MOM, THE CAT AND THE HAMSTER
One thing you must understand before our story can begin, is that my mother loved animals. You must understand this about her, or nothing I write further will make any sense. At least not to a sane, rational person.
I grew up in a small house in a small town. There were 12 of us kids, and, not so unusual for those times, two parents (one male, one female, also not so unusual for those times). There was also a rather large menagerie of pets. At any given time, there would be dogs, cats, parrots, parakeets, mynah birds, canaries, goldfish, rabbits, hamsters, lizards, even a crayfish and a gila monster. Perhaps strange enough for a house that small, but even stranger was that each of these creatures was expected to live together in this unnatural ecosystem in perfect harmony. And they did! Dogs and cats, cats and birds not only living together in peace, but playing with one another!
We had a cat that nursed at our dog’s nipples. The parrot would fly around the room (free as a bird, my mother would say) and land on the dog’s head. That is the other thing you must understand. No cages or collars or leashes for these animals! Not since the night my mother saw PLANET OF THE APES (the original, starring Charlton Heston). She came home from the theater, walked straight to the back yard, and liberated Duchess, our German Shepherd, from the awful chain keeping her tied to the tree. Mom told us about the movie, where apes kept enslaved humans in restraining collars and chains, treating them like animals……For the first time, she realized how it must feel for a dog to be so restrained. Never mind that now every time Duchess was in heat, over the backyard fence she’d go. And never mind the bird poop that now decorated much of the house (including the sugar bowl) as a result of Homer the parrot’s aerial excursions…..A small price to pay for the freedom these beasts now enjoyed.
This harmony between the different species I mentioned really didn’t come all that naturally. You see, my mother would train them to live that way. When any new addition to the family zoo arrived, Mom would take the creature (usually a newborn or baby something) and introduce it to the rest of the animal family. The dog (or dogs) would sniff it, the cat would swat it, the parrot would peck at it, and so on down the line. In this way, the other animals could get used to the new arrival, and the new creature would adapt to the others almost from birth. Mom did have an uncanny way with these animals, almost the way a lion tamer has with his big cats. They sensed both her love and her authority. It was quite a spectacle, the way all the household pets lived and frolicked together, and she enjoyed showing off for strangers what we kids came to take for granted.
Her greatest accomplishment in the art and science of animal control surely would have been the one this essay is about…. if only it had been successful.
The arrival of the hamster was an event met with some great excitement in the house. No such creature had ever been there before (unless you include regular house mice, which for the purposes of this story I will not). I don’t even recall who it belonged to, my younger brother Kirk, I think. It came complete with a big cage, running wheel, and a glass drinking tube to be filled with water. Everyone gathered around the kitchen table as Mom prepared to acclimate the cat with the hamster. How would the two natural enemies respond? Would our mother’s almost supernatural way with animals result in another triumph of love over nature? Or would the moment end in tragedy and horror, as generations of animal instinct were unleashed in full fury?
We all held our breath……
First, Mom took the squirming rat-like fur ball (so new, I don’t think it had even been named yet) into her cupped hands. She placed it carefully on the kitchen floor, its little claws scratching at the linoleum. The cat was being held by one of the kids, the idea being to hold onto it and slowly put it near the hamster to get them used to one another.
What happened next is a blur, and I’m quite sure that in an effort to protect the mind against trauma, some part of my memory is blocked, blocked from recalling with full clarity the next terrible moments.
The cat hissed, bolted free from whatever five, six or eight year old was holding it, and pounced on the helpless hamster at lightning speed. Mom emitted one of her patented screams (you would have to hear it for yourself, for I lack the writing skills to even begin to describe it. Once you heard it, you never wanted to hear it again, and you would never forget the sound of it……something like aaahhhhh aaahhhh aahhhh in shrill, high decibel, staccato bursts). She reached down and tried to force the cat to release the hamster by grabbing the feline’s neck while whacking it on its side with her other hand. It worked, and the terrified hamster plopped to the floor as the confused cat was carried swiftly out of the kitchen.
The hamster was in a terrible state, seemingly uninjured physically, but shaking so violently from fear that it looked about ready to have heart failure. It was placed back in its cage where it just lay in a corner, continuing to shake in a hyper state. (Its eyes didn’t look quite right, either.)
The poor creature died within a day or two, cause of death no doubt acute anxiety over the ferocious attack suffered at the claws of the house cat….
This one abysmal failure did not deter mom from continuing her social experiments with various species, and many a happy dog and contented cat enjoyed each others’ companionship for many a year in that little house. The birds still flew free, and the Alpo was plentiful. Life was good, if you were one of the members of the animal kingdom blessed enough to land (or crawl, waddle or swim) in my mother’s house.
We never did get another hamster.
All material copyright © 2004 by Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007