Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Evacuating 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.

Click to enlarge
Wildfire in Southern California
Courtesy of T. Spirock, PhD 
Smoke can threaten the sensitive lungs of hamsters long before the fire gets close.

Hello, everyone! Here in Southern California, we’ve been battling the biggest wildfire in L.A. county history. Thousands of people have been evacuated, and more than 80 homes have been damaged or destroyed. My heart goes out to the families of the two firefighters who gave their lives protecting others. The fire is well away from where I live, but it brought back memories of the time that a fire forced me and my critters to evacuate.

Back when we lived in the mountains, we were threatened by forest fires nearly every year during “fire season.” Fortunately, we only had to evacuate once, when a fire cut off two of the three ways off the mountain. The fire never made it into our valley, but if it had, they would never have been able to get everyone out in time with two of the roads gone. Plus, the smoke itself was bad enough for anyone with sensitive lungs, hamsters included. A friend of ours took this photo of the view we all dreaded.

It was surreal, trying to evacuate with hamsters on board. We only had two hamsters at the time — Tom and Lumpy the Campbell’s dwarf hamsters — but two hamsters were more than enough to complicate things. Back then we kept them in those intricate tube cages instead of the smart bin cages we use now, and that made transporting them twice as tricky. All the way down the mountain we held the fragile cage together by hand, hoping that it wouldn’t rattle apart and let the hamsters escape.

We took the hamsters down the mountain in our motorhome, which had quite literally become a zoo. In addition to the two hamsters, we had several kids and teenagers and some of our neighbor’s pets. We learned a lot about transporting hamsters that we wished we had known earlier — like the fact that if you leave the water bottles in the cages, they will simply leak and flood the bedding. Now you are evacuating a hamster with no water, and you need fresh bedding that you probably didn’t remember to bring.

During the current fire, I’ve been seeing a lot of newspaper articles asking people to make an evacuation plan, because a lot of people who evacuated didn’t have one. I thought I should share mine, since I’ve had some firsthand experience with evacuation. Even if you don’t live in fire country, there are still many reasons to have a plan — we got to put ours into action again when we needed to tent our house for termites. A friend of ours used hers when her air conditioner failed on a hot summer day and she got her hamsters to safety.

Whatever the reason for moving your hamsters in a hurry, there are certain things you will need if you are taking your hamster away from home. It starts with a secure and sturdy travel container that provides protection from drafts but ample ventilation. A “Kritter Keeper” is OK for the drive, but then the hamsters need an actual habitat while they’re away from home, and there’s nothing better than a bin cage for that. You also need a Small Animal Disaster Kit.

I hope that you’ll never need this information, and that all the pet owners in L.A. will make it safely back to their homes with happy, healthy pets.

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