And as much as I love animals, that’s not a mistake I’m making ever again.

Her name was Ishtar, but went by Izzy. Not that she cared.

She didn’t care about anything related to people.

From the moment she came into our lives, she was trying to escape.

The whole way home from the pet store, she tried to dig her way out of the carry box.

I stared at her through the plastic walls of her portable prison and thought, “Relentless little bugger”.

When we got home, she immediately hated her new pad, and went about rearranging it completely like a displeased judge from a miniature interior design reality show.

In hindsight, she was probably taking out her frustration on her immediate surroundings the way I rage clean.

But back then I was new to hamster ownership, and was oblivious to what was to come.

I’d grown up with dogs and horses. Some cats, too. Rodents were a mystery to me, so I settled for giving Izzy space and observing her.

One of her favourite pastimes was biting human fingers. And hissing at you when you had to reach into the cage to put something in or take it out.

She was hard to move out of the cage for cleaning because she hated being picked up.

So, with over mitts on I’d transfer her into a hamster ball. Which she would then proceed to marathon around our studio apartment for as long as I cleaned the cage.

Oh, I should have seen it coming!

You see, she was always trying to go for the doors. Casing the joint, looking for a way out.

The thing that prompted me to buy the hamster ball was the fact that the first time I needed to take her out for cleaning, she proceeded to run through every crevice and cranny, making a beeline for either electric cords or exits. 

Once contained within the ball, you’d think that she would have tired at some point of relentlessly running around, but no.

From the minute that plastic orb hit the floor, she was off.

If TikTok would have existed back then, I would have filmed her rolling off into the horizon to “you’ll never see meee agaaaaiiinnn” from Cry For You by September.

Izzy was the living embodiment of “Forever and ever // life is now or never // Forever never comes around” and if she wasn’t sleeping, eating or shitting, she was trying to escape.

She lived in an old aquarium.

She had a nice condo, a food bow big enough for her to plonk her whole self in as she ate, a running wheel plus a bunch of space to run around in.

I would gladly have given her out-of-the-cage enrichment, but the only answer she ever had for people and their hands was an angry hiss and a bite if you dared to touch her things or give her more food.

No matter how slowly I took things, that girl did not want to make friends.

Escape attempt tactics that I witnessed included (but were not limited to):

  •  trying to jump up to catch the lip of the aquarium,
  • finding things to climb onto to reach the lip better,
  • climbing onto the roof of her condo and jumping up against the lid of the cage,
  • take anything she could chew or move and pile it into a ramp in one of the corners, 
  • and, my personal favourite, Spider Man climbing out of the cage when all else failed.

Spider-manning her way out of a cage with clear glass sides that lacked any kind of footholds went as follows:

  1. Push the running wheel up against the short side of the cage.
  2. Wedge yourself between the wheel and the glass, stomach pressed into the glass, back into the wheel. This looked hilarious because she was really squished.
  3. Slowly and laboriously begin to inch your way “upward” by using the wall as leverage and the wheel as a rotational device that slowly hitches you up the wall.
  4. Once you’ve scaled all the way to the top, and find yourself upside down, on your back on top of the hamster wheel, brace all four tiny feet against the lid of the cage and HEAVE with all your might until you make the lid pop with a thunk (and alerting the humans you were at it again).
  5. The last step I’m only guessing at, because I never saw it, but somehow get yourself from the on-your-back-on-top-of-the-wheel-position to the lip of the cage and climb out.

For almost two years I played jailer to her jailbreaker.

No one liked her because she liked no one.

She would take out the frustration of her failed attempts at breaking out of jail on her wheel, running as if possessed — of course, in the middle of the night when she could maximise the number of people she could wake up.

The night she finally escaped, I was at my wit’s end.

There was this little creature who so clearly didn’t want to have anything to do with me, yet it was my responsibility to take care of her.

She’d popped the lid so many times that day already that I’d piled a bunch of heavy books on top for the night.

The following morning I was going to go find a different type of cage for her, one that would resist her escapist aspirations better.

But alas, when I woke up the next morning, there was no Izzy to be found anywhere.

I panicked. Looked everywhere in the house.

Then it hit me. In the middle of the night, I’d momentarily awakened to a weird thunking noise and a distant, fleeting thought in the back of my mind had said, “She finally did it!”

But, being the middle of the night and me being half asleep, I’d fallen back asleep, potentially dismissing it as a dream.

By that time I’d already had nightmares about missing hamsters, so it wasn’t a first.

Fuck, I thought as that memory drifted back to me. She really did it.

I pulled the house apart, I looked everywhere on the balcony, I looked out in the yard, especially under the balcony where I was expecting to find a dead hamster, but even after combing through the yard, the landscaped areas and the parking lot, Izzy was nowhere to be found.

No matter how much I widened my searching radius, that fucking rodent was gone.

Eventually, I had to give up the search. 

She was gone.

And probably had gone as far as possible from any people as her tiny legs would carry her.

I felt guilty more than sad.

I’d done everything I could think of to find her, but I also had to admit she just wasn’t going to be happy with whatever I would have managed to do for her.

She was kind of a dick, and she’d gone off to live her best life, however short that was to be.

The whole time I had known her, the only thing she’d ever wanted was to be free.

And I get that, I can relate. Who wants to live a life where they feel trapped?

No body was ever found, no hamster ever recovered.

The only image I have of her now in my head is her running off into the horizon, to the tune of “you’ll never see meee agaaaaiiinnn”.

Izzy was eventually succeeded by Joey.

And boy was he the polar opposite of Izzy.

He wasn’t any more keen on getting to know people, but at least he was chill.

He hung out in his house, took the loo rolls he was given and happily stuffed every corner of his house with them, did his little gym routine on the wheel, spent time cleaning and sorting his poo-corner, cleaning himself thoroughly afterwards and sleeping furled into a little ball.

He never cared for the hamster ball.

The few times I tried him in it, he just sat still and didn’t move anywhere, giving me the stink-eye for having taken him out of his home.

When I tried to encourage him to go for a bit of a walk in it, he just peed and pooed in the ball and then sat it in, glaring at me.

So, he lived most his life as a hermit, and he was happy that way.

They told us at the pet store, as a mini, he was only supposed to live about two years, but he lived to the ripe old age of five.

And with his eventual passing, I declared I was done with little critters.

We moved back to more familiar territory and got a cat.

And while I was never sad, only guilty, about Izzy taking off, and felt only mildly bad for Joey, Oscar changed me forever.

Author’s note: This story was inspired by Jen Dee and her awesome An Honest Obituary For a Hamster, which I highly recommend you check out!

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