Getting a hamster was a mistake from the start. When you've got three kids, two cats and a dog, caring for even one more little life can certainly lead to overextension. But I had such fond memories of the little rodents who were my childhood companions. I wanted nothing less for my own little girl so I promised Kenya that, when she turned five, she could have her own hamster.
The day in question arrived, and I took great pleasure in picking the particular furball that would be our pet. Everybody loved little Hammy. Malindi loved the way his legs splayed out when he was dropped from a height onto the carpet. Finn loved how his eyes bulged when you poked them. In acknowledgement of this fond affection I allowed Hammy to exist on a low-level shelf, within easy view of the kids.
One day, Finnie learned how to open the cage and set our little orb of fluff loose upon the world. It was Sunday night when I came upon the empty cage. Hammy could have been gone for as many as 10 hours by that point. I set up a search party that included the considerable participation of our cats and our dog. For half an hour, we searched with no luck.
Four more evenings passed. Then Adam called me down to the basement where he was playing with the kids. They heard something in the furnace ducts that snaked along the ceiling. I listened and, sure enough, detected a faint scratching against the metal. We hauled out Adam's toolbox and tried to wrench one piece of duct from the other. But it wouldn't budge. These things were built to last. Finally, we threw a couple of carrots down the vent, mercifully remembered to turn off the furnace, and went to bed.
The next day, an overwhelming sense of guilt pushed me to place a few calls of inquiry about the possibility of rescuing our little critter. The gas company said they had no idea. The animal-rescue folks suggested we call a duct-cleaning place. And I was all set up with an $80-an-hour duct-cleaner before the guy called to make sure I understood the ramifications of the extraction. "We'd be vacuuming him out of there, you understand? The hamster will die in the process." I cancelled the appointment.
On Friday, Adam and I heard the scratching again. This time, when we went down to the basement, we came across a hole in the duct we hadn't noticed before. It was plugged with the same kind of rubber stopper you find in the bottom of a piggy bank. We pried it loose and, sure enough, were rewarded with the sight of scampering little feet across the opening.
Because the hole was too small, we had to cut the metal away and peel it back. Then I held up a cucumber stick, the famished hamster locked onto it, and I was able to lower him through, teeth first. For one alarming moment, we wondered if we were pulling another rodent out from our vents. But it was Hammy. His fur hot-air-blasted from the furnace, one eye mysteriously squished shut, seriously skinny - but alive.
We transported him back to his cage, filled the place with food and water, and crossed our fingers that he would still be around when the kids woke up. He was and, several weeks after the ordeal, Hammy continues to amaze us with his survival techniques. He's still the object of questionable affection with the kids. But he no longer lives out his little life on one of the lower shelves.