Wednesday, September 2, 2009
From Horses To Hamsters

By Catya
Catya is a judge with the California Hamster Association. She shares her experiences in hamster ownership from a high school student's perspective.

Catya and Liz visit a foal
Catya (bottom right) and her friend Liz visit a ranch in Big Bear where Catya love of animals got a kick-start.
Catya and donkey, Mr. Hankie
Photos Courtesy Catya
The cantankerous donkey named Mr. Hankie taught Catya patience in dealing with animals.

Hi, everybody! Can you believe that summer is nearly over? I’ve already started classes again, and my college-aged siblings are heading back one by one. Before the end of summer, my family always likes to do something fun together. This year, we took a day trip up to Big Bear, our old stomping grounds.

My family lived in Big Bear until about three years ago, when we moved “down the hill,” as the Big Bear locals say. One of the places we were excited to visit on our trip back up was the ranch across the lake from our house. This ranch was a big part of our childhoods. My sister went there nearly every day, teaching riding lessons and taking care of the horses. I went sometimes too, grooming the horses and taming baby goats. When we were there this time, I realized how my love for animals really got its kick-start at that ranch.

You know the story of Gloria, my family’s first hamster, who I loved even though she was my sister’s. You also know about Tom and Boo, my first pair of dwarf hamsters, who I got some years after Gloria. But in the time between Gloria and those two, my animal friends were much larger! Even when there were no hamsters in the house, I still loved animals. But the animals I played with then were horses, goats, llamas and even a friendly donkey.

Taking care of the animals on the ranch was a great experience for me. You learn to respect animals quickly when they’re more than twice your size, and cleaning a hamster cage doesn’t seem nearly as intimidating if you’ve ever mucked a horse’s stall!

I learned a lot of hamster-handling tricks by working with horses too, such as using a soothing tone of voice to calm them down, keeping my hands still when I’m feeding them, and moving gently and slowly around them so as not to spook them. The donkey, named Mr. Hankie, had been adopted from a wild herd, so it took a lot of patience to make friends with him.

I also owe some of my knack for taming Roborovski hamsters to my time at the ranch. You see, they kept goats on the ranch, but the goats were often skittish around people, so if they ever needed to take one to the vet, it was very hard to get the goat to cooperate. But if the goats were tamed when they were still young kids, they’d stay tame throughout their lives. I was lucky enough to be the goat-tamer!

The goats were so cute when they were young, but they had legs like springs and would jump and run away in an instant if you startled them. It makes sense that working with skittish Roborovskis would feel so familiar to me after spending all that time with the baby goats.

I’m glad that I spent all that time on the ranch when I was younger. I learned a lot about dealing with animals, the joys and the heartaches that come with growing attached to critters.

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