walk a-musing

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Tribute To Chip

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A year and two months ago we brought home Chip and Dale. After asking for a dog, and considering a cat and hoping for a rabbit, V had finally settled for a pair of male Chinese hamsters. We got a proper cage, complete with a small house inside it and bedding, water bottle, a tray for food and an exercise wheel and a couple of toys and housed the two eight week olds in it.

From the very beginning, Chip, the light grey one was extremely spirited. In fact the very first night in the new home, he tried his best to bite his way out. We found him hanging upside down on the metal grill on the roof of the cage and furiously chewing on it. But he settled down soon enough. Though he ran and hid himself if we tried to touch or hold him, he always popped his head out of his house the moment we opened the cage to add some food or check on the water. As soon as we closed the lid, he scurried out to grab his favourite bits. Dale, the dark one, waited till we were out of the room to saunter up and do the same.

Chip soon got quite friendly, and learned to eat peanuts out of our hands whereas Dale took his time. Chip was very active on the exercise wheel too and was visibly slimmer than Dale. I enjoyed watching Chip stand on his hind legs to look curiously at the world sorrounding his cage, scurry about exploring any new toys we placed in the cage, and loved holding him in my palm while I fed him peanuts or hamster chocolates.

Things were peaceful for a year. But one day we found Chip and Dale fighting. We banged on the cage and stopped the fight and assumed that Chip had grabbed all the juicy bits from the food bowl and Dale was fighting over it. But after a while it became obvious that Dale was chasing Chip out of the small house and did not allow him to sleep inside. The fights became quite frequent and we once found Chip with a little blood on his forehead. After some research V decided that they needed seperate places to sleep. We brought in a small new house to place within the cage and put in some bedding and hoped that one of them would settle there. But if Chip slept there, Dale soon went in and chased him away. We placed a third shelter with the same result. It was obvious that Dale was the bully. The day I saw the little sunny, lively Chip curled up outside the houses and Dale who just happened to walk out of his house run up and attack him, I went to the pet shop and brought a new cage and seperated them.

This brought some peace of mind for us. But a couple of weeks ago V and I noticed that Chip was extemely restless. We brought him out so that he could run around to his heart's content and settle down. It worked, but the same happened the next day. Infact the moment I opened the cage and put my hand in he jumped on to my sleeve and clung to it. Again a few days later we found him on the exercise wheel a number of times during the middle of the day. Since the hamster's day starts late in the evening, this was indeed unusual. We wondered about this but were not too worried. But two mornings later little Chip was dead, lying on his side.

What made Chip's death so surprising was the spurt of extra energetic activities preceding it. The fact that he was such a spirited and lively little fellow made his quiet and sudden death all the more sad. Naturally I tried to think of all the possible reasons. I now think that the stress and trauma of Dale's terrorising was too much for the tiny hamster heart. I also read that some hamsters like company and some want to be left alone. Perhaps Chip was a social being and was extremely lonely in his own cage. Am I being anthropomorphic? Has anyone studied hamster psychology? I dont know. But one thing I know. I never thought I would grow so fond of a little hamster and miss him so much when he died. Chip is now buried in the most sunny part of our garden under the Californian Lilac bush.

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