What an escaped hamster taught me about crisis management

imageWhen you find yourself force-feeding Pepto Bismol into your child’s constipated hamster, you figure you’ve faced one of your greatest challenges as a parent. In fact, over the years, it has become the measuring stick by which all family crisis is measured:

“He backed the car into a tree? Well, I suppose it’s still better than dealing with a constipated hamster…”

In fact, the only crisis that has come close — appropriately enough — involved the same hamster. It was a moment that began with a simple statement from my daughter.

“Dad, I can’t find Squiggles.”

Those words, uttered just three nights after the constipation incident, transformed a quiet Wednesday evening into a full-scale hamster hunt. Within minutes, our team was assembled around the kitchen table for a briefing.

“There’s no telling how long he’s been on the outside,” I said. “There’s a good chance he’s already assumed a new identity — perhaps as a mouse or gerbil. Keep you eyes open.” 

A collective nod from the team.

“We’re going to concentrate our efforts in the area between the guest room, hamster cage and attic,” I said. “It’s called cross-triangulation.”

“I see, like the Bermuda Triangle,” my oldest daughter said.

I gave everyone their assignments, then dispersed the posse. “Let’s go do some good!”

Excitedly, my then two-year-old son broke from the group and rushed through the kitchen with his flashlight — then promptly sat in our dog’s water bowl.

Things pretty much went downhill from there.

What makes hamsters so hard to catch is that… well, they’re small. And they can make themselves even smaller just by thinking about it. They also have no bones and can run in excess of 70 mph. None of this is covered in the handbook, which portrays hamsters as funny, quizzical characters with special little pouches for storing food on either side of their jaws. What the book doesn’t tell you is that those “little pouches” can actually stretch to accommodate food items much larger than the hamster itself, similar to an anaconda’s ability to swallow the entire Budweiser draft horse team.

It was this thought that surfaced as I scooted belly-first through the crawlspace in our attic with a flashlight wedged between my teeth. I’ve never been keen on tight spaces, so when I caught the reflection of black eyes peering back at me from the insulation, I wasn’t thrilled to discover that my rear end — which had slipped forward through the crawl space with minimal effort — was now meeting resistance similar to an elephant backing into a shower stall.

In front of me, Squiggles was preparing his pouches for something really big.

“He’s over here!” I called out in a tone my daughter mistakenly thought was a scream.

“Where are you?”

“Purgatory. Or the crawl space in our attic, I forget which.”

“Can you see him?”

“Yes, and he looks hungry.”

“Can you grab him?”

“Not exactly; I can’t move.”

“This is bad, Dad.”

“When’s the last time Squiggles ate?”

Fortunately, I learned a couple of things during this recovery mission. First, given a choice, hamsters prefer fruit rolls to fat rolls. I also learned that cooking spray is as effective as WD-40 when it comes to loosening grown men out of tight spaces.

And even though Squiggles is no longer with us, he lives on.

I don’t mean in the walls.

I mean his memory helps me keep perspective whenever there’s a family crisis. Especially if there’s Pepto Bismol involved…





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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

79 thoughts on “What an escaped hamster taught me about crisis management”

  1. Those little guys are hard to find once they hole up somewhere in the house. My daughter’s pet rat ended up in the springs of he couch, from which he was rescued. He also used to disappear in the branches of the Christmas tree when we let him eat the st rung popcorn on it.

  2. Yes, I’ve been on many hamster safaris. Then I found out you can leave their cage in the middle of the floor with the door open and they will come back when hungry.

  3. Awesome! A constipated hamster will certainly put things into perspective, that is a hard scenario to beat! Sounds like this hamster was a great management learning tool for you. RIP Squiggles.

  4. Rodents are crafty little buggers. We’ve been fortunate that not one of our four rats have escaped, but rest assured that if they did one of our cats would likely find it in no time.

  5. LOL! I have questions. Did you manage to catch the hamster or did it die during its run for freedom? If you did catch it, was it still constipated? If it was still constipated is that why it died? If that’s how it died, once it was dead and the body started to relax was the result something like throwing bullets in a fire? Was it’s cage ‘poop-proof’ or did it get….dispersed? You know what’s worse than a constipated Hamster? A Bearded Dragon with the runs – trust me. And….want to know how happy my children were to move out of the house? Elated.

    1. 1) It was caught by luring it back by hamster treats — which made it…
      2) constipated again, but lived until it…
      3) had a heart attack. Presumabley while trying to poop. Nearly happened to me once.

  6. Haha! Love this. It reminds me of the ‘escape artist’ hamster I had as a kid… Who ironically got eaten by a cat. Not so clever in the end! 😳 I’m glad the WK40 worked! Hehe.

  7. Family memories like this are the best.

    This reminds me of the time my nephew’s hamster escaped. He was missing for three months; I caught him one day while in the laundry room. Needless to say, they never let him out to play again.

  8. We had two cats and at my daughter’s tearful insistence acquired a hamster – Hammie. Hammie was devious and managed to escape both his cage and her room with the closed door. We found him murdered in the morning between two very proud cats. May he rest in peace.

  9. Now I’m waiting for the story about WD40, lol. PS. I nominated your blog for funniest blog for the annual Blogger’s Bash vote. 🙂

    1. I’m hoping I can slip out of telling my WD-40 story. Very embarrassing, although I might make a good spokesperson..?

      And thanks so much for the nomination, Debby! That means a lot 😉

  10. This was hilarious! Not for you, of course. We once lost a small lizard when he escaped. I wasn’t too keen on lizards in general, so knowing there was once running rampant through our house caused many sleepless nights.

  11. Ahh… escaped hamsters can certainly teach us a thing or two. 🙂
    When our daughter was little she had a white hamster. So my daughter wanted a girl so she could name “her” Snowball.The guy at Petsmart assured us it was a girl hamster… no doubt about it, for sure it was a girl!! Right? Well, except for the thing that showed up between it’s legs about 3 months later. LMAO! After we discovered she was a he, we affectionately changed “her” name to Snowballs!! ha ha ha ha! Daughter was NOT happy!! Refused to believe it was a boy hamster and got really mad when we called him Snowballs! She did not find (and still doesn’t) any humor in that story whatsoever!! But I do! I have gotten a lot of mileage out of that one!! he he he! I’m a bad mom, right? 😀

  12. Hamsters are really just tiny furry little demons with ever-growing teeth. Those pouches can swell to accommodate the souls of all of their victims.

  13. We had a hamster on the lam once. Hubby threatened to put down mouse traps…Big Guy learned the power of prayer – I found him a few hours later (ironically in Hubby’s room) and after much slamming and swearing behind a closed door (with a towel under it to avoid escape, Hubby cornered him. Jack died peacefully a few years later in his food dish, and we buried him in it. Whenever I dig in that corner of the flower bed, I pray I don’t “hit the jack pot!

  14. I thought Pepto was for diarrhea?? No wonder it doesn’t work.
    I also now know why I’ve always said no to my daughter’s request for a hamster.
    I’m coming in late on the comments due to primaries yesterday. The Hair has won another 4 states. Or is it five? Oh God. I guess it doesn’t matter. Except that I think I know where your hamster rests in peace.

  15. I am rolling with laughter. Oh Ned, the pictures you paint.
    Thank goodness it was a hamster that was lost, and not a snake. I’ve come nose to nose with one of those suckers in a crawl space or two.
    On a more serious note, I just must say thank you. I have been having kind of a crappy week, and I came over here, specifically, because I knew you’d make me laugh.
    Thank you! Thank you!

    1. Lol! I can deal with slithering snakes. But scurrying rodents give me a moment of pause. Especially when my butt is stuck 😉

      And helping make you smile in the midst of a crappy week? That just made MY week, Michelle. Besides, what are friends for?

      I hope your week gets better. If not, there’s always frosting…

  16. My goodness, it was Sigourney Weaver in Alien all over again! You don’t say specifically how Squiggles got loose in the first place. I hope it didn’t involve bursting out suddenly from somebody’s chest.

  17. How funny! I once had a class hedge hot that went missing over school break in junior high, I have to agree it’s up there on one of the high stressed moments in life. Particularly because the hedge hog was not mine. Wouldn’t you know he would reappear just before midnight of the eve of our first day back?! Little spiky @$$hole, what a scare he gave me. 😉

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