We got Suzy over a year ago, when she was still a baby. Once she got used to our smells and our hands, she was a genuinely happy, easy-going hamster. When we held her or played with her, she never bit us, didn’t poo on the carpet, and didn’t chew through our clothes. She could have easily passed for the archetypal small pet, were it not for one outstanding quality. Suzy was dead set on escaping.

The problem was that we housed her in a glass aquarium (with bedding and a igloo home and a wheel and everything), so there was no way for her to get out. She really tried though. First she perfected the “belly polish”. What she did was try to climb right up the vertical, slippery walls of her encasement. She’d jump against the wall, feet and little paws flailing wildly, and slip down, and stand back up on her hind legs, jump again and slip down. This, in real time, looked like she was doing the boogie with the aquarium. All you could hear were little claws on glass and an occasional thud as she pounced on the wall with ever-present determination.

Then there were the couple of times that she actually escaped – once because she brilliantly pushed the rolling wheel on its side, against the glass wall, climbed up and out. Another time because she managed to pull herself up on top of the wheel without it spinning (a feat in itself) and jumped out.

Suzy’s most elaborate attempts at escape happened at around 11pm each night, when you’d begin hearing a rhythmic thumping noise, as if plastic was hitting glass. This was the sound of an acrobatic hamster trying to wedge herself between the corner of the aquarium and her water bottle, and using the pressure of the bottle against the wall to hoist herself up.

Observing these rituals night after night, I began suspecting that our hamster was not having the quality of life that she deserved. She didn’t play with her wheel, didn’t relax and enjoy the evening sunlight streaming through the windows. Instead, she dedicated most every waking moment to the futile task of running away, each night “forgetting” the failures of the previous evening and committing herself all over again to her limited repertoire of escape tactics. In time, this became unbearable to watch – her predicament so closely mirrored our own. And so I decided to buy her a new home.

After an eventful trip to PetSmart, the kids and I brought home a three-story hamster haven, complete with water bottle, feeding plate, ladders, slides, and a plastic running wheel. We also got her the off-white, super-absorbent baby-soft fabric “chips” instead of the woodchips we previously used. Her luxury home was finally ready and we showed her inside. Suzy seemed excited to be in her new place – she carefully clambered up and down the stairs, made a cozy nest in the corner, and ate the food lovingly placed in her dish. We watched her for some time as she explored, but then bedtime routines got underway and she was left to her devices.

Later than evening, when the house was finally quiet, I heard a curious noise coming from Suzy’s corner. I came closer and there she was, chewing maniacally on the green metal bars that formed her cage. After everything that we did for her, she chose to spend her evening (and many evenings to follow) planning and executing various attempts of escape.  Seeing her this way, something turned within me. Finally I had greater insight into the tragic plight of the hamster condition.

(The tale continues here , when Suzy writes about her owner…)

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