Welcome to Dashing Hamsters. I created this website back in 2005, initially to have a place to share my love of hamsters. Throughout the years I have come across a lot of information that just often doesn't match up. Care standards and information are outdated, and these little creatures are misunderstood by many. So I decided to make this website as more than just a hamster lover's website, but a hamster website for modern owners who are looking for up to date advice on how to care for and understand their beloved hamsters. On DH you can learn about hamsters, see some cute pictures and read through a hamster filled blog.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Dealing with Death

In light of losing my two new boys for no explainable reason, I was forced to face the hardest part of having pets in my life: losing them. It's inevitable, everything must one day die as the circle of life dictates. But that fact doesn't really make it easier. The fact that hamsters are small, cheap to obtain, and live relatively short lives does not make it any easier either no matter how much some people believe that it should. 

I want to talk about dealing with this loss. Since everyone deals with death differently and everyone grieves differently I am going to attempt to cover what I can.

Finding a pet already gone is different, but no less difficult, than having to decide whether or not to euthanize them if they are ill or hurting. In that situation, as a pet parent it is your responsibility to decide what is best for your pet over what you may feel is best for you. It is easy to let your emotions cloud your judgement, but it is essential that you do assess their quality of life. If they are only going to get worse, if they are living in constant pain, if the bad days are more frequent than the good days than it may be time to help your pet pass peacefully. As odd as it may sound to some people, sometimes it is the animals themselves that let you know when they are ready to go. When my dog, Blue, was very ill and we knew that we would have to help him pass soon, it was him that let me know. One morning he looked at me and just let me know. I don't know how I understood him, but he did let me know. My father has often talked about this with cats of his past, and I have heard stories of other animals seeming to be able to communicate this to humans. Sometimes they don't let you know, and then it comes down to trying to understand your pet and whether holding on is the humane decision. (Side note: I have heard of people attempting to use CO2 chambers at home as a method of euthanization, this is not considered humane and I do not recommend it. The safest way to help your pet pass peacefully is to take them to a trained vet. Keep in mind that due to a hamster's small size they should be sedated (gas) prior to the injection to avoid unnecessary pain).

When they have passed there is the reality that pet owners must face of deciding what to do with their pet's body. I, myself, bury my pets in the yard so that they are always close to home. Others bury their pets in pots and grow plants in them, the body giving life to something new. Some bury their pets in parks or in the woods (be sure to check your local laws). Some pet cemeteries cater to small animals too. Burial aside, there is also cremation, often available through your vet though private companies do exist too. What you do with the ashes is then up to you whether you choose to keep them in an urn, spread them, or do something else with them. I've heard of companies that can put ashes into pendents and such as jewelry so that they are always close by (be sure to research the company well, I have heard stories of companies not keeping proper track of the ashes). One person on a forum brought their hamster to a taxidermist. What you do with the body is often determined by finances and circumstances, but do what feels right for you. 

Wanting to know where your pet has gone beyond this life largely depends on your own beliefs. The most common story shared among animal lovers is that of Rainbow Bridge:

"Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge.
There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together.
There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigour; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by.
The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.... "

~Author unknown

Some people believe that they will be born again, and that we may encounter them in our lives once again in a new body. Others feel that they stay close to us as we continue to live. It's a touchy subject for some. I know that I find comfort in believing that one day, somehow, I will see them again. Deep down I know it to be true for me. Whatever you believe, know that it is normal to question this.

In fact it is normal to question your pet's death. Questions of why it had to happen, what you could have done differently, why they couldn't have lived longer, will the hurt ever go away? I've heard answers from many people and it yet I always ask these questions, often without answer. It is often part of the grieving process. Shock, denial, anger, and sadness are all common. Not everyone cries, not everyone feels the need to lock themselves away, not everyone deals with it the same way.

I am often asked how I can continue to have pets when their loss hurts so much. I have had quite a few pets in my life so far, and I have no plans currently to ever not have pets in my life. No matter how much the loss hurts, the blessing of being in their lives and having them in my own is always worth it. I wouldn't trade it. As you begin to understand how you grieve, it can be easier to move through the process as well. It is not easier to lose a pet, don't get me wrong, but it is easier to navigate the hurt.

"Should I get another?" I hear this all the time along with "is it heartless to get another so soon?" or "am I replacing them?". I never look at getting a new pet as replacing the lost pet. I see it as honouring their life by opening my heart to another animal in need of a forever home. Whether you want another pet is up to you, ask yourself if you honestly do and take the time to consider it. As for how soon you let another pet into your life is dependent upon the individual. Some find a new pet helpful in the healing process, others need more time. Do what is right for you. I usually find a new animal does help me to cope, it gives me something to focus on. Sometimes I need some time and space. Take a moment to decide what you need.

Other ways to help heal is to do something special. Make a ceremony out of the burial, paint a picture, make a scrapbook, write a story, etc. I used to dedicate a page in a scrapbook to every hamster that I lost. Now I find comfort in writing a piece talking all about that pet, alongside some of my favourite pictures of them. I share them here, on this blog, and on a hamster forum (Hamsterhideout.com/forum). Finding someone that is in the same mindset as you when it comes to animals is very helpful I have found. Talking with most of my everyday friends never yielded the same comfort as talking with friends that loved animals as much as I do, even if those friends were online. Not everyone is understanding when it comes to losing a pet, especially one often viewed as cheap and easily replaced. Don't be afraid to seek out like-minded people, they do exist out there, its one of the great bonuses of the internet.

Losing your pet is unavoidable, and it isn't ever easy to deal with. In time the hurt will fade, and their picture won't always bring a tear, and the good memories will eventually bring a smile. The love they shared with us and the lessons they taught us will live on with us. Gone from this life, but never forgotten, always in our hearts.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rest Peacefully Boys

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Yesterday I found both Billy and Vimy gone. They passed quickly, and had been acting completely normal and healthy before. They were snuggled together, they passed in their sleep together. They seemed so healthy and happy, they were out playing just yesterday. There were no signs of illness, no change in behaviour, nothing. They would have been two months old today.
They were both such sweethearts, I was smitten with them ever since I met them. They were kissy, silly, and sweet. I wish I could have known them for longer and I wish I knew why they passed.

They were such wonderful hamsters and I am so thankful that my friend, Mika, brought them into my life.

Rest peacefully Vimy and Billy.

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