I have never understood why hamsters and gerbils get surrendered to shelters. I mean, sure, occasionally there must be the extraordinary circumstances that warrant their surrender, but it happens all the time.
Hamsters, gerbils and mice (often known as 'pocket pets' although that phrase always annoyed me so I refuse to use it) are not exactly high-maintenance animals. They are small, and they don't bark or growl - in fact they make very little noise at all. They need a cage, some toilet paper rolls, a toy or two, a water bottle and a food dish. You should, of course, socialize and play with your rodents, but they won't waste away if you don't. They'll amuse themselves with the toilet paper rolls.
The little guy in the photo above (and in the blog's banner) lives at my house now, much to my parrots' amusement. He was somehow given the unfortunate name of 'Johann Richard Strauss Jr' by some friends of mine with strange senses of humour. He's the the three famous Strausses in one, which is impressive considering he's about 3 cm long. We just call him Strauss to make it simpler.
Strauss is a dwarf hamster, and he is the friendliest hamster I've ever seen. He loves to be held and he is content to simply sit on your hand - he seems to lack the twitchy looking-over-the-shoulder every other dwarf hamster I've met possessed. That probably doesn't bode well for his survival instincts, but since the birds can't get into his cage, I think he's safe.
Strauss was surrendered to Toronto Animal Services by his owner. This little guy makes no noise, no mess, is perfectly friendly, and has a maximum lifespan of 3 years. He's also the size of my pinky finger. How much trouble could he possibly be?
Maybe there was a good reason for Strauss' surrender, how should I know. But hamsters, mice and gerbils show up at shelters all the time. Honestly, they are not difficult pets. They are not much trouble. Is it so hard to keep the little guy healthy for a few years? Buying a hamster doesn't require the life-planning needed for the purchase of a dog or a parrot. Is it so hard to make a commitment for 2 or 3 years?
Often, you hear stories of parents getting rodents for their children as their first pet. That's a great idea - it can teach kids responsibility and compassion. My first pet, after fish, was a gerbil, and she taught me a lot about how you shouldn't make creatures with teeth angry. What isn't a great idea, however, is expecting the kids to take complete responsibility for the animals.
Children are not going to always remember to feed the pets, they are not going to be willing to clean the cage every week, and they will not be able to pay for food and toys. I can't stand hearing about parents buying rodents to teach their kids a lesson in responsibility, only to have the kids fail the lesson, and have the rodents end up at a shelter. Kids should have to take some responsibility for their pets, but if they fail to live up to that, the rodents shouldn't have to pay. After all, it was the parents who got the rodents in the first place.
Many people don't consider hamsters, gerbils and mice 'real pets'. In most people's minds, they are a tiny step above fish on the 'interesting pet scale'. Of course, as any guy with a 20-year-old goldfish or clicker-trained gerbil will tell you, that scale is 50% perception and 50% nonsense. Either way, however, they are still living animals and they are still your responsibility, and as with any other pet, it should be your responsibility to keep them out of the animal shelters.