Tuesday, October 28, 2008

HAMSTERS, of all creatures.

Here's how it happened.

Wesley and I were living alone in my apartment in La Costa, near Carlsbad, CA., which is in the North County part of San Diego, which is 35 miles north of the city itself.

Wesley was a middle aged owl, now, and had learned that I was always coming back, so he was not distressed by my going off to visit people like he had been when he was much younger. Also, we had an owl nanny. Yes! This is the woman I referred to in the book who used to sit at the doorway to "his" room and read out loud to him. She really spent a lot of time with him and could even occasionally sidle up and touch him if he were busy eating a mouse or something. Of course he knew she was doing this and allowed it.

He was quite comfortable with her and I paid her extremely well per visit - sometimes 50 dollars a visit. This is back when I was healthy and had punched my way up the corporate ladder and was doing very well in my career.

I was developing this brain tumor but didn't know it at the time.

Cait and her husband Richard and I were becoming ever closer friends, and I often stayed at their house over the weekend, with this woman being Wesley's nanny. I hadn't told Cait or Richard yet about Wesley yet, but I had started the "vetting" process with Cait, asking her endless questions about her philosophical position on issues such as keeping an unreleasable wild animal in a captive situation and making him as comfortable as possible - or should he have just been put to sleep, etc... all this theoretical animal stuff.

She patiently answered all my questions without asking me WHY I was asking them, because Cait is not a prying person and she accepts you at face value and is extremely patient.

"I am a Buddhist." She would say, "I think all animals should be kept in a loving environment and cared for as part of our sacred duty, as stewards of all living things. An animal incapable of living in the wild should be kept in an alternate, captive environment and the keeper should seek to meet all his needs."

Me: But are you against people keeping animals in captivity?
Her: (ever patient) "No, I have cats, don't I."

...and on and on. It took me a long time to decide to reveal my precious Wesley to anyone.

Cait noticed that whenever I talked about animals my entire being would light up and she began worrying about me not living with animals and urged me to get some small creatures to live with (not knowing about Wesley yet).

In spite of the fact that I had Wesley, I irrationally rationalized to myself that I did indeed NEED some MORE animals! Silly, but there you have it. Any excuse, in other words.

So, after she said this I pulled into the nearest pet store, literally, and went in to see what there was to see. And I've always thought that Teddy Bear Hamsters were the CUTEST little things on earth! However every time I'd asked about them I'd been told they were vicious biters. I had been bitten by a gerbil when I took it home for the weekend as part of my 3rd grade class' pet gerbil project and it HURT. Bad! So I was afraid of them!

But now, after Wesley and other owls, and having been bitten by just about everything, including that Benthic Worm, I decided I would tolerate the biting and hope that the hamster would become gentle. So I asked to handle them.

These particular hamsters were completely tame and mild! I was smitten and took one home.

But alas, he was young and very upset to be separated from his littermates and clawed at the glass aquarium all night long. That morning I rushed back and bought his two littermates and thus began the long saga of Hamster Haven.

You do eventually have to separate Syrian hamsters, as they will fight and eventually kill each other if you continue to keep them together as adults. People don't realize this.

I recently took in two young adult hamsters that were being kept in an aquarium (I now use the wire cages because the aquariums can become too hot, etc). I told the guy that they were probably fighting and he INSISTED they were not. Fine. I took them home and examined them and they were covered from head to toe with deep bites from each other! Just hidden under the fur so you couldn't see them - but horrible! Nasty! They were BOTH missing parts of their tender ears!

Needless to say, they are now separated and happy.

After my introduction to Barn Owls, and actually, really, even before that, I had begun being more and more attracted to animals who were solitary in nature, meaning that they were not flocking, packing, or herding animals, but solitary in the wild with the possible exception of a mate.

I'm not sure why I'm so drawn to the solitary wild soul, but I am.

Syrian Hamsters (Teddy Bear Hamsters) are completely solitary in the wilds of Syria, where they dig down 8 feet before constructing their complicated homes, with separate rooms for food storage, peeing (yes, they make a bathroom for themselves!), sleeping, nesting w/ babies, grooming, etc.

They only meet up for mating, and then just briefly.

I think I like the challenge of winning their trust and becoming their friend, of gaining their affection in an unconditional way, without social manipulation that would work w/ a packing or flocking animal. I don't know.

But I do find the wild, solitary soul of an animal to be beautiful, complex, and fascinating.

And my hamsters are a continual, surprising source of inspiration and fun!

In the next post I'll tell you about the time I was staying at Cait's and started panicking, irrationally, about Wesley's well being (he WAS being cared for by his "nanny"), and Richard and Cait driving me all the way to La Costa and staying the night, never knowing that Wesley was in a room right next to them!

How did I keep the extremely verbal and irascible Wesley quiet for two days? Tune in next time! ;-)

No comments: