Mighty hamster survives great fall

I really don’t post a lot on social media – don’t get used to it!
Last week, I found that my hamster, Maximus Decimus Meridius, had somehow moved the metal lid on his aquarium aside and had escaped. He either fell straight down to the hardwood floor from four book shelves up, or gradually fell from shelf to printer to floor. I found him nesting under the couch, nibbling on a pile of cracker crumbs he had accumulated. After a prolonged chase back and forth, and some hiding under a pile of stuffed animals, I got him. And he screamed like he hadn’t screamed since I had first gotten him, untamed, from the pet store.
Was he in pain? Did he have internal injuries? Was he ok, but just overexcited and scared from his adventure? His ears were perked up and he seemed ok – eating, drinking, running around, etc.. I still wanted confirmation that everything was ok. I called the exotic animal veterinarian I’ve gone to for years, the Montreal Bird and Exotic Vet in NDG. It was Tuesday in the late afternoon and they were booked until Thursday late morning; I didn’t want to wait that long. They recommended I try a 24-hour clinic in Laval, but that seemed far away for me. I posted on a local mommy board, and got a recommendation to a nearby clinic, Anima Plus in Mile End, that handled exotics like hamsters, and was able to take him in on Wednesday afternoon.
If he were visibly suffering, I would have taken him to a 24-hour clinic, either the one in Laval or the one I’ve used for cats in Lachine. But since Maximus seemed otherwise ok, I was ok with waiting a day, wanting him to be seen by a local exotic animal specialist I could easily go to again the the future.
And he passed his physical exam! He kept trying to climb out of his carrying cage, off the table, off the scale. His ears were perky. He still made that screaming sound, and another sound that sounded kind of like chirping, but the vet said everything else seemed ok, and that he was probably mad at being examined. He cleaned himself immediately after we touched him, which apparently is a good sign. We decided not to give him pain medication, because it had been a couple of days since his fall and he seemed like he was functioning normally. She said hamsters are masters at masking illness and injury, and are also very good at dangling from their feet to soften landings. The vet tech gave me a handout on foods to feed and not feet rabbits and guinea pigs. Even though grapes and nuts were on the “do not feed” list… I still gave Maximus both in the exam room. I mean, if he survived a great ordeal and if he had a short time to live, I wanted him to enjoy every little morsel life had to offer him before he went to that big hamster wheel in the sky.
I was happy that he passed his exam, and seemed ok. The service and care at the clinic were great – and it turns out that I had encountered the vet before in our other lives as mommies, so that was fun. The office called to follow up a few days later, and I was pleased to tell them that everything seemed fine with my mighty mite, warrior hamster extraordinaire. I’m glad I found this nearby clinic and this exotic animal vet. And I’ve since put a heavy book on top of the cage – move that, little guy!

Fifteen Animals, by Sandra Boynton

I think parents everywhere know Boynton books forwards and backwards. Our bookshelf is about 1/4 Boynton books. They’re fun, simple, whimsical board books that infants and toddlers make you read over and over again, including all of the animal sounds (yes, I mean Moo, Baa, La La La, which is one of the first ones I memorized. Doggies is the second. ). She’s a prolific children’s book author, and often includes dogs and fuzzy cats in her books. Our daughter’s Kindle FreeTime even has some Boynton books converted into game-like apps. But one of my favourites – and my 3-year old’s – is Fifteen Animals. It’s about a man named Bob who likes animals and has given each one a special name. I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s very cute. It’s educational, too, as he has 15 animals. It features not only a dog and a cat, but also a hamster and a number of other animals.

Some of our other favourite Boynton books (the ones that don’t totally drive us crazy after successive readings) include: Hippos Go Berserk, Birthday Monsters, Barnyard Dance (which we had to hide at one point because our little one made us do the dance with her Every. Single. Time.), Happy Hippo Angry Duck, The Going to Bed Book, Pajama Time!, A to Z, Opposites, Snoozers

Hamster leashes – just say no!

I’ve had a nasty sinus/lung infection, but after a course of antibiotics and four weeks into it, I think I’m finally getting over it. But life goes on! And, in order to totally brag about my work ethic, it takes more than an infection to keep me from meeting my pet sitting obligations.


As I visit pet shops to network and shop, I’ve been absolutely horrified to see hamster leashes being sold at a number of them. I cannot stress enough how wrong I feel this product is, and how, as a life-long hamster parent, I will never ever use one. Ever.

I encourage anyone interested in buying one of these things to watch youtube videos of people taking their hamsters for a walk with one. In every one, the poor hamster is tightly tied into the harness/collar, often looking like its innards are squished on either side of the loop around its middle. It’s not like you can put a little dog collar on one of these little guys. The hamster is dragged along the ground, or yanked around. The hamster never appears to be enjoying the walk on the leash. They aren’t walking in a straight line, or trying to get some exercise or goofing around. In every video, they look like they are trying to escape, or aren’t interested in walking, and the people – usually teens – laugh and look like they are enjoying the hamster’s struggles and discomfiture. To me, a hamster leash is a torture device and trying to walk a hamster on a leash is akin to animal abuse.  Hamsters enjoy running on wheels, but in no way should that be seen as parallel to a dog’s need to be walked outside or a high-energy cat’s need to be exercised.

If you want to play with your hamster, there are many other fun things to do beside dragging them around on a string. The cutest activity I’ve seen so far have been hamster agility courses. First you have to make one, then you take a few days to train the hamster to run it. How do you train a hamster to run an agility course? You dangle a treat in front of them to lead them through each hurdle. Eventually, the hamster will remember what to do, and you can gradually switch to rewarding them only at the end.

But if you don’t have the patience and skill to build a dog agility course down to a hamster’s scale, never fear. Some people enjoy “free ranging” their hamsters on the floor. Instead of a plastic ball, which is the classic hamster exercise choice when out of the cage, block off an area so they can’t get into trouble (or stepped upon) and let them run around free for a little while. Make sure they can’t run under or behind the sofa where you can’t easily retrieve them, or fall down the stairs. I like doing this myself, but always make sure that my cats are put into another room first and my toddler is not around. I never leave the hamster unattended. I’ve heard of some people who free range their hamsters 24/7 without keeping them in a cage, but I’d imagine you’d need tile floors and mops in every room for that sort of lifestyle. It sounds pretty cool, though.

And of course, the hamster ball. The benefits of the ball are that you don’t have to watch the hamster like a hawk while they are in one, but the downside is that they can still get into trouble in one. Hamster parents sometimes forget their hamsters are in the ball, and find them hours later, sleeping in their own pee and poop. Some hamsters aren’t as good at running in the ball as others, and end up spinning around a lot, or have trouble navigating around furniture. The ball doesn’t work very well on plus carpeting. People and other pets can accidentally trip over the ball, resulting in mutual injury and unhappiness. The ball needs to be cleaned and they get scratched up. But don’t get me wrong – it’s a classic for a reason, and I’ve always kept one for my hamsters.

But please, please do not try to walk your hamster on a leash.

Croque en Bol – Parc : neighbourhood pet store

As an apartment-dweller with a small child, I have discovered the wonderful world of delivered goods. And as pet owner, I am SO GLAD that Croc en Bol delivers, and for a small delivery fee (I also tip the delivery man). No more lugging huge heavy bags of kitty litter, cat food cans, and cat dry food up several flights of stairs while my little one is trying to be carried at the same time. I can even just call them up with my order on the phone, and they will deliver with a credit card number of cash upon delivery. No need to venture outside, or make a detour when you have other things to do. The downside is that you have to call in early if you want delivery, as their delivery slots fills up quickly and then you’re out of luck.

Another huge draw (in my opinion) to this little pet shop (which does not sell animals, so I guess it’s more of a pet supply store than a pet shop?) are the resident cats. I think there’s one or two friendly dogs and bird, there, too, but I’m a cat lady, so I only have eyes for the fluffy, scruffy black and white cats. There’s more than one, but I think they’re all black and white. I could be wrong. The cats who often ignore me when I hold out a hand for a sniff. Sometimes they let me scratch their cheeks, which makes me feel super special every time. I love it when pet shops have free-ranging animal greeters. They are clearly well-cared for, as well, and don’t seem interested in dashing out the door to freedom when you walk in.

The small store has a selection of high-quality cat food, kitty litter, and other cat products. There’s a selection of rodent bedding, food, and toys, as well. Friendly staff, clean store, and sometimes-friendly cats. And they deliver! What more could you want?

There are other Croc en Bol stores throughout the city. I’ll discuss each individually. This one is on the edge of the Plateau, close to Outremont and Mile End.


4889, av du parc
Montréal, QC H2V 4E7

Lundi à mercredi 9:30 à 19:00
Jeudi et vendredi 9:30 à 21:00
Samedi & dimanche 9:30 à 17:00


Cafe Chat Heureux – cat cafe in the Plateau

As a small business owner, I recently had a BRILLIANT idea to support other local pet-oriented small business owners by blogging about them. As I’m just six months into starting my pet sitting business, I’m regularly trekking all over the city to pass out business cards and put up flyers. I’m discovering so many great pet shops, groomers, cat cafes, and more on my urban vaunts. This is such a wonderful, pet-friendly city. I’m happy to share my finds with my clients and readers.


First up: Cafe Chat Heureux!

I visited this Plateau gem just this week. I’ve been dying to visit a cat cafe ever since reading about them. A friend of mine raved about it, but was hesitant to suggest it to me since I have cats of my own, and why would I want to go to a cafe just to hang out with more cats? Au contraire, mon amie! I am all about the cats.

This is a cozy cafe that unabashedly celebrates a love of cats. Two large flat-screens rotate pictures of the cafe’s menu and their adorable feline hosts. Cat walkways line the ceiling and walls. Cat art is for sale, the cafe sells socks with their logo on it, and there’s even a fake fireplace with some comfy chairs you can nestle into while you enjoy the company of cats. You remove your boots when you enter (perhaps that’s why they sell socks? But the socks aren’t required – they’re just available for sale), so it feels very homey inside. A guest book by the door is often filled with adorable cat drawings.

And then there were cats! The eight resident cats were all adopted from the greater Montreal area and have pictures and profiles of their personalities on their website. The pictures might need an update, though, because I scratched Luzerne’s cheek just before he settled down for a nap, and he was much bigger and fluffier than his profile picture. Actually, all the cats save one petite tuxedo were asleep when I arrived around noon for lunch. Some of the other patrons tried searching the area for a friendly cat to play with, but alas, they were all tuckered out and indisposed. I noted the lack of cat activity to my server as I paid my bill, and she suggested coming right at opening next time, when they are their most playful. After about an hour, they go into play overload and sleep.

The cafe has clear rules on cat-human interaction, and even has a hole in a door they can dart into if they don’t feel up to being petted and adored. Taken from their website, the rules are:


  • Wake up a cat
  • Feed a cat
  • Take a cat on your lap
  • Use a flashlight taking pictures
  • Let kids without surveillance

You can:

  • Play with cats (toys will be provided)
  • Take pictures with our cats and share them!
  • Give a lot of love to our cats

General Rule:

Cats are expressive, if they do not want to be pet or play anymore, let them be, otherwise just like humans, they will let you know they are unhappy!

In addition to the whimsical ambiance, you can enjoy nicely presented hot sandwiches, salads, smoothies, juices, and a lip-smackingly good dark hot chocolate with a massive amount of whipped cream on top of it. The whipped cream was extra… but it was so worth it. I got the Cat Lady sandwich (of course), which was hot, gooey, and wonderfully satisfying and enjoyable on a cold winter’s afternoon.

There’s a sweet joy to this place, which will bring me back again. It was neither crowded nor empty when I stopped by during the week. I sat by the bookshelves, which was packed with random books in both English and French. Service was friendly and attentive, prices were reasonable. Gluten-free and vegan option available. The cats seemed friendly and well-cared for; it looked like a nice home for them. Next time, I might even bring my toddler, as it’s child-friendly, as long as they are supervised and aren’t pestering the cats.

Cafe Chat l’Heureux

172 Duluth Est, Montreal H2W 1H3


Monday : Closed
Tuesday to Thursday : 11 am – 8 pm
Friday, Saturday : 10 am – 10 pm
Sunday : 10 am – 8 pm

Be prepared for your pet sitter

The client is responsible for providing all necessary cat and cleaning supplies. It is awkward for me as a pet sitter to be unable to tidy up cat messes if the client runs out of paper towels or garbage bags. Or if they run out of cat food. Or if I need to use the bathroom and find there’s no toilet paper. All of these scenarios have happened to me.

Before leaving, please make sure there is a generous supply of the following:

  1. Payment.
  2. Paper towels!! *
  3. Medication and all medical supplies.
  4. Cat food.
  5. Kitty litter.
  6. Garbage bags and poop bags.
  7. Toilet paper.

*If washable rags/towels are preferred, kindly have a generous stack of them available, as well as a washing machine or laundry bag they can be placed into once used. I cannot describe the horror of having nothing but toilet paper and one reusable cloth to clean up vomit or litter box accidents.

*I am happy to provide missing items with a $25 concierge fee plus the cost of the items. I cannot guarantee the store I visit, the cost of the items, or the brands or quantities purchased. I normally get Bounty paper towels, Charmin toilet paper, and Glad Force-Flex tall trash bags. Kitty litter and cat food will be your usual brands/types to avoid stress to the cat.

In which I go on and on about my hamster

That’s right – he gets his own post.

When Vladimir, my little Russian dwarf, went to the big hamster wheel in the sky, I scoured Craigslist and Kijiji for available hamsters to fill the little hamster-sized hole in my heart. Alas, none could be found. I think I might have even emailed the SPCA, and the ones there were waitlisted. So I reluctantly turned to pet shops.I’m not a fan of getting hamsters from pet shops, as the pet shop-bought ones I’ve had in the past have all been either aggressive or sickly. Or both. My longest-lived, healthiest, and most tame hamsters have all come from online ads posted by people who deliberately bred their hamsters and raised the baby hamsters until I came to get one. Plus, they’re often free online. Two of them came from families who were using the breeding project as a way of teaching their children about pet care and commerce (those hamsters were both free). At pet shops, you often see the rodents neurotically trying to dig their way out of glass aquariums. Over and over. All day. It makes my heart sink a little.

At one pet shop, they had a clear sexing problem because there were actually not just one, but two mommy hamsters with litters and as I looked down into the bin, I saw the daddy and mommy making the next brood (in case you’re unfamiliar with hamsters, females become fertile right after giving birth, which is why males stick around to help out). So it was a no to that pet shop. I considered trying out rats, as I hear they are quite affectionate, but I was warned they have a lot of health problems and plus the ones I saw in the pet shop were not tame at all. I think they were probably used as feeder rats. This was the same pet shop that had the breeding hamsters.

Fortunately, my search ended at a nice pet shop in the Rockland Mall. Or, Rockland Centre (because Canadians seem to like to call everything a centre). There was a docile young Chinese hamster, but the poor thing just trembled and trembled. And then there was a big whitish-grey Syrian hamster that screamed and flailed around on his back when picked up. Of course, I had to have that one. I saw it as a challenge that he wasn’t tame. He didn’t bite; he was just terrified. And I was on maternity leave, so I figured I had the time and patience to work with him. The sales clerk tried to gently steer me in another direction, but that white warrior hamster was mine. I took him home.

Fortunately for this story, my mighty mite settled in after just a day or two. The first day, I left him alone. When I got close to the cage – a glass aquarium with a metal wire mesh lid to deter felines – he would rear up on his hind legs and flail his tiny paws in the air. Like he was challenging me to battle, shaking a fist, and totally standing his ground. So I dubbed him Maximus Decimus Meridius, after Gladiator. Maximus is so courageous. And even-tempered – to this date, he’s never bitten me. After the first couple days of screaming – the likes of which I have never before heard from a hamster – and flailing when approached, he calmed down and was relaxed being handled. By relaxed, I mean not trying to sprint out of my hands. I regularly drop him treats like unsalted peanuts, unsalted stove-popped popcorn, hunks of celery or carrot, or the occasional raisin. My husband, who only interacts with hamsters when I place them on his shirt as he’s working on his laptop, is even able to hand feed him treats, as well. He no longer screams or flails and is calm being carried around for short periods of time.

I’ve never seen his colouring before in a Syrian hamster. He’s a light grayish white with a few little darker gray hairs. Very handsome.

Just joined Pet Sitters International, a professional pet sitter’s association!

PSI Member Logo-PPPS Tagline2

I’ve been spelling it petsitter. Looks like I was wrong?

In which I go on and on about my other cat

I’m convinced that Olaf is at least part Norwegian Forest Cat. He’s got that triangular-shaped head, common markings, went from being a lanky shorthair to being a burly longhair, and carries his fluffy tail high up in the air like a banner proclaiming “I will pillage your village.” He’s very athletic and can leap nearly five feet onto the top of a small bookshelf in a single bound. At one point he enjoyed diving off of a ceiling-high hutch onto the nearby bed, causing the hutch to shake, but fortunately he’s stopped doing that now.

He’s very much a cat, but has some doglike behaviours. He used to determinedly lick our faces and arms, which hurt since his tongue is very rough. Now he just occasionally licks our hands. When the mood strikes him, he will play fetch and retrieve toys over and over again until he gets tired and pants. Particularly if they are circular, like hair elastics. He greets you at the door with an excited meow and tail waving, often jumping up on you. Somehow that’s acceptable for cats, but not for dogs. He will greet visitors with an excited meow and tail waving and jump up on them, too. He likes being picked up and carried around. His adorable fluffy face and cheeky charm means that almost every visitor in our home has sneaked him food. He used to put his paws on the table when we ate, always searching for a weak spot to strike, but I don’t feed my cats from the table so he stopped. Now he’ll just lounge on the table alongside the food like Jabba the Hutt. If you pet him long enough he will drool.

When we lived in our previous apartment, he’d race out the door as soon as you opened it, and you’d have to chase him back and forth in the hallways. He liked crouching behind a support beam, and then dashing back to the door, only to dart back out when you got too close. My husband and I both admitted that we would hurry back home from work in anticipation of seeing him. He doesn’t do the chasing game in our current place. Maybe he’s too old and dignified now.

His SPCA papers said he was about 3-4 years old, but I think he was younger when we adopted him. He was long and lanky, shorthaired with a magnificent fluffy tail. Then he kept getting bigger and bigger and fluffier until he became the 13 lb. longhaired beast that he is now. He ate twice as much and twice as fast without putting on fat. His paws were big for his size then, and he had a puppy’s clumsiness – lots of running around and trying to jump onto chairs and tables…only to misjudge and fail. He had so much energy. He is still energetic, but not as go-go-go as he was four years ago.

He has such an outgoing personality that I tried leash-training him several times to take him out for walks. As soon as I put the harness on him, his ears would go back, and he’d crawl around under tables and chairs, getting the leash caught and tangled. The harness wasn’t a total waste – my daughter sometimes puts her Pete the Cat doll in it for…walks.

I also considered trying to enter him into a cat show under the house cat category. He’s so beautiful. Then I had my baby and I abandoned that idea. I cannot fathom the grooming needed to make him show-ready, and also devoting an entire day to a cat show instead of doing other fun things at home like laundry and cleaning up play dough.

He’s gentle and doesn’t use his claws when playing with people.

If he gets something particularly yummy – turkey skin, liver – he will growl and drag it under the table or to a private corner to feast in private. Mighty hunter. Actually, our old place didn’t have window screens, and he caught butterflies and ate one before I could save it. I can set him after big spiders; the little ones he ignores. But he’s too much of a housecat to eat a chunk of meat or whole chicken liver without it being chopped up first.

Olaf is the dominant cat. When he came home, it looked like he was trying to befriend Ethel, but she just hissed at him and ran away. He wasn’t neutered until we got him, so perhaps he was trying to be more than just friends. Anyway, when his overtures went unrequited his put his mighty paw down and established himself as the alpha cat. Ethel is not allowed to even touch the scratching post. About once a month Olaf will chase Ethel around and reaffirm that he is supreme cat. If I interrupt, he meows piteously like he’s the one who’s been beat up. He also sometimes tries to mount Ethel, even though they’ve both been sterilized. She puts up with it for the most part. I’m considering getting a hormone spray to make her smell male to protect her from unwanted advances. She’s an elderly cat and too old for that kind of harassment. No means no!

Unlike Ethel, it was impossible to get Olaf to stop jumping up on the counters and tables. I’d say no. I’d move him to the floor every time. I got frustrated. I gave up. Cats are now allowed on the counters and tables. You can tell he hears you saying “no!” but he chooses to ignore you. When he does something he shouldn’t, like drink my daughter’s milk when she’s not paying attention, you can’t get him to stop unless you physically pick him up and move him away. And he’ll just keep coming back for more. You’ve got to admire that kind of determination. I was so sure that my baby’s first words would be “Olaf, no!”.

I think our move and subsequent baby did a lot to traumatize Olaf out of his energetic youth. Since she came back from the hospital, Olaf has been afraid of my daughter. So far, he’s hidden from all babies and toddlers. Now that she’s a toddler and can chase him, I guess the avoidance is totally warranted. Ethel isn’t quite as fast, unfortunately.