled the salesman for information on what I was getting into--he reassured me that hamster care was simple. Then, together as a family, we returned to pick up the newest member of the household: Puddles. Ruby was elated. She put the cage together and set it up and watched with delight as Puddles checked out her new surroundings. She decorated the outside of Puddles's cage with colored duct tape and wrote in Sharpie: I love !PUDDLES! so EXTREMELY much!

True to her word, Ruby took attentive care of Puddles. She cleaned the cage (with reminders), filled her food bowl, and changed her water. Like much of what Ruby does, she did all of these things with determination and independence. When Ruby sets her mind to something, she's on it.

Puddles had her bristly moments. She bit both of Ruby's sisters: Bella, when she tried to pick her up, and Louisa, when she tried to touch her through the bars of the cage. She drew blood both times. But Puddles never bit Ruby. They had a thing, those two.

I found myself watching Puddles in her cage, sometimes even when Ruby wasn't there. She's so cute, I told Ruby all the time. I'd come around to liking my daughter's rodent. Who knew it would be possible? 

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