What do you do?

When I was 12, my parents bought me Dalmatian mice for Easter. We already had family cats, but these were to be MY pets. My parents were careful to pick out 2 females (Fribble and Dribble) as they tend to smell better than males and they can’t reproduce. Or so we thought. Several weeks later, I had a litter of the cutest baby mice. Intent on not allowing this to happen again, I picked out 2 females early and kept note of them (unlike some animals, it’s easier to pick out the gender of the babies than the adults). When the babies were of the right age, I took the parents and all but the 2 earmarked babies and sold them to the pet store for 50 cents each. Cha-Ching!

The problem was solved, at least for a few more weeks, when sisters were revealed to be brother & sister, now proud parents to a new litter of baby mice, and the same dilemma staring at me. This time I was smart and picked out only 1 female baby and kept her with the mother. I had outsmarted the mice. Or so I thought. Did you know that siblings can mate to have a baby that will then mate with its mother?

I can now look back on my Greek tragedy of mice and laugh. At the time, I was quite frustrated that the odds never seemed to be in my favor. As should be expected, the blood lines grew closer and the resulting mice had some issues. For example, they vibrated – quite literally, vibrated. When you held them in your hand, they shook. It was actually kind of cute. That is until the growths began. Apparently, inbreeding may also cause cancerous tumors. At 12, I had no budget or concept of vet care for mice and they seemed to be feeling just fine otherwise so I pretended nothing was wrong.

That is, until one day, I came into my room to find only 1 live mouse. Distraught and on the edge of tears, I went to my mother and asked the obvious question:

Me: Mom, what do you do with a dead mouse?
Mom: I don’t know. What DO you do with a dead mouse?
Me:
Mom: Oh. Leave it alone and your father will take care of it.

Not long after, the other mouse died as well and my father disposed of the body. I cleaned out the cage (which was actually an aquarium with a screen held onto the top with a brick that only once fell in, miraculously not killing any of the scrambling babies). I didn’t get any new pets after that, but resumed my role sharing the family cats and dogs.

Flash forward to this year when, in January, my sister K came to live with us. She brought with her a monster named Tubby, an adorable little puffball of a blueberry dwarf hamster. I refer to Tubby as a monster because she would do anything in her power to eat anyone who came near her. Just walking past her cage caused her to stop what she was doing (most likely rummaging or running in the loudest wheel ever made) and literally lunge and grasp at you. If anyone tried to hold her, well, let’s just say you became an instant hamster launch. Those teeth are sharp and she seems to have a taste for blood.

If you wear really thick gloves, she can almost be held, but she’s not going to let you pet her under any circumstances and God help you if she gets away and can see skin. If you give her a sunflower seed, you might get a single head pet in before she pitches the seed and attempts to rip off your hand. I’ve half-joked that she’s a zombie hamster bent on eating human flesh. It’s only a half-joke because there’s a strong possibility I’m right and the zombie effects are just slow to show when infected by a dwarf hamster.

So for months now, Tubby has existed in our house. Sitting in a cage in the basement, being looked at occasionally, and allowed to “roam” via the hamster ball (or the ferret puzzle, as I like to call it – Blue would love to sample a hamster, but luckily hasn’t mastered the ball lock as of yet). K longs to get another rodent – one that can be held and might allow for cute cuddling or at least interactions that don’t involve a suit-of-arms. Alas, our house is at capacity for animals and none of us has the heart to feed the hamster to the ferret. (To be honest, I’m not sure how that would work anyway – remember the cricket?)

A couple of weeks ago, K went away for the weekend leaving Tubby with ample food and water. Upon her return, she noticed something wasn’t right. On Monday morning, she came to tell me there was something wrong with her hamster. She said Tubby’s eyes were puffy, she didn’t eat all weekend, and she could hold her. I searched desperately for the right thing to say. I told her I was sorry and that there’s not much you can do for a sick hamster. She went back to her room and I continued getting ready for work.

I was in the bathroom drying my hair when I see K in the doorway holding something. I turn off the hairdryer and look at her cupping Tubby in her hands. This thing looked BAD. Its hair was a mess (Tubby used to clean non-stop and had the fluffiest, shiny coat). Its eyes were swollen almost shut and looked “goopy” and it wouldn’t really walk. I tried to find something to say to K, but nothing was good enough. She was on the edge of tears and all I could think was “Please God, don’t make me touch that thing.” I sucked it up, stifled my mother’s voice in the back of my head (“What DO you do with a dying hamster?”) and touched the oozing creature while trying to console my sister. I had no idea what might be wrong with it, but it was obviously quite ill.

Throughout the day, the symptoms became more apparent. In addition to the other issues, if you put Tubby on the floor, she would walk in circles and fall onto her side. (It was really hard not to laugh at that one. Nature can be cruel and the other kids are gonna laugh whether they should or not.) DH did some research and found the symptoms to match those described by many other Internet users. We had a diagnosis – Tubby had a stroke.

According to Google, the prognosis for a hamster after a stroke isn’t great. They have to be handled with great care, being fed and given water frequently immediately afterward. Even then, more strokes are likely and the care will not get easier

K continued to nurse Tubby (who could now be held with no threat of bodily harm). She gave it food, but it would only eat if forced and drinking was difficult. By Friday, Tubby had basically stopped eating altogether and was obviously not getting better. Tubby was going to starve to death and we were being forced to watch. This was more than I could handle and I know K wasn’t doing so well either.

K packed up a box and we headed to the vet who diagnosed Tubby with a respiratory infection and agreed that she probably did have a stroke. She was clear that we could treat the hamster with fluids, antibiotics, and syringe feedings, but even then, the prognosis was NOT good. With tears in our eyes, K agreed with the vet when she suggested euthanasia was the best option. It wasn’t an easy decision and many will laugh at the somewhat extreme measure for a hamster, but neither of us could bear to watch Tubby die in such a horrible and painful way as starvation.

The vet was incredibly considerate and I give her a lot of credit for the amount of care she gave to K and to Tubby. Through the entire visit, she held the frail, sickly hamster in her bare hands. She never judged (that we could see) and even when we left, the front staff was somber and considerate.

On Friday, March 13th, Tubby was laid to rest, to suffer no more. In her passing, I like to think that she joined the mice from my childhood answering my question from so many years ago.

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3 Comments on “What do you do?”

  1. sixofclubs Says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss. But I am curious… since your Dad was the one to deal w/ the dead mouse, what did you do with dear Tubby? Did you call Dad for advice?

    • Christy Says:

      I prefer to “play ostrich” and deny what I believe my father did with my mouse. I am completely confident it was not cremated with other animals and sprinkled amongst the rain forests of Brazil. (I like to think that’s where Tubby is and would prefer not to have my obvious delusions debunked.)

  2. Matt Says:

    I did much the same with C’s parakeet when we lived in Oklahoma. Cancer was the diagnosis in that case. It’s a hard choice to make, but the right one.


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