From the day they came to live with us Cuddles and Kisses, our Roborovski dwarf hamsters, brought joy into our lives. Cuddles silently passed into darkness on 18th June 2010. This page is dedicated to his memory. Goodnight Cuddles.
Three days before Cuddles and Kisses came to live with us, we bought a book about dwarf hamsters. I read it from cover to cover, arriving finally at a section titled ‘Old age’. It explained how an aging hamster gradually becomes quieter and slower — “the time for wild games is over; it will not like them any more”. I found that phrase particularly poignant, and sought comfort from Clare. We lay on the bed and talked about life and death. Clare said that what matters is not the length of the hamster’s life, but the amount of joy and love we could bring into it. She said that the same is true for us — that one day she would die, but she hoped to bring love and joy into my life in the time we have together.
On the same day, we bought an elaborate enclosure for the hamsters. I’m not comfortable with keeping animals in small rectangular cages, so we bought a modular enclosure consisting of a range of spherical and hemispherical chambers connected by a series of tubes, mimicking the burrows hamsters inhabit in the wild. As the hamsters grew we expanded the enclosure with a winding side-tunnel. One of the smaller chambers had a handle so it could be used to transport hamsters, and it was in this transport chamber that Cuddles and Kisses travelled to their new home on 17th March 2009.
Cuddles and Kisses differed both in appearance and in personality. We quickly noticed that Cuddles had much more prominent ears, and now we were able to tell them apart we gave them their names. Over the next few days we became aware of their different sleeping habits, and joked that they were like hamster version of ourselves; Cuddles was awake and running around while Kisses was still asleep, taking after me and Clare respectively. Cuddles was more confident, and was always the first to inspect anything new in their enclosure. As they matured, Cuddles would let Kisses try the food first, but Kisses would always back away once Cuddles arrived — Cuddles was certainly the dominant hamster.
At first we had to put food and water in dishes, as the hamsters were so tiny that they couldn’t reach the water bottle or climb the steps to the food dish above the den in the main chamber. It took a few months for them to grow large enough to climb into the wheel, but once they could they played in it constantly, sometimes individually and sometimes in tandem. Occasionally one of them would run in the wheel and stop suddenly, doing a complete loop as the wheel carried on spinning.
Cuddles and Kisses introduced two new phrases to our vocabulary: ‘carpet adventures’ and ‘hamster kisses’. On a couple of occasions shortly after their arrival, one of them escaped whilst Clare was dismantling their enclosure to clean it. The escaped hamster wouldn’t run, but would stand still on the carpet until caught in a jam jar and helped back into the enclosure. Clare referred to these incidents as ‘carpet adventures’. ‘Hamster kisses’ referred to our nightly ritual of blowing them both kisses, before saying “Night-night Cuddles, night-night Kisses”. The hamsters would stay at my workplace whilst we were away, but we would still wish them good night and blow them kisses from hundreds of kilometres away, even if we had to guess their direction.
One day when Clare tried to wake the hamsters so she could clean their enclosure only Kisses emerged. Clare found Cuddles curled up in bedding in one of the sleeping chambers. As she lifted him out I feared the worst, but then saw him twitch slightly. It was the only time Clare held him in her hand, and she described it as a precious moment. Back in the enclosure he seemed more lively, but over the next few days Clare noticed him becoming slower, eating less, and spending more time sleeping.
On 18th June 2010 Clare found Cuddles amongst the bedding in the den in the main chamber. It had been a couple of days since we had last seen him, so we’re not sure exactly when he died. I placed him in bedding in an egg box, which seemed appropriate as both hamsters loved playing with egg boxes, and Clare tied it with some wool. Clare picked a cornflower from the balcony, and we headed out. In the fading light I buried him under a tree in some woodland where we had seen bluebells growing a few weeks before. Clare laid the cornflower on his grave, and then blew him a kiss and said “Goodnight Cuddles”. I cried then, and did the same.