Early last summer, Madeline started asking for a hamster. I demurred, saying we were at capacity with two cats, one dog, rotating foster dogs, and, you know, kids. But that didn’t stop her from dragging me over to the hamster cages every time we walked into the pet store.
Which is a lot.
I kept putting her off. I just didn’t want to juggle another responsibility. Her Dad has a rabbit, so she can get her small animal fix there. And, to be quite honest, small animals kind of make me squeamish.
Flash forward a few months later, and a friend posted that someone had found a hamster at a restaurant downtown. It needed a home. And before I could stop myself, I offered our home.
Who has ever heard of a homeless hamster? Lost dogs and cats for sure. But a hamster?
I decided it was fate.
And I have a knack for doing that.
So on the evening of a busy night of Back to School festivities in September, one friend dropped off the hamster, while another stopped by later to drop off her old hamster cage that she didn’t need anymore.
And so Charlotte became an O’Malley.
Ever since Charlotte joined our family, she has been Madeline’s and Madeline has taken her role very seriously. She is responsible for making sure she always has enough food and water, and Nick helps her when it’s time to clean the cage.
I am pretty much nearly completely hands off.
Well, except for the fact that I need to buy the food and bedding.
Which is pretty much the perfect relationship for Charlotte and I.
Last Friday night, the kids came to report that Charlotte’s eye was bulging out of her head.
And you know how kids exaggerate.
But they weren’t.
And it was.
A quick google search indicates that bulging hamster eyes are pretty common, and a sign of infection, and they need to be seen by a vet stat.
Since it was about 9:30 at night, there wasn’t much we could do but get the vet’s hours for the next morning, so we could call as soon as they opened. And three vets later, we found one that treats hamsters (heretofore known as “exotic animals”) and could squeeze us in before an dog owner surrender that we also had to take care of (that’s Harry, and more on him another day).
So we meet Dr. Sarah for the first time, and she is so kind. And I’m convinced she is from Maine or Seattle without even asking her. I just know. She has this certain way. She takes her time examining Charlotte, talking to Madeline, and then whisks Charlotte away to another room for an extra pair of hands.
Which is pretty much never a good sign.
And meanwhile I’m stilling thinking … I can’t believe we’re at the vet for a hamster.
She comes back and says we have two options. She can try to push the eye back in and hope that there is no tumor or abscess behind it or she can remove the eye. I ask the vet what she would do. If this was her hamster. Or, more to the point, her daughter’s. I look at Madeline’s face, so much pain all over it, and, of course, go with the trying-to-save-the-eye method.
Which is also cheaper. We leave Charlotte there, with a promise that the vet will call later in the afternoon. And although she wouldn’t tell me before I made the decision, after I did, the vet told me should would have done the same thing.
And Madeline, the resident Hamster Mama, is upset. Heartbroken. That we are leaving Charlotte behind. I assure her that everything will be ok.
And hope that that’s a promise I can keep.
The vet calls and the eye is worse than we thought and it can’t be saved.
And so … sedation, pain medication, eye removal, stitches … and we can pick her up the next day.
On a Sunday.
I am forever grateful to vets who work to help the hearts of my five year old.
Sunday morning comes and Madeline had us there about 15 minutes before they opened.
She just wanted to be in the same space as Charlotte again.
To feel like everything was going to be ok.
And so Charlotte comes out in the very same shoe box she came in. Eye socket all stitched up. Three medications dispensed.
I’m listening to the vet tech explain how to give Charlotte her medication. Two orally and one topically on her eye.
All the while thinking … all this for a hamster. And also thinking, I hope the kids are listening because I just can’t do this.
And now a few days later, aside from the period when Charlotte was found homeless wandering the streets downtown, this has to be the worst week of her life.
But hopped up on pain medication (and I do mean hopped up) and antibiotics, she is thankfully doing fine.
The day we picked her up, we met friends to go rock climbing, and one of them asked me … “after going through all that, particularly the expense, what if she dies today?”
Because a) he’s a typical guy and that’s how they do and b) because hamsters aren’t exactly known for their longevity.
And I answered right away.
I will know I did the right thing.
Because in that moment, in the vet’s office on Saturday, when I had to make a decision as to what to do, I knew this was a teaching moment.
Although to many, this is just a hamster (and even to me), but it is Madeline’s hamster. But more importantly, it’s a life. And how could I tell her that Charlotte’s life is any less valuable than any other living thing?
And so it goes. I know I made the right decision. By Charlotte. By my own conscience. And by my daughter.
When I went upstairs to snap a quick shot to include in tonight’s post, I had to stop for a minute and make sure she was still breathing.
I’ve never seen her sleeping sideways like that.
But thankfully she is.
And all is right with the world.