Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Pitter Patter of Tiny Feet

My husband, Bev, has always been an extremely light sleeper. The slightest sound that is out of place is enough to wake him. I’ve known him to get up in the middle of the night because the pump that filled the water troughs in the pasture next to our house failed to cut off as it should. Over the years I learned that no matter how carefully I moved it was impossible for me to get in or out of the bed without alerting him. He could be snoring heavily only seconds before I’d begin to inch my way out from under the covers in a stealthy attempt to get to the bathroom without spoiling his night’s sleep. Inevitably, some whisper of sound would betray me before I could manage to get very far and the snores would come to an abrupt stop. I would freeze and hold my breath hoping that he was simply shifting position until I’d see him reach out to check the time on the bedside clock and hear his muffled voice asking if I was okay. Impossible.

That’s why we had serious doubts about the wisdom of acceding to our middle son, Jason’s request to have a hamster as a pet. Hamsters are notoriously active during the middle watches of the night and we had visions of Bev never getting a full night’s rest again. Still, there were many factors to be considered on the plus side. Jason had a special fondness for small animals and this one could live out its entire life in his bedroom where the rest of us needn’t worry about having it underfoot. It seemed much less intrusive than a larger pet would have been. Jason was ecstatic when we finally agreed.

He found an oversized birdcage in a garage sale and insisted that he could make it work for his soon to arrive pet. It was tall enough for him to redesign it with three levels which he proceeded to construct with plastic coated wire mesh and ramps leading from one level to the next. The results of his efforts looked like a veritable three story townhouse for up and coming rodents complete with a basement bedroom, middle floor dining area, and a recreation facility in the attic. It boasted air conditioning and spectacular views on all sides. All it needed was a tenant and we duly made the trip to our local pet store to bring home the hamster of Jason’s choice. That’s how Cookie came to live in the boys’ bedroom the summer Jason was 10.

You wouldn’t imagine that a hamster would have much in the way of personality but Cookie was unique in that respect. He showed signs of being exceptionally clever and resourceful, not to mention determined. One night at about 3 am I woke up to find Bev down on the floor beside our bed on his hands and knees. I sat up abruptly thinking something must be very far wrong. Perhaps he was taken with some sudden and mysterious illness.

“What’s going on? Are you all right?”

He raised his head to peek at me over the edge of the mattress. “Jason’s hamster is loose. I heard it a minute ago,” he whispered.

I have to admit I had my doubts. Our room is carpeted and Cookie only weighed about three ounces. It seemed far fetched to think that even Bev could have heard him walking across our bedroom floor in the middle of the night. Then again, Bev specializes in the impossible when it comes to nocturnal noises. I should have remembered that. As it turns out he was right. A diligent search with all the lights turned on revealed the fact that Cookie had indeed escaped and was in the process of transferring as much food as he could carry in his chubby cheeks to a spot in our closet that he had staked out as a getaway retreat.

The fact that he’d been able to get out of his cage at all was a remarkable accomplishment in itself. The only point of egress was a trapdoor in the roof of the contraption that opened outward. He would have had to climb up the side and then hang from the wire ceiling by his front paws at which point he would have to work his way across to the door with his body dangling beneath him. Once there, he’d have to use his head to unlatch the door and push it up enough to allow him to climb out to freedom. We watched in fascination as he proceeded to do just that the moment we’d returned him to his rightful place.

Cookie made a somewhat ungainly acrobat. His technique wouldn’t have won him any prizes for style but it was effective. We had to laugh at how absurd he looked with his fat little body swinging to and fro as he reached for his next hold on the precarious journey across the ceiling of his cage. Jason was inordinately proud of his pet’s unexpected talent but we made it clear that something would have to be done to improve the security on that trapdoor. It turned out that not even a padlock fashioned from a twist tie could offer much hindrance to our furry Houdini. In the end a massive Funk and Wagnel’s Dictionary provided the solution we were looking for. With that weighty tome resting on top of the trapdoor it would take more than a three ounce hamster to push it open.

There would be no more night time visits to our closet and Bev could rest easy knowing that he wouldn’t be disturbed in his slumbers by the faint pitter patter of tiny hamster feet. It made me realize that my own efforts to sneak in or out undetected were utterly pointless. I might as well have been wearing bells and whistling Dixie for all the good it did.


  1. I can imagine the scene as you scrambled to find the little fellow!
    Wayne has a similar condition to Bev's, although his is more attuned to the sound of motors than the sound of little feet. Even the quietest fan will keep him awake, or the sound of traffic on a distant highway. But there is no slipping in our out of bed without him being aware. Which is a good thing on the occasions I need a helping hand.
    I wonder what we women are attuned to? The sound of a baby stirring?

  2. It took forever to catch that little monster because there was never any evidence of his escapes! On his return to the cage, he would always close the door behind him. Judging by the size of his secret stash of food, he had been at it for quite a while before his capture!