My 8 year old son and our dead hamster

We have… had a black bear hamster. We had him for about a year. Very suddenly, he died on us this evening.

I have three children. I have a five year old daughter, a six year old son and an eight year old son. The younger two (who were never that close with the hamster seem to have accepted this turn of events. My older one, however, is a bit different.

First, a little background. This is an extremely bright kid who loves animals. He adores them. He probably knows more about animals in general (at age eight) than I knew when I was twice his age. His favorite computer game is Microsoft’s Zoo Tycoon. Whenever he has free time, you will usually find him glued to a book about animals.

This hamster was his first pet. Even though it was really the entire family’s pet, he took a special liking to it (as you would imagine based on the above). Naturally he took this turn of events very hard. I sat with him and we had a good cry together. For me, it wasn’t so much the hamster (we had other hamsters before my kids were born) as the memories that it brought back of me as a ten year old when I lost my first pet (a Cocker Spaniel that I had since birth and was, in a way, my first friend). He understands that it’s normal for him to be hurting and that the hurt will last for a while. I told him that Corky (the above-mentioned Spaniel) has a special place in my heart and that it’s OK for him to do the same for this hamster if he wished.

He has already asked for another hamster. I think, at this point, that maybe it might be best to wait a little while before getting another one. Maybe a few weeks. While I think that getting another hamster right away might “mask” the hurt (and maybe allow to “forget” that a hamster died at all [especially if the new one looks like the old one]), I’m not so sure that that’s the best thing for him. Or would I be “robbing him of his childhood” by “forcing” him to mourn for a while before replacing the hamster?

Zev Steinhardt

know any mourning rituals? the black armband, maybe?

there should be some ritual mourning period/observance (cultures differ).

best wishes

Aw, I’m sorry to hear about your hamster, Zev.

I see your point about not rushing into things with a new hamster, but my gut instinct is that kids don’t always have the same sense of time as adults. While you’re sad about the hamster, it’s certainly relative to other things going on in your life. For your son, the grief may very well feel like the THE ONLY thing in his life right now. It might not be particularly tied to any period of time. For a bright kid who is very into animals, I’d guess he’s aware that you can’t “replace” an animal by going to the pet store. It might be that he wants another hamster so that he has another furry friend in his life while he’s experiencing this new emotion of grief for a pet.
If you opt for a new hamster, you might talk about how it’s not a replacement hamster. Maybe it’s a different color, or you pick a name that is similar, but not the same as, the departed hamster. If your son likes to draw, he might want to decorate the new hamster’s cage (ok not the cage, but near the cage) with a drawing of the old hamster.

Personally, I’m not very comfortable treating the death of an animal exactly like the death of a person. But, if it’s appropriate in your beliefs, it also might be a point to stress that all things in creation are unique, so while your family’s new hamster (whenever it is that you get him) is a welcomed addition, it’s not a replacement hamster. The old hamster is still a part of your family (so to speak), in the role of “a very nice hamster that we all appreciated while he lived with us” while the new hamster is, of course, “another very nice hamster.” You could also reinforce this with some casual observations about differences between the old and new hamster. Not putting down the old hamster, but pointing out that the new hamster likes to run in his wheel, while the old hamster liked to sit in his toilet paper tube.

(By the way, I’m not a parent, but I’m an animal lover and have been through the whole dead pet thing several times.)

When I graduated college and got my first job, I moved into an apartment complex that allowed animals. So I got my first cat, Ivy. He was a beautiful black tomcat, very sweet-natured. He had to be put to sleep suddenly, the day after Christmas, 1.5 years later. It was, as you can imagine, horrible for me. I loved him dearly. Still do, 3.5 years later. But only a very short time later, I wanted another cat. Partly because my other cat needed companionship, but also because I wanted another one.

The one important thing I had to do was make sure I did not get another black tomcat. And it was hard when I went to PetSmart on one of their adoption days and saw a beautiful, yellow-eyed black tom. I was nearly crying when I saw him. But I found an adorable tortie who was already a year and a half old. I fell in love the moment I saw her, and I still have her.

The point of all this rambling was that I don’t think your son will see it as a replacement pet if you don’t let him get one that looks just like the one who recently died. I think your son will heal faster with another creature to take care of. I also think that the death of the next pet won’t be quite as traumatic as the first one.

My condolences on your family’s loss.

Thanks for the responses. I was thinking along the same lines (about not getting another black bear hamster).

My wife sometimes talk about someday getting a dog (we can’t have one where we currently live). One thing I have long insisted upon was that we cannot get a blond Cocker Spaniel, simply because such a dog already has special meaning for me and I wouldn’t want a replacement.

I was thinking that when (and it is when, not if) we get another hamster, it would be a regular hamster, not a black bear.

Zev Steinhardt

Shit. :frowning:

Double shit. :frowning: :frowning:

I’ve had pets die after I screwed up, too–a couple of zebra finches who starved when they didn’t get their seed dish filled in time.

Shit. :frowning: :frowning: :frowning:

Still, on the bright side, I’ve also had more pet rodents than I care to think about die of simple old age, and all three of my kids took it in stride. Gerbils, hamsters, Charlie the Guinea Pig, Rat the Rat, they all eventually went to the Big Wheel In The Sky and my kids (all at various school-ages) just shrugged. “Mom says she went down in the basement this morning and Rat the Rat was dead.”

And inevitably the very next words out of their mouths were, “…Can we get another one?”

It didn’t seem to make much difference to them whether they actually viewed the corpse or not. Bonzo seemed more interested, overall, but they all went through at least one “Don’t throw it away, I wanna see it!” episode at some point.

As far as “mourning” for a hamster, no, my observation is that kids don’t really bond with a tiny rodent. Now, Daisy the Beagle is different, because she’s more of a pack member, you know what I mean? She interacts with them more, so if she died, I would expect it to leave more of a gap in our family, our “pack”. But for my kids at least, the rodents were merely a novelty, something to fool around with on Saturday afternoons, and like I said, as soon as one kicked the bucket, they were immediately ready to go down to Ken’s Aquarium and get another one.

But definitely don’t tell the Eight why the hamster died, especially if it was “his” hamster. Eight is too young for that. I never told my kids exactly why the zebra finches died, either, just, “I went down there this morning and they were dead…”


Live and learn… [sigh]

…and if anybody’s wondering what I know about how the hamster died (and when I knew it), look here.

my point was that eight is (my guess) the age at which a human first realizes the finality of death - hence the need to teach how to grieve and accept death.

a small pet is a (relatively) easy place to start.

making sure the creatures are viewed as individuals, is, of course necessary.

Chinnchillas! Cute as all get out, even bigger than a hamster–biggeris better– and different enough to give the kid a new experience. No worries. :slight_smile:

Aw man :frowning:

I agree with the idea that kids don’t have the same notion of time that we do, even at age 8. Don’t you remember how 20 years old seemed ancient when you were that age? And how long the summer holidays seemed to last?

You should probably get the new hamster. I would have gotten one completely different from the one that just passed away. Maybe a wee mourning ritual would be good. Light a candle, or make him a card and set it on the mantlepiece… we did this for my young cousin when her cat died (she was 8 too) and it worked wonders. The candle (pillar candle) was lit for 7 days (much like the Jewish tradition, actually). It helped tie the whole process together - mourning the death, but celebrating the life that was still there (in the new cat.)

I wish you luck. Losing a pet is always hard, no matter what kind of pet it is.

Elly n’ the dogs

I took my hamster’s death, Ralph, IIRC around age 10 pretty hard for a couple of days. Buried him the day after he croaked. Got another one within a week or two. I wouldn’t wait more than a week if they are pining for a new one.

I’m not sure I would state this quite so assuredly. With Deb’s penchant for picking up small, odd creatures, we certainly go through any number of deaths (small critters having generally shorter lives).

My son (now 12) has been all over the place about which critters he mourned or didn’t–including in regards to some small reptiles with less personality than the rocks on which they basked.

There is no question that “his” cat’s death hit him harder than any other pet, but he has mourned for several of the others, as well.

I’m sure that the mourning for an “interactive” pet is greater than that for a pet one merely feeds and watches, but you can’t always know how much “interacting” the child was doing in his/her head.

I would guess that a few days of mourning would usually be sufficient for a hamster or guinea pig.

When I was in junior high Clarence, the hamster pet of some friends of mine up the street, died. We all knew and like Clarence. What my friends Ronald and Donald did(they were twin brothers), was to have a funeral for Clarence. I kid you not, they even issued invitations, with a little picture of a coffin on the front. I got there late, after the internment, because of a dental appointment, so I’m not sure what all “ritual” they had. But if your kid’s hamster is not, um, disposed of yet, maybe a little ritual of some kind is the way to go. Then wait to see if your boy asks again for a hamster. At that point I might venture to say he is ready for one.

Well, the kid had a rough night and morning before we took him to school (he has school on Sunday until 1PM). My wife wrote a note to his teacher explaining the situation in case he acted a little strange during the day. However, he is a bright kid and was able to put the matter (somewhat) out of his mind during the day in school. According to my son, the teacher was very understanding.

After school, we took the kids out for pizza and discussed the possibility of getting another hamster. Since they had all already requested a new one last night, we figured that the idea would be met with approval, which it was. However, we did stipulate that the next hamster could not be an identical copy of the old one, nor could it bear the same name.

After lunch we took the kids to the local Petland Discount and found a young Teddy Bear (not Black Bear) hamster, bought some new hamster toys and took him home. So far, all the kids are enthralled with it. :slight_smile:

Thank you everyone for your suggestions and ideas. I appreciate the time that you took to post your own stories and offer your suggestions.

Zev Steinhardt

You’re a good man, Zev. Your children are fortunate to have you for a father.

I would encourage you to be open to hints your children may give that they still are missing/mourning the original animal. It could lead to some meaningful discussions about all sorts of things that will help them cope with life’s joys and sorrows.

Having said that, I am sure you are doing just that already.

Congratulations on your new hamster, by the way. We had custody of my wife’s classroom hamster for a couple of school breaks this spring, and will probably also have him visiting this summer. They’re awfully cute!

**Another Dead Hamster STory **

When I was about 8 or 9 or 10. ( Can’t really remember) I got a hamster.

Habitrails were the *thing * then and my mom, being not only the president, but founder of the *Anti-Fun Brigade * said they were too expensive. ( I was allowed a concession with the ever fun hamster ball thingie that drove our dog nuts.)

Anywhooo, my nameless hamster got instead a spray painted black wire cage. A few days to weeks after receiving the said hamster, I find him stiff, a hamster no more, resting after a good squawk and the nameless hamster had run up the curtain and joined the choir above. He had chewed on the wire of the cage wich had been spray painted with a (available then) lead base paint.

I wasn’t crushed. But I was never allowed another hamster. And I still want a habitrail.