If my cousin ever reads this (hi June!), she won’t fail to point out a significant point of contention about the hamsters I was lucky enough to spend time with just before I started first grade.
Namely, that they were actually her hamsters.
June and her parents were off to Spain for a month, something to do with her father’s job, and the hamsters moved in with us, naturally.
So, while they were technically not my hamsters, and we may not technically be able to qualify them as my pets, the 78 bedtime stories I read them and the scar on my left index finger serve as a testament to my devotion.
As well as the fact that I learned a valuable lesson about not trying to force an animal to play when it most definitely wants to sleep.
Our parents (mine and June’s) still love to recount the story of how high the arc in which the hamster flew was, having bitten off a large chunk of my finger (or at least that’s how it felt to me).
It was my own fault, naturally. I wanted to play, they were not so inclined, and I got what I deserved.
The fact that the hamster still had his teeth in me as I pulled my hand out of the cage did not strike me as comical at the time. Nor do I find it particularly funny today either.
He didn’t come to any harm, before you ask. He landed on the sofa, and while everyone was fussing over my finger and the incessant wail I was letting off, he managed to scramble down and over to the TV. Where he managed to chew through every single cord before he was hounded down by my long suffering father.
His brother meanwhile watched the entire proceedings from the confinest of his cage, and probably never forgave me for not letting him out too.
Despite this slight skirmish, we lived in happy harmony (my pet tortoises Huey and Louie, the hamsters and myself) until they returned to their home.
The other lesson this incident has taught me was to respect animals that are not mine even more than I do the ones that technically belong to me.
However, as I find the line of ownership here a bit blurry (not to mention a completely unsuitable term to be used), what I should probably be saying is that I learned how to respect animals, full stop.
Now being a parent myself, I can firmly ascertain that this encounter with the sharp teeth of a small animal brought home a lesson my younger self certainly needed to learn. Not of course that I advocate having your children bitten by hamsters (or any other animal for that matter).
All I’m saying is that responsibility, care and a sense of caution sometimes need to be reinforced with an unpleasant experience.
And it has certainly taught me to be much more respectful towards animals big and small – as even the tiniest ones have their feelings and preferences, and just because they can’t obviously fight back doesn’t mean we have any right to annoy them.