Last summer, right after my husband went into the hospital, we agreed that the Girl could get a pet. She'd been asking for something for a while (she'd already had a few fish by this point. They died, but it was from natural causes), so we decided that, at almost 7, she was ready for something small of her own.
That's how we ended up with Princess.
Princess was a dwarf hamster. Cute as anything, really. Black and white, with beady little black eyes and whiskers that never stopped moving. We bought her at the pet store and brought her home, complete with cage, food, toys, and chew stuff.
Princess settled in. Since we lived in the townhouse and the Girl shared a room with her brother (who is apparently part monkey by the way), we couldn't keep Princess in her room. So Princess lived in the kitchen. When I set the broiler on fire, poor Princess never knew what hit her. She got covered in the green fire extinguisher dust. I still remember the WTF?!?! look she gave me, blinking up through the dust. I cleaned her off and she was fine.
Some dwarf hamsters don't like to be held. Not Princess. She would run up one arm, across your chest, down the other. She loved sunflower seeds and would let you feed them to her one at a time. She'd stuff them in her cheek pouches and wait until she was back in her cage. Then, she'd go behind her wheel and spit them all out.
Her cage had a section at the top that was removable. She could get to it via a tube that ran up from the base. It had a cap so you could plug the opening and take her out. We did that sometimes for cleaning, when she didn't go in her exercise ball. Sometimes, she'd get out of the ball - but when she did, at first she'd freeze. And we'd pounce before she got away.
My daughter loved to tell people that hamsters come out at night because they are octurnal. Yep - octurnal. Well, Princess was octurnal, all right. I'm a night owl, so it's not unusual for me to be up until 1 or 2 AM. And I'd hear Princess going like mad on her wheel. The Girl grew used to it quickly once we moved and Princess was in her room - she slept right through the racket.
We bought Habitrail tubes and designed this extensive obstacle course for Princess, but she didn't seem to really like it - so the cage went back to its original state. The Girl made sure Princess had Christmas presents - chew things in the shape of ice cream cones, and a box of Veggie Puffs (Princess preferred the corn ones.)
Every night, the Girl would hold Princess for a few minutes before going to sleep. She nicknamed her the Little Furball of Joy. If she could have tucked Princess into bed beside her, I don't doubt for a moment that she would have.
Well, that little creature who brought such joy to my daughter when she needed it most, died this morning. I'd noticed Princess was looking a bit grayer than she'd originally been. She'd run on her wheel for a few minutes, and then stop. Last night, she seemed too tired to climb back out of the wheel. She didn't want to eat and didn't want to drink. By 2 AM this morning, when I checked on her (hey, I'm a mom, it's second nature to check on everyone in the house before I turn in for the night) her breathing had slowed to about 1 breath every 15 seconds. I knew she didn't have a lot of time left. And I knew it was going to be very hard on the Girl.
The sun was out this morning. But when the Girl and I went out to dig a hole, it had gotten very cloudy and gray. We put Princess in a little box, with some soft bedding and her favorite things, and we buried her in the backyard. We fashioned a little cross of sticks to mark it (the Girl wanted to put up a sign, but I convinced her the cross was more appropriate.) And then the sun came out again.
The Girl is taking it well, though. And I'm glad. It's tough enough to lose a pet as an adult, but as a child? And especially after how up and down the last 7 months have been in our family. But she's holding up and that's good.
I miss the little bugger as well - she was cute and friendly - and the Girl's room seems strangely quiet now.