(This piece was published in the Dallas Morning News, June 22, 2003, with an illustration by Ed Owens. I think it is relevant to resurrect the story because the topic is timeless.)

I firmly told her she could not have a hamster. Ever. I didn’t care that my 8-year-old daughter, Emmali, promised I would never have to touch it, feed it or clean up after it.

Blame it on Harry.

When my sister’s family moved to Texas from Missouri four years ago, they stayed with us for a few months while house shopping. Harry, my niece Morgan’s pet hamster, came with them.

“You’ll hardly know he’s here,” my sister said as Morgan walked past me carrying a plastic yellow container, Harry’s house.

Well, I did know Harry was in the house; my house, not his. Harry was a Houdini, often escaping his confines to explore mine. Invariably, I would be the one to awaken to a scratching sound and find Harry in some corner, having a midnight snack on and of my carpet. Grabbing him with a towel, careful not to actually touch his fur, I’d carry him at arm’s length back to his cage.

“The hamster must go!” I would declare the next morning. But Morgan, and my own two boys, promised to prevent another escape. My sister paid for another carpet repair. Harry stayed another day and another night – which, by the way, for hamsters, is reversed.

When my sister’s family bought a house, we helped them move, leaving Harry with a neighbor. That hamster made a fatal error when he escaped from his cage and met up with their car. Suffice it to say that the cat got fat in a hurry on Harry.

Emmali has no memory of that hamster. She just knows that she wants one of her own. “I’ll do anything to get it!” she pleads.

“Won’t happen,” I reply, admittedly less firm than before.

As the weeks pass, her pleas continue, my refusals turn to maybes and one Saturday afternoon, we wind up in a pet store to “look” at hamsters. I discover that this $10 pet requires nearly 10 times that amount in supplies; with a cage, a wheel, tunnels, food, etc., it’s a small fortune to house a mouse!

In the meantime, one of Em’s friends, Kayln got all the paraphernalia for a long-haired, cream-colored hamster, who looks remarkably like the long-departed Harry. Emmali was supremely jealous until a week passed and Kayln’s dad called to say that Kayln had changed her mind about the hamster in favor of a stray kitten who showed up at their door. (I needed no reminder that these two species cannot co-exist.) He’d heard Emmali wanted a hamster and offered to sell this one, along with all its stuff, at a fraction of the price they paid.

Bargain shopping is my weak spot, so I gave in and bought the little critter, whom Emmali named after her favorite cartoon character.

SpongeBob lives in a house that reminds me of a miniature McDonald’s playland with tunnels going every which way. Just so long as he only goes every which way in his house and not in mine, I think I’ll do OK with Spongey. I have even held him, with my bare hands!

One of my sons recently asked if he, too, could get a hamster. I firmly told him no; we will not own two hamsters. Ever.

He immediately started clearing space in his room for a cage.