(Be sure to check out the video at the end of the post!)
You guys remember little Milo, right?
He won our hearts back in the early summer.
But try as he might, he was just too weak to pull through, and he died shortly after we rescued him. We laid him to rest in the ground near the rose bush.
He was only with us for a short time, but his impact was huge. The very next weekend after he passed into the Great Wheel of Cheese in the Sky, Handan announced that we would get another mouse.
So off to the pet stores we went.
We found one or two, here and there, but none grabbed us like little Milo had.
We went home empty-handed, and in the car, Handan started to research small pets.
She looked at rats and rabbits and took a gander at a guinea pig.
Then she saw a hamster.
“Hey babes? What if we got a couple of hamsters?” She said.
I had already done my research. Besides, I’d had one when I wore very small sneakers and Wrangler corduroy jeans. His name was Rontu and he liked to cruise around the carpet in a yellow translucent sphere.
“I had a hamster when I was a kid. They like to be alone.” I said. Rontoo was a badass. He was a loner. He was a rebel. “But all my friends had gerbils.”
“What the heck is a gerbil?” Handan said.
“Woman, you have the sum of all human knowledge at your fingertips! Google it!” I said.
She typed the letters into the search bar and then hit enter.
The first picture flashed before her eyes, and she was smitten.
“Oh I love them, my babes! This is what we’re getting!” She said.
So we searched all around our area, but no one carried gerbils!
What was this madness!
We had to travel an hour to find a shop with gerbils, but we found three perfect pets – a black one, a white one and a spotted one.
There was just one problem. The black one was a male and the other two were females.
In no time, we’d be overrun with gerbils!
So we swapped out the male for another white female, bought a reptile cage, stocked up on food and bedding material and toys and headed home.
We’d watched videos on gerbil care, so we had an idea of the habitat we wanted to create for them.
Handan got to work. We used some of the stuff we bought, and Handan found wicker baskets in the basement.
In no time, she had the habitat up and running.
Our new family members loved it!
They needed names, so we each picked one to be “ours,” and we each thought of a name.
Handan took the largest white one – she was the friendliest and the mellowest of all. She named her Miley, which I later lengthened to Miley Papyrus.
Barish chose the spotted gerbil and named her Spotty.
I chose the little albino with the red eyes. I named her Miss Penelope Isabel Beauregard, or Miss Pib for short.
Penny took an immediate interest in the gerbils. She knew a good meal when she saw it.
Pepper was too short to notice at first. Her gimpy back leg prevents her from standing up, so she had no idea we had a cage full of snacks until late the next day.
But Penny was beside herself.
Here are our girls. Miss Pib on the left playing in the bowl of chinchilla powder, Spotty up top and Miley resting on the right. Miley is the mother of the other two.
And for a couple of weeks, this was life.
But then we noticed Miley was getting big.
And she ate a lot.
And she slept a lot.
But these were all females…
And then I remembered what the girl at the pet store had told me.
“These females have been living with a male, so there is a chance that one of them could be pregnant. You can always bring the babies back to us if you don’t want them.”
Not too long after we noticed she was pregnant, Miley gave birth.
Barish discovered it one morning. I though it was too short a pregnancy, so I didn’t believe him. But he insisted he was hearing tiny little squeaks coming from the pile of bedding. The gerbils love to burrow and sleep underground, so we hadn’t seen Miley in a while.
He was right. Later that day, we caught a glimpse of one of the babies.
We counted three new members of the tribe, though it was hard to pin them down. Not only did Miley keep moving them here and there, but Miss Pib (occasionally) and Spotty (frequently) stepped in to help Miley.
About a day later, we looked again and noticed that there were actually four babies.
Okay, four was good!
And then that night we had another look.
“Hey babes!” I said. “There are more! There are SIX babies!”
“Oh my god, really?” Handan said. She had grown to love these gerbils more than I ever would have thought her capable. “Oh, that is just awesome, my babes!”
Her glee was infectious, and soon we were all jumping for joy at the 6 new mouths to feed.
Nine gerbils in one cage, though.
When they were old enough to carry, we’d have to load them all into a box and bring them to the store to determine the babies’ genders. Any males would have to go in a separate cage. Handan wasn’t about to lose any of her gerbils, nor was she going to separate mother from children.
Soon enough, the little ones grew hair.
But they still wandered around blind.
Even blind, they managed to find the water bottle!
After about five weeks, we loaded them into a plastic tub and drove back to the pet store.
To our surprise and joy, we learned that Miley had birthed six females! Now we could get another cage and connect them together!
We bought the cage and more tubing, and then Handan engineered the tunnel system.
It took a about 20 minutes for our little girls to figure out how to get back and forth, and since then, they’ve been loving their new home.
Miley was the matriarch – the mother of all eight other gerbils. This fall, she started to show her age.
She grew hunched in the back.
She slowed down.
She ate a lot and slept even more.
She became friendlier. She would happily sit on our hands and lick our fingertips.
After a time, she closed her eyes, and wandered around sightless, though she seemed at peace and happy.
And then a few days later, we couldn’t find her. She didn’t come out for dinner.
I already had a feeling that morning about it, so I put on some latex gloves and started gently sifting through the bedding.
I found her little body in the sleeping burrow. She was curled up on her side with her eyes closed, as peaceful as if she were taking a little midday siesta.
I called Handan over. Miley was her special girl.
There may have been a few tears involved.
Handan cleaned her and wrapped her in a small cloth.
We took her outside. It was a raw pre-winter day.
I dug a hole with my hands next to the rose bush, and we laid Miley to rest next to Milo.
But life goes on, and our other girls scarcely took notice that their mother was gone.
There is something about these little animals that brings more joy than one would expect. I’m always amazed at how Handan has taken to them.
She loves them fiercely.
They can be a pain in the ass – they pee and poop all over the cage, they destroy anything not made of metal, they bang around anything not tied down – but they are sweet little things, and we love having them.
That’s Miss Pib (her nickname is Pibs) pictured above and below, and she likes nothing more than to try to engineer her next escape.
She’s done it twice so far.
Once she got out because I left the top off the cage, thinking there’s no way they could get out, and even then, they were so high up, there’s no way they’d be able to get to the floor.
But my Pibs is a jerk.
She found a way.
One night as Handan and I watched TV, the dogs went nuts and started chasing around what Handan thought was a bone. She thought they had kicked the bone under the sofa (because she had seen a flash of white from the corner of her eye) and were fighting over who would get it first.
I went to investigate.
And then I saw the “bone” scoot across the floor and into a corner.
I leaped on the dogs and scooted them outside as Pibs bolted from the corner and headed into the dining room.
I called all hands on deck, and we initiated a search of the ground floor, but we found nothing!
Where the hell had she gone?
Desperate, I started down the basement stairs and found the little white jerk on the landing halfway down the stairs.
I picked her up and put her back in her home. She seemed equal parts relieved and pissed that I had ended her adventure.
Another time, we came home at night from dinner and Handan saw her wandering around the kitchen. She had escaped through the smallest of openings at the top of the cage (since closed).
Thank god we kept the dogs locked in the laundry room while we were gone!
Because of their constant noise and destruction and shenanigans, Handan has renamed them jerkballs instead of gerbils.
The name definitely fits!
But we love our jerkballs, and we wouldn’t have them any other way.
Meanwhile, watch the video below if you haven’t already to see our jerkballs in action.