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Life lessons from a hamster

How I learned companionship, responsibility and grief through Nacho

Cecy Juárez is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily.
Cecy Juárez is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

Many of us have had the experience of owning a pet at some point in our lives. Whether it be man’s best friend, a cat or even a fish, pets enrich our lives. I had the privilege and honor of owning a pet hamster, Nacho, when I was six years old.

We adopted Nacho from our local PetSmart, and I fell in love with him instantly. Brown and white patches of fur covered his tiny, fluffy body — he was the cutest thing I had ever held in my short six years. I often played with him by placing him in his little ball and letting him roll around the living room. He especially loved to rush toward the stairs and bounce all the way down to the basement. Anytime I would hold him in my hand, he would never bite or scratch me. He’d always let me pet him gently and play around with him. He was the little furry friend I never knew I needed but couldn’t live without.

This adorable hamster, however, came with a plethora of responsibilities that I wasn’t prepared for. My parents charged me and my older sister with taking care of our little pet. We had to thoroughly clean his cage once a week, feed him and ensure his water tube was full. We even had to clean his ball whenever he would relieve himself while running around inside. To put it lightly, I was not a fan of some of these chores. It was the first time I had to bear responsibility in caring for something that wasn’t myself. I mean, I was only six at the time, so I was barely able to even look after myself.

As much as it embarrasses me to say this, this column serves as my first transparent confession that I was a terrible hamster caretaker. I always “forgot” to clean out his cage, feed him and do other similar chores. My older sister would constantly reprimand me for slacking off, since she would have to make up for it. My family’s persistent scolding eventually made me realize that I had agreed to these responsibilities and that I needed to hold up my end of the bargain. I got a little better at looking after Nacho, but only as much as a six-year-old could. 

After three wonderful years with Nacho, he passed away peacefully in his sleep. This was one of my first brushes with death. I was so young, so I didn’t entirely understand the concept of someone dying. But what I knew was that Nacho had reached an old age for a hamster and that he was no longer awake. 

For the first time in my life, I grieved. 

I wasn’t prepared for the kinds of emotions that I felt after Nacho’s passing. I had never dealt with anything like that before — I felt lost and confused. I missed hearing his nightly zoomies where he’d run widely on his squeaky wheel for half an hour. We tried to make up for him with Nacho III — we don’t talk about Nacho II — but no other hamster could ever replace Nacho I. Eventually, I overcame my sadness and hoped that he was enjoying himself in hamster heaven. 

Looking back at my experience with Nacho, I’m grateful for the few years that I had with him. I didn’t know it back then, but Nacho would help me learn how to navigate life.

I learned the values of compassion, patience, responsibility, hygiene and sorrow. Playing with him taught me how to be mindful and careful when dealing with more delicate things. All of the annoying and yucky tasks of keeping his cage clean prepared me for cleaning up after myself and keeping the house neat. Finally, I learned what it meant to grieve for someone — it meant that I had the privilege of sharing my life with a loving companion.

And I know I’m not the only one that has had this experience — I share the joy of having had a pet with so many people. We just might not have realized all of the values that our four-legged friends have helped us develop, no matter how big or small. Pets can bring out the best in us and drive us to be better for them. 

I haven’t had a pet since, but I am grateful for the short time in my life that I shared with Nacho. I know I’ll always keep in mind the lessons I learned from him and do my best to apply them in my life.

Cecy Juárez is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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