A Rogue Rodent

For the first time ever, we haven’t had any house guests this summer.

Well, except for Oreo:

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Oreo is a teddy bear hamster who belongs to our 8-year-old friend Emily.  Emily is currently visiting family back in Michigan, so she asked Maggie to babysit.  Maggie, who adores Oreo, jumped at the chance to have a two-week slumber party with a hamster.  They are both nocturnal creatures, so it’s working out swimmingly.  Maggie spends hours watching that hamster climb tunnels and stuff food into its cheeks.  She especially loves to let Oreo crawl up and down her arms as she gushes, “She is sooooooo cuuuuuute!!!”

Despite her nurturing qualities, Maggie is officially fired.

I woke yesterday with grand plans.  I was going to paint the laundry room and scrub every inch of every bathroom in the house.  Clark’s truck is in the shop (indefinitely it seems) so he has my car.  I was housebound and planned to make the most of it.

But first, breakfast.  The kids asked for muffins, and Maggie offered to help.  She was sitting on the kitchen island, putting muffin papers in the tin as I stirred up the batter.  It was then that she casually mentioned, “Oh, when I checked on Oreo this morning her doors were closed but she wasn’t inside her cage.”

I stopped mid-stir.

“What do you mean she wasn’t inside her cage?  Is she missing?”

Her eyes brimmed with tears and she nodded.  I abandoned the muffins and flew to the spare room to verify that – yep – the rodent had gone rogue.  We turned back the hands of our mental clocks and realized it had been nearly 24 hours since we’d last seen Oreo.

We spent the next several hours canvassing every crevice in our house.  We knew hamsters liked corners, so we walked the perimeter of every wall, closet, and piece of furniture.  We were a special ops military squad, crawling on our bellies with flashlights in hand, searching under dressers, beds, and couches.  We pulled out the stove and refrigerator.  We were especially diligent in the spare bedroom, where Oreo was last seen, happily contained in her cage.

I found evidence that Oreo had visited the spare bedroom closet on her adventure.  She’d left some turds in the far corner and chewed through a paper bag.  With these clues, I carefully unpacked every box in this hodgepodge closet of old photos, sewing tools, batteries, gift wrap, and family games.  No luck.

Where could she have gone?  Directly outside the spare bedroom were steps leading both up and down, but would she have ventured that far?  It’s been a hot summer in Alaska, and we regularly leave the door to our deck wide open.  What if Oreo had crawled outside with the eagles and owls and magpies?  I was sick with worry.

At one point I was so desperate that I googled “how to find a lost hamster” – with surprisingly good results.  Most advice said to wait until 2-4 AM, when the nocturnal creatures would sneak out of their hiding places to find food and water.  We couldn’t find Oreo, but maybe Oreo would find us.

We prepared for the nocturnal lure by placing exactly 15 pieces of food in every room.  We were especially worried about her water intake and prayed this would work.

After a very late dinner I decided to continue the search.  I was drawn, once again, to the spare bedroom closet.  I’d scoured the entire house, but that closet was the only place I’d found evidence.  Now it was neatly organized, but what if I’d fatally sealed Oreo into a box?  I decided to open everything up one last time.

As I emptied the closet, my eyes kept drifting to a drywall cutout that exposes some pipes.  Clark suggested that Oreo could have crawled into this opening if the boxes were stacked high enough.  What were the odds?

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Everyone was in the kitchen finishing up dinner when I started tapping along the bottom of the wall.  The kids were chatting and the parakeets were chirping, but I swore my 40-year-old ears heard something scuttling around down there.  I called Clark, and he agreed.  Suddenly we were banging on this wall from both sides to see if Oreo would make enough noise to prove she was down there.  We both thought we heard something, but couldn’t be sure.  Maybe we just wanted to hear something.

We dug out a small mirror and flashlight:

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We adjusted the mirror and flashlight so we could see clear to the bottom of the wall.  Sure enough:  there was Oreo!  Alive!  She was stuck behind the drywall, and trapped between the studs.  The one patch of open drywall in our entire home, and Oreo had found it.  Clark ran for the saw and cut an escape hatch.  Oreo’s little head popped right out:

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In all my life, I have never been so happy to see a hamster.  Her twitching nose was covered in drywall dust, but otherwise she was perfect.  She crawled onto Maggie’s palm, oblivious to the fact that she had just been rescued from a certain death.  We set her down to make sure she hadn’t hurt herself, but thankfully she walked and climbed just fine.  Back inside the safety of her cage, she quickly found her water and food.  She even did a little yoga:

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We are quite possibly the worst pet sitters on the planet, but at least Oreo will go home alive.  I realize that’s the bare minimum expectation, but after yesterday it feels like more than enough.

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