Requiem For Bitey

How many of you can say you’ve been punched in the nose by a dwarf hamster?

Angus (pictured above) had just moved into his new home, last summer. He stood up on his hind feet, surveying the environs, and I leaned in close to say hello. With lightning speed he swatted my nose with his tiny paw. Just like that, Angus set the tone for our relationship. “Just because I’m your hamster,” he seemed to infer, “doesn’t mean I gotta deal with your big dumb moony face.”

Like myself, Angus was a private and often grouchy critter. Some hamsters are like that; they don’t want to be fondled at a whim. I never held it against him. If I was the size of a fluffed-up field mouse, I’d be nervous about giant hands grabbing me, too. Eventually Angus learned to trust me enough to allow me to scratch behind his ears, but it took some time and effort.

See, Angus Bobangus (his formal name) liked to bite. Loved to bite, as a matter of fact. On his last day, he bit me and drew blood. He sank his tiny teeth into flesh even more swiftly than he punched. He was like a dwarf hamster version of Robert Shaw in Jaws. I half-expected him to accuse me of having soft hands, from counting money all my life. (If my hands are soft, it ain’t from that, sad to say.)

Sometimes his nipping would backfire on him, when, despite my best efforts to be still, I would recoil when he bit, sending his tiny body flying. Miraculously, he was not hurt when this happened. At least, not that I could determine, as I frantically doted over him (while staunching the blood flow from his latest bite). He was a daredevil like Evel Knievel. He ate danger like flaxseed. (He ate a lot of flaxseed.) I introduced him to the cats of the house and he gave them attitude.

Even though dwarf hamsters typically only live one or two years, I bonded with Angus. He came to tolerate me as the giant oaf who brings the food and cleans up smelly bedding. I work out of my bedroom, and I work better when supervised by a busy hamster. Wishing them goodnight, and then feeding them the next morning helps my overall mien. The energy goes both ways; here’s a picture of two works-in-progress Angus left behind.

I was charmed by Angus’s quick temper, even with the biting. It was a sort of “Moe and Larry or Curly” situation. I “got” his shtick, and respected his adherence to it. Angus was funny in his own special way. I mean, after all, I had dubbed him “Angus”, a name that evokes raucous rock stars with the same first three letters as “angry”. I cast him in a specific role, and he filled it admirably. If one could imagine the hamsters in my life as famous comedians, Angus would be Bill Hicks.

Despite his brief stay, Angus left a mark, deeper than the bites. He bit deep into my heart and broke it with his passing. His last days were not ideal; he’d fallen ill in the past months, and his most recent bite-induced launch was a bad one. He worried off the fuzz on his belly, revealing reddish, irritated flesh. I cradled him in my palm as he struggled, soothing him, and later that day he was gone.

I spent the following weekend in an emotional knot. I couldn’t believe that Angus had departed so suddenly. To make matters worse, I had allowed my prescription medication to lapse, and I was confused and erratic. While in town for a refill, I spotted a baby bird fallen from a nest onto pavement. All at once I felt the overwhelming cruelty of life and the universe, like an avalanche of boulders, combined with the intense futility of not knowing how to help this tiny suffering creature. My mind reeling and undermedicated, I stumbled towards the crosswalk, debating whether to head home or hurl my body into the path of a speeding SUV.

Minutes later I composed myself, and returned to where the baby bird had fallen to take a picture. This way, I could share it, with the location attached, and maybe someone who could legitimately help would see it and save this doomed squeaker. I steeled myself for the possibility that the tiny bird was already dead.

Instinctively, I approached the baby bird from a distance and only got close enough to snap the picture. Without realizing it I spoke to the fallen hatchling just as I spoke to Angus, soft and affectionate, and then I quickly left the premises so as not to alarm the adult birds present. My head swimming, I managed to share the picture, convincing myself that I’d done everything I could for the bird. Getting more emotional made no sense.

Later, once my medication kicked in and I could think clearly, I looked at the picture of the bird again. First, I noticed that in the five minutes between the time I found the bird and when I took the photo, it had gone from a squirming, weak little blob to a fuzzy-feathery birdlet, standing under its own power.

Second, I noticed an unmistakable look in the tiny chick’s newly-opened eyes. A look like it might swat me on the shnoz if I got too close. The coloring of the downy new feathers was unmistakable, as was the reddish hue of the spots where skin was visible.

It was Angus.

Safe journeys, Li’l Bitey. You earned your wings.

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