When I was 11, I somehow convinced my mom to buy me a hamster. Why she agreed to this, I’ll never know. But in a moment of weakness, she took me to a local pet store and I picked out a fat, ginger-colored hamster with beady black eyes and buck teeth. I kept telling myself it was cute, but I always thought it looked like it was hiding a dangerous secret.
I attempted to name it after Bruce Willis. At the time, Willis was starring in the show “Moonlighting” and I had a mad crush on him. I was even a fan of his Seagram’s Wine Coolers commercials and his attempt at a musical career – the 1987 album “The Return of Bruno,” where he sang an inscrutably-titled song named “Jackpot (Bruno’s Bop).” So I named my hamster Bruno. Everyone else in the house called him “Pyewacket,” after some cat that followed a witch around during the 1600s. As I said, he looked evil. Like a red-headed Meagan Fox with sharp teeth.
Now, this is the problem with buying a kid a pet. I never changed this poor thing’s cage. I let the pee and brown rice-sized turds build up for weeks and weeks until my mom would scream at me to clean the cage.
My sister loves to tell the story about the time I was changing the sawdust in Bruno’s cage when she heard my high-pitched, panic-filled voice shout, “IT’S COMING! IT’S COOOOMMMMING!” from the upstairs hallway. I was referring, of course, to the golden river of hamster pee that was now pouring all over the floor.
Bruno died the summer before I started sixth grade at Lakeside Middle School. At this point, he was living in the garage. My mom, in a typical matter-of-fact way, walked into my room one day and said, “Your hamster’s dead.” I pretended not to care, buried him in the backyard and then crawled up into the attic of the garage and cried. Not because I loved the hamster, but because I’d been so terrible at taking care of it.
So, here’s the question: How do you know when your kid is mature enough to take care of his own pet? Should you start off small – like with a goldfish or a pet rock? Also, why does hamster pee smell so damn awful?
Emma Downs is a Features writer at The Journal Gazette and a Tall Tails blogger.