Recently, I added two members to my family: Phoebe and Gideon, hamsters who were rescued from U.S. Global Exotics (USGE), one of the world’s biggest sellers of exotic “pets.”
As was discussed in a previous PETA Prime post, authorities in Texas raided USGE this past December after a seven-month PETA undercover investigation. Hundreds of hamsters, among other animals, were rescued. While working at USGE, the investigator found dead hamsters on a daily basis. The hamsters were kept in extremely crowded bins, with as many as 50 hamsters in each container. The watering system sometimes malfunctioned and flooded the bins, resulting in illness and death. You can check out a video from that investigation here.
Even more recently, law-enforcement officials descended on and entered the massive warehouse of Sun Pet Ltd., an Atlanta-based supplier of hamsters and many other animals to pet stores nationwide. PETA’s investigator documented that a worker even put hamsters into a plastic bag and then bashed the bag against a table in order to kill the animals inside. Some of the animals suffered, still alive, for several minutes afterward. You can read more about PETA’s three-month investigation in this PETA Prime post.
Many of the hamsters at these facilities would have ended up on the shelves of pet stores—if they had survived that long. Instead, some of the hamsters who survived the cruel conditions at USGE ended up at PETA’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. (All of the animals who were seized from USGE have been safely transferred to permanent homes or reliable animal shelters.) That’s where I was introduced to Phoebe and Gideon, my most recent hamster companions.
Hamsters aren’t as easy to care for as some people might think: Cages must be completely emptied and cleaned at least once a week, sometimes more if your hamsters spill their water bottles. Each time you clean a cage, a nontoxic (and cruelty-free!) cleaner must be used to wash the cage itself and an inch of fresh bedding placed along the floor of the cage. Hamsters need fresh food and water every day, too, and old food—especially any produce—must be removed each day. It’s important to check hamsters twice a day to make sure that their water bottles haven’t spilled or soaked their bedding—these animals can easily die of thirst, which is why you should never leave a hamster alone for longer than a day. They also incur vet bills when they get sick, just as dogs and cats do, and they must be treated or euthanized as appropriate in order to alleviate suffering.
Hamsters often don’t make the best animal companions, either, especially for children. Before I moved to Virginia to work for PETA, I ran a small-animal rescue. One of the chief complaints from the dozens of people who turned their hamsters over to me was that the animals bit their human guardians. But hamsters are prey animals, and a human hand closing in on them from above can look like a predator’s mouth to them—so can you blame them for biting? I noticed that Phoebe was particularly fearful of humans. For that reason, I got into the habit of picking her up just long enough to put her in a safe place while I cleaned her cage, spending far more time cleaning her cage, providing her with food, and filling up her water bottle than actually interacting with her.
Hamsters are also solitary animals: Phoebe and Gideon were not given a living space to share—and not just because they were opposite genders. Hamsters are very territorial, and they often kill each other when they’re put together in cages. PETA’s investigators often saw this happen at USGE and Sun Pet.
One Saturday night, I found Phoebe lying on her side and barely breathing. Even though she had been happily running on her wheel that morning, it was obvious that she was dying, so I had her humanely euthanized right away. I don’t know why Phoebe died so young and so suddenly, but I often wonder if she would have lived a longer, healthier life had she not been through so much trauma at the hands of USGE. I’m happy that she had a month of peace and quiet in my home, but I wanted so much more for her and other hamsters like her. That’s why I will never buy a hamster, or any animal, from a pet store. I won’t support companies that treat animals like mere trinkets and throw them in the trash—literally and while still alive sometimes—when they’re no longer profitable.
While animal shelters often don’t list small animals online, they usually have them in abundance at their facilities just waiting to be adopted. If you think that you would be able to give a hamster a good, peaceful, permanent home, call the animal shelters in your area to find out if they have any hamsters in need of a compassionate guardian. You can also find them on Petfinder.com.
Have you ever had a hamster companion? Tell us about your experiences.
This post was written by Erin Vader. Erin is an editor in PETA’s Library Department