Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hampton is dead.

Some of you may recall that Hampton is a hamster. But not just any hamster, a rescued hamster. And I mean ‘rescued’ with a capital ‘R’.
In September of ’05 Angel, and some like-minded souls ventured down to southern Mississippi to gather up thirty or so unclaimed, unidentifiable dogs that had been pulled out of the Katrina floodwaters. While there, suffering the heat, humidity and a plague of freakish insect life, they were approached by a man carrying a small habit-trail.
He said that he was newly homeless, and would be going to stay with a relative, a relative who, because of allergies or similar ailment, would not be receptive to hosting a rodent. He was shopping at exactly the right store. Those that went down to the gulf are big hearted, and kind. They are not dog – purists. A helpless, needy animal is a helpless needy animal.
So they took him and made him part of the caravan, riding, unlike the dogs, in air conditioned comfort of the large R.V. There was some discussion as to what to do with him, but Angel laid claim and that was that. After all a hamster, fully and comfortably homed takes up less than a cubic foot of space, and we had thousands of those available in our home.
Not very personable, but not vicious either, he could only be described as laid-back and a dutiful slave to his own schedule. Nocturnal, he was seldom seen in daylight, but could be heard about midnight sucking on his water bottle or working out on his squeaky wheel.
At some point, while still in Maryland he escaped. We don’t know why, he seemed to be quite content in his thick glass universe, but he did escape. We worried that the dogs might find and dispose of him in nature’s way, but found no evidence of it. For two or three days we wondered, maybe he got outside, maybe he’s trapped behind something we hadn’t thought to move yet.
Watching TV we heard a scurry in the ceiling. Just a little, we had to mute the TV to finally convince ourselves that we did both actually hear something. We removed a tile from the grid, ladders, flashlights, all the required rescue gear was employed. He came rather willingly, tired, nervous, and a bit slimmer than we last saw him. He seemed quite happy to get back to his aquarium. He quickly settled into his normal routine.
A few months later we found out that we were about to move to St. Louis. The logistics were complex, I would drive ahead to start the new job and stay in a long-term hotel while Angel and Adam stayed back to settle our affairs. But that wasn’t the complicated part. No, the tough nut was how to get four dogs and a hamster a thousand miles to the west. I volunteered and did my part, I took Hampton with me. He had a travel carrier, vented , secure, and simple. He did not complain the entire two day trip. Settled into my single room at the extended-stay, he moved back into an aquarium, though not his roomy thirty gallon luxury suite, it was just too heavy, but rather, like me, into something a bit smaller (ten gallons) and easier to manage.
This worked quite well, for him. I was gone all day while he was sleeping, and at night he would entertain me with his exercise routine, squeaking, thumping, scratching.. it was very much like living in a one room flat with a rodent.
My room was ‘serviced’ every Monday, new sheets, towels, vacuuming, etc. One Monday however I returned to my room to discover that nothing at all had been serviced. Complaining to management was simple enough, the manager investigated then explained that the service staff saw “something moving around in that big glass box” and were too frightened to clean the room. We both laughed as I showed him the room, and the big glass box.. He laughed even harder when he saw the room’s ‘Do not Disturb’ card taped to the side of the aquarium…. He didn’t even charge me the ten dollar ‘pet charge’ claiming that if he did that he’d have to find a way to get money from the other resident rodents…..eww.
So we lived quietly and happily together, respectful of each other and pretty much uninvolved.
As time passed and the rest of the family finally settled in to our new house, Hampton returned to a distinguished spot in the dining room, back in his sparkling and enormous glass home, where he has been for over a year.
A couple of months ago, he started gaining weight, a lot of girth anyhow, very bottom heavy. His diet had not changed, nor had the amount he ate or drank. Assuming he was entering a hibernation cycle, we moved him into a warmer room for a few weeks, but nothing changed. His girth eventually became greater than his length. He slowed down, getting on with his routine , much, much less. This morning Angel found him, without sign of struggle or stress, merely having slipped quietly into the past tense. He has been laid to rest, buried in a small box stuffed full of his favorite bedding material in a quiet, shady place in our woods.