Sir SnugglesI never had a hamster when I was a kid.

The closest I ever was to having a hamster was taking care of Ben Winter’s hamster. Ben lived down the street. I sometimes got to have the hamster while he was on vacation. It was never more than a week. Under Ben’s care, that hamster lasted several years.

So I never had a dead hamster. But Brooke did. Several times. Brooke’s hamsters never lived more than a month.

I’ve known other families with hamsters. And dead hamsters.

When I was in seminary, I knew a guy, Wayne. Wayne a big guy, maybe about 7½ feet tall and built like a truck. He had two daughters. They had a hamster. It died.

Because it was seminary, they had to have a funeral. Because it was seminary, a school for training pastors, Wayne was taking this as an opportunity to practice what he’d been taught about ministry to the bereaved.

So they were out in the back lot of family student housing having this funeral. Little hole in the ground. Little shoebox with dead hamster carefully laid out with tissue paper lining the casket.

The prayers were said, the shoebox lowered into the hole, the final words pronounced — “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” — and the hole filled in.

Then, on the way back home, one of the daughters asked, “Now what happens?”

Wayne, towering over the little girl, started to explain how the hamster would decompose and turn back to the earth. He was doing his best to share graduate school theology with a 6-year old.

She said, “So, what you’re saying, Dad, is that he’s going to turn into a little pile of dirt.”

This wasn’t how Wayne’s seminary professors had put it, but he nodded his head, yes.

“Golly, Dad,” she said. “When you die, you’re going to make a big pile of dirt!”

So much for practicing pastoral care.

Two weeks before we moved, the kid decided that he absolutely needed a kitten. We have three cats in the house already, so there was no way we were going to get a new kitten. And certainly not just before moving. But he was inconsolable about a new kitten.

“Why?” we asked.

“Because they’re small and cute and soft and fuzzy,” he said.

Because his parents both went to seminary, we’d been to the same courses on grieving and loss that Wayne had been to. We figured maybe the impending loss of his friends was weighing on him. Maybe we should do something to ease his transition.

So we talked him down from a kitten to a hamster — after the move.

We did this, in spite of Brooke’s experience that the most a hamster will live is generally a month. As a creature whose purpose in our household is substitutionary atonement, we feel badly for the hamster. And we’re not at all sure our seminary professors, or child psychologists for that matter, would approve of bringing a creature we half expect to die any minute into the house as an aid in grieving the loss of friends.

But we did.

The nearest place from our new home to get a hamster is Watertown. A 2-hour drive. One way.

We made the pilgrimage to hamster land (a.k.a. Petco) 5 days after our arrival. We were relieved that the hamster came with a 30-day guarantee, but I still wonder if I’ve got the patience to make another 4-hour round trip to Watertown to take advantage of the guarantee, should the worst occur before the 30 days is up.

On the way home, the kid named the hamster:

Mr. Sir Snuggles Newell Green the First

One of the church ladies at the new church brought over her son’s old habitrail tubes to attach to the bare-bones starter cage we got with the hamster, and last weekend, when we tried to clean the cage, we couldn’t get Mr. Sir Snugges, etc. out of the tubes without scattering uneaten seeds, peed bedding and hamster shit all over the kid’s bedroom floor.

Also, every now and then, the hamster flings bedding and poo pellets out of the cage. They land on the floor in front of the kid’s dresser, whence they get tracked all around the upstairs. So it’s not uncommon to find a piece of stray hamster poo on the bathroom floor or in the front hall.

In spite of the random poo pellets, we have asked everyone we know to pray mightily for his survival. So far it’s worked. The hamster has survived 12 days under our son’s care. And every night at dinner in our new home, we make a toast to Mr. Sir Snuggles, etc.’s long and healthy life, and that another day has passed without a backyard shoebox funeral.

Here’s to Mr. Sir Snuggles Newell Green the First!