Updated: May 18
Like most people, I grew up with animals in my house. Even though I consider myself very much a dog person (common they're clearly the superior), my childhood was always surrounded by cats. My dad is a big cat person and despite me begging for a puppy every birthday or christmas, I am yet to receive my fluffy best friend.
Even though the cats were pretty much running the house when I was a kid, I still craved the responsibility of having my own pet to love and smother. So one day I got 2 gerbils. If you don't know what they are, they're basically big hamsters with long tails like a rat, that aren't as cute as regular hamsters.
To this day I have NO IDEA why I got gerbils - maybe it was part of my rebellious faze and little hipster me turned my nose up at the common hamster. Nevertheless I had two gerbils now under my care. They lived in my room on a high shelf so the cats couldn't get to them - despite their attempts. And I have no clue what their names were.
As you'd expect, they were the most stressful and annoying pets I have ever owned. They made so much noise at night (being nocturnal duh), they smelt and I spent my entire time protecting them from my cat knocking the cage down and eating them.
Unfortunately that was the supposed fate of gerbil number one.
I had a lock put on my door - because it doesn't shut properly - to stop the cat from getting in and massacring the place. But one day when I left for school I actually accidentally locked the cat in the room - all day! My sister came home first to the sounds of the cat crying to get out but not before the inevitable. The cage was on the floor and one gerbil was missing, the other hiding for his life in his house. Obviously we assumed the worse, but the body was never found and some part of me hoped that the gerbil had escaped and run away to the back garden to live a happy and full life. Needless to say, that was the end of gerbil number one.
Gerbil number two had a more peaceful death, and I admit that even though I hated him for keeping me up for endless nights and making my room smell, I cried a lot when gerbil number two died. He was the worst pet ever, but he was my pet.
When I left home to go to uni, one spontaneous Saturday I went to our local Pets At Home and bought a new tiny pet friend. He was a dwarf hamster called Toby. He was the cutest thing in the entire world and I loved him to bits. Even though he did the same as the gerbils: smell, keep me up at night, unable to make any kind of cognitive ability to make a loving connection to me - but he became our house mascot.
When I moved out of my shared house and into my single room flat, he came to live with me. Toby taught me a lot, so finally, here is a list of things to keep in mind when thinking of getting a small pet!
1. They are a long-term commitment. This seems kind of obvious for like a dog or cat, which can live 10-15 years, but even a little hamster has a 2 year life span - and that is longer than you think! They can be impulse buys, but they stick around for a while! So make sure you are willing to commit for that long.
2. They are YOUR responsibility. Even small pets need lots of care. And if you are willing to play with your hamster and clean them out regularly you'll develop a better connection with them. They aren't a decoration sitting in the corner of the room. They need to fed and watered everyday and constantly loved. If you're not up to that, don't get one!
3. Make sure you have the space, money and right environment for your pet. I always figured that hamsters are pretty chill and can go anywhere - but that's not true! Toby lived in the ground floor of a student house where we had parties, loud music and even live bands play in the next room. And when he wasn't there, he was at my parents house being stared at by a cat wanting a light afternoon snack. Toby didn't belong in that environment and more so he didn't deserve to live there either. When I moved to live on my own he was much happier in a quiet flat, with no cats and more space to roam around.
4. Have a reliable friend. I tried to be wherever Toby was a lot of the time, wether that was at uni or home, but like lots of people, every so often I would go away for the weekend. Which meant I needed to leave Toby in the capable hands of someone else. With any kind of pet, you need to make sure there is someone, anyone, in your life that is willing to step in if you need them to, and know that they'd be just as responsible as you. Luckily I had a lot of people willing to look after Toby when I was away - thanks mum!
I am much happier to say that even though Toby's life wasn't the best at times, he lived well past his expected life span and hopefully had a happy hamster life. RIP Toby.