Downton Rodent Abbey
Written by
Rachel Aydt
January 2012
Written by
Rachel Aydt
January 2012

We caved at Christmas and got Jamie a pet. Actually, we got him three pets, the Flying Roborovski Sisters. They are Masha (with the spot on her eye), Irena (with the more jagged lines on her back), and Olga (who wears a perfect gray diamond on her back). Roborovski Dwarf Hamsters are a revelation of cuteness. They run all night long on their hamster wheels, so much so that we had to replace the metal wheels in the picture above with the far more expensive "Silent Spinners." I didn't realize at the time that I'd bought the metal wheels with slotted rungs that they were a deathtrap to the Three Sisters. Their little feet could get caught in the rungs, and yikes! I don't even want to think about them getting crushed between the wheel and the metal stand. I thought my initial solution was pretty creative... the paper that you see covering the rungs is actually a thick-grade watercolor paper that I cut into strips and taped onto the inner perimeter. Perfect for making them safe, and easy to replace when they get a bit hamstered-out.

Why hamsters? Allergies, for one. Jamie's incredibly allergic to dogs and cats, though he's possibly growing out of it. They used to give him severe asthma attacks, and now he just gets rashes and welts on his face. Unless he has a cold, and then he still gets asthma. I have hope that he'll continue to age of this. So for him,  the hamsters are ideal because they live in a glass aquarium with a screened lid, so dander doesn't fly out of their cage when they dig and dig in their bedding for jewels like half-eaten sunflower seeds and wooden chew toys. They're too fast to hold and pet, but they'll run through your fingers and take little seeds from your hands. They're easy to travel with in our car (we travel with hamsters now!) and you don't have to walk them. They're very social, and three seems to be the perfect dynamic. They're so small (roughly 3 inches) that we figured 3 dwarfs equals one Teddy Bear hamster. When we first went to visit them at Petco, there were no less than 20 in the cage.  We studied them and were amused by their antics. They crawl all over each other, sit on their haunches when they eat, sleep on their backs and run back and forth and back and forth. They had only one hamster wheel, which is cruel, but I didn't understand that before bringing them home.

When I went back the next day to seal the deal, there were only three left! Strangely, Jim and I had agreed before I left that three was the magic number, and so I scooped up the lot. I brought home a little cage, and we decided it was far too small. They would survive, but a 20 gallon tank gives them more room to run and play, and now, they're quite at home. They love bits of raw cabbage and carrots, and paper towel holders which they promptly pull their nesting in for dark and comfy sleep before chewing holes through it. Fortunately, there's always another roll in the works for when they destroy these.

Their bad neighbors, the nocturnal house mice, taunt them at 9:00 p.m. every night. One will poke his little brown or gray head out from the stove, and run under the table to catch a piece of discarded rice or a random Cheerio. I used to have no reservations about putting out snap traps, and still will for household hygiene, but we're not teeming with them. There may be a couple at this point. Now I see them as the Butler and Footmen to the Royal Roborovski's. The "Upstairs" Sisters get to live in their mansion with their expensive toys, while the "Downstairs" mice have to huddle under the stove, scrounge for scraps, and fear for their lives. It's not quite as juicy as Downton Abbey, but it's a drama that unfolds in our home day by day.

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