Carrie and I thought she was the cutest little rodent we had ever seen--until one day we noticed that she looks like every other hamster at the pet store (and almost certainly acts like them, too). Even so, whether we could recognize her uniqueness or not, we can know that she was her own being.
And for a hamster, you could say she led an exciting life.
Originally rescued from a burning building and given to me by a volunteer from the local fire department, I acquired her just days after graduating from college. She moved with us three times—first with me to my temporary apartment attached to my cousin’s garage (which prompted me to name her after my cousin's wife), then with us to our rental house in Urbana, and finally to our apartment in Champaign.
She had a calm and curious disposition, and never bit anyone her whole life. She didn't mind being handled, although she didn't seem to enjoy it either. Like all hamsters, she exercised regularly in her ball--stopping occasionally to peek her head out and see if she'd made any progress in tunneling through the surrounding landscape. : )
When we would set her loose in her ball within the apartment, she was never afraid of cats--on the contrary, she seemed to antagonize them! Clyde, and Mike (the cat we catsitted for each summer), would stare nervously at her oncoming ball--seemingly only able to perceive the single, solitary sphere headed ominously in their direction and not the delectable, plump little rodent powering it inside. (In fact Mike would run and hide, trembling in fear.)
(Photo: Laura fast asleep within a mound of wood shavings, taken summer 2006.)
In appearance she was a roley, poley pudgeball; never a stranger to food. The fat little thing would sit like a Buddha statue in the corner of her tank, and groom her feet or nibble on a special treat provided occasionally by us (raisins and carrots were her top favorites). She had a habit of picking through her food bowl each time I'd refresh it, in order to sift out her favorite grains first. She'd nibble those, then hoarde a few into her cheek pouches--you see, the name "hamster" is derived from the German word for "Hoarder", hoarding being the sine qua non of hamster behavior--and she would stash them into her nest for a "midnight snack". ("Because you just never know..." as Carrie used to say about it.)
Hamsters are originally from Syria--I read once that they were imported in the first few decades of the 1900s and their pethood status began from there. Accordingly, above the entrance to Laura's little house, I had written in Arabic:
"Laura Lu, Hamster of Syria, Lady of Damascus". (Laura Lu was her nickname).
By trade you could say she was an interior designer--she would stuff the inner corners of the house with wood shavings (for extra comfort and warmth) and was also fond of making a great pile out of her wood shavings outside her house and curling up into a cozy ball within that. (See the above photo.)
And so even though she's probably like every other hamster out there, she was our sweet little Laura Lu and we'll miss her--and the two of us feel a bit sad today. I'm at least glad to know that she did not suffer for long: Carrie reported last night that she'd seen her shaking a little these past two days, but was otherwise okay (and was even eating and still moving about). As of this morning she was up and walking around but kept falling down. In a final moment, she walked over to her little house, snuggled inside of it, and found some peace.
I don't believe in life after death (I do believe that heaven is right here), but as I've started to say recently: if I had to pick an afterlife fantasy to believe in, I'd choose reincarnation--for the obvious reason that I love this world. So to the memory of our enjoyable little rodent: Laura, I hope that you're reincarnated as the animal of your choice. If I can put in a word for being human, of course I cannot recommend anything less... man is the most glorious animal of all. But do know that if instead you choose to be a hamster again, I am somewhat sympathetic--you made it look like fun.
And rest in peace, our little creature.