There’s nothing wrong with hamsters. They are cute with dark shiny little eyes. They are moderately furry, unsmelly and they have no ratty tails to worry about.
They are quiet unless you really alarm them or give them a wheel in dire need of a squirt of WD40. They don’t move that fast unless you allow them to get up steam and they generally tolerate being handled. Some actually seem to enjoy it.
So when my friend Wendy announced “I don’t like our new hamster. I think it’s got something wrong with it. Can you come and have a look?” I had to go see.
The new arrival was dozing in a nice ball of shredded newspaper in it’s cage looking as cosy as a hamster should when I woke it up. It responded to my voice. Nice. A friendly hamster.
I haven’t picked up a hamster for years. We had a hamster as a pet when I was about eight. I’d carried out a sustained campaign of nagging for a dog or a pony and all I got was a hamster which I was forced to share with my brother. So we had half each. I made him have the back half, naturally.
Like riding a bike, hamster-handling, once learned, is never forgotten. The creature sat in the palm of my hand, washed his whiskers and looked up at me, his pointy little black nose aquiver.
“His name’s Troy” said Wendy.
Troy as in ‘Troy Tempest the captain of Stingray’?
“No. Troy like the film with Brad Pitt. We haven’t got him the little gladiator skirt yet.”
As hamsters go, Troy was rather handsome; Welsh-slate grey with white patches.
He had little in common with Brad. Troy’s nose was much more mobile than Brad’s (even in Seven) and Troy’s mouth was hidden beneath a rather weak chin whereas Brad’s is above his chin. Brad, I suspect, would also have difficulty growing the luxuriant facial furnishings which Troy wore with such insouciance.
There was another major difference; a difference which had been worrying Wendy and which was the real crux of the matter; the reason she might have to return Troy to the pet shop.
‘Can’t you see what’s wrong?’
No, I couldn’t. He looked perfectly fine to me and slightly adorable. If it wasn’t for my dog’s shockingly unbridled ferocity with a remote-controlled rat one Christmas, I’d have been happy to take Troy home.
“Put him down on the floor and watch him.”
I did. He sniffed a bit. Nothing unusual.
“Look. It’s his balls, Jan. They’re so big he’s having to drag them along the ground. That can’t be right.”
We both inspected Troy as he hauled himself across the rug.
Hmm. I could see what she meant.
Two furry bulges did rather lag behind the rest of Troy when he got a bit of speed up.
I thought she was being a bit harsh on poor Troy. In my opinion they weren’t testicular. He wasn’t that big a boy. Surely those were simply his bottom?
“Pick him up and have a proper look.”
Oh god. Sometimes, being a bogus doctor has its downside.
Grasping Troy kindly but firmly, I turned him over. I had a vague feeling idea there were supposed to be various orifices but Troy was thickly furred and even hamsters have their male pride. I felt it would be intrusive to go poking about where Troy almost certainly didn’t want poking.
But there was no doubt he was built differently to the hamster of my childhood. Two furry protruberances were slightly projecting from beneath his tail.
“Chris doesn’t think they’re testicles. He thinks they’re anal glands. He says I should try squeezing them.”
I told her that even if they were, that would be a very bad idea. Chris was probably getting Troy confused with a Dobermann Pinscher.
We watched Troy for a few minutes more. He got to work shredding the edge of a newspaper and was obviously completely unaffected by his encumberances. He seemed a happy, industrious fellow.
Don’t worry, I told Wendy. Take him to a vet if you really want to but I think he’s fine.
Cognitive behaviour therapy is the latest strategy for coping with the potholes in the highway of life, so I shared one last bit of well-meaning advice.
“Probably best Wendy, if you just think of Troy as a hamster with a builder’s bum.”