Last night, at 1 a.m. in the morning, my husband and I were down on our knees calling out “Milo!” and shining flashlights into every dark, and possible hidey-hole in our living room, looking for our runaway hamster. Of every place we looked, the last possible place for him to be (barring an untimely death or some way of having jumped up a split level) was underneath one of our big bookcases which have a front bottom cover, but none in the back. But these bookcases are eight feet tall and weighed down with books. So instead, I put the hamster’s cage on the floor, with a little bridge he could use to get back in, assuming he’d eventually be hungry and want to come back home.
And how did Milo the hamster get loose? When we’d come home from celebrating our anniversary, he was rattling his cage door for attention. When I opened the door, he eagerly crawled into the hamster ball I held for him, and after I screwed the lid back on and affixed the scotch tape we still had around it, I let him run around. And the next time we looked for him, the ball was empty and lid unscrewed, after the tape had come loose.
This wasn’t the first time such a thing has happened. It first happened with our previous hamster, D.J. Hammy Ham. But she was of a different character than Milo. When she’d gotten loose, I called for her, and she came, ready for me to pick her up and put her back in her home. Milo is our first “rescued” hamster. Already a year old when we adopted him, he’d come our of a hoarder home in Florida. It took him a good month to get him to be willing to be held in our hands, and he’s still extremely territorial about his cage, and often nips any hand that comes in. But I thought we had made some progress, when we trained him to sit up for his favorite trait of peanuts, and he’s patiently acquiesced to being dressed up in multiple ways for history time travel stories and fashion shows Kelly put him into.
But perhaps he was just biding his time, waiting for a good chance to be rid of us. In the morning, he still hadn’t returned to his cage. Kelly was anxious and upset, distraught that he might be hurt or hungry. After she went off to school, Peter and I determined the most likely bookshelf, based on hamster scat which appeared after we’d vacuumed late the night before and the faintest of sounds when we tapped on the bookcase and put our ears low to the ground. We took everything off the top of the case and it in. And then, very carefully, we picked up the bookcase and moved it away from the wall. Milo was right there, right in the middle of what had been the under-bookcase space. We were astounded with what an impressive nest he’d managed to build and accumulate in the short time. With his little claws, he’d ripped up enough of the carpet to make himself a fluffy bed. And strewn all over the area, he had a big collection of all his favorite treats: peanuts and big Yogi treats and sunflower seeds, which he must have accumulated coming out on the sly and accessing our stash of his food underneath his cage. Luckily for us, he didn’t run (or even bite) when I reached down to scoop him up and put him back in his cage. But it did make us wonder who in his previous situation had really been the hoarder?
We vacuumed away his bookshelf nest, put back the bookshelf, and replaced items onto its shelves. I set out to find a new hamster ball, but to my surprise, every ball on the market still has the exact same design. It’s known to be faulty: more than a few hamster owners report having hamsters who’ve found various ways to unlock or loosen it, accidentally or deliberately. But all the associate at one pet store could advise me to do is to put duct tape over the hamster ball door after putting the hamster in. Well, that’ll certainly work, but once you have to use duct tape to hold something together, it tells you it’s flawed.
We have a world with many clever designers and manufacturers. Certainly there is someone who can design a functional, yet hamster-proof, hamster ball: one which can open and close repeatedly, is weight-balanced, but can’t be worked open by a determined rodent. For the time being, Milo is grounded in his cage, with only the promise of excursions in Kelly’s hands, or temporary time in a big box. Build a better hamster ball, designers, and I will buy it.