I'm one leg into my first pair of shorts of the season when I hear, "Mommy! Come see!"
This has become a common refrain around here ever since Peanut, our hamster, had pups. But this time, the girls sound a bit panicked.
It takes me only a second to see what all the excitement is about: three of the pups have somehow made it out of the nest, down the network of tubes and onto the cage floor; another two are stranded half-way down; the rest are under Peanut who is fast asleep.
How did the pups manage that distance with their eyes still decidedly closed? And why wasn't Peanut coming to their rescue? In the past eleven days we've spent a lot of time watching Peanut's incredible maternal instincts--nursing her young, keeping them warm, and retrieving them when they fall from the nest. To see the pups so far from her watchful eye is disturbing.
I run my fingers along the side of one of the vertical tubes, our signal to her that food is on the way. She gets off the nest and makes her way down, walking right past her stranded pups. We peek into the nest. There four more in there, making nine in total--our first truly reliable head count since they were born. Peanut inspects her food dish, drinks some water, then heads back up to the nest... pup-less.
That's not right.
I quickly catapult to my own conclusion: the nest is too small. Not only is space an issue, but airflow. Two days ago, Peanut closed access to the nest on one side to keep the pups from falling out-- a brilliant, yet potentially suffocating solution. Perhaps Peanut had instinctively begun to move house, unloading five of the pups before running out of steam. One thing is for certain: left where they are, the pups will die.
'Don't disturb the nest for at least 2 weeks,' say all the websites.
But what if the nest isn't safe?
'Disturb the nest and the hamster mother may eat her young.'
What if over half of them will die without her?
I reach for the cage.
"What are going to do?" asks Emma.
The girls kneel close as I disassemble the tube system, sending pups tumbling softly to the cage floor. Peanut follows them out, visibly upset. The pups wriggle fiercely. I put the lid on the cage and sit back on my heels. Let the carnage begin.
Peanut sprints about the cage floor, filling her cheeks with the food she had stored in the nest. When they're full, she runs in circles like she can't decide where to put it. Finally, she disappears under the green shelf that holds her water bottle and hear a soft clatter as she unloads. She repeats this once--twice--three times.
"But what about the babies?" asks Mouse.
"Wait," I say, though I'm thinking the same thing.
So we wait. After what seems like forever, Peanut picks up a pup by the hind leg. It squeaks. I look for blood. There's none. Peanut carries the pup under the shelf then reappears instantly and goes for another. In fact, she does it nine times.
"Yey, Peanut," say the girls.
"Good girl, Peanut."
Then Emma asks, "Mommy, why do you have only one leg in your shorts?"