Goodbye, good hamster

Maximus Decimus Meridius, my mighty mite hamster extraordinaire, died today.

Grief at losing a pet is real, and it doesn’t matter how big or small that pet is, or how long they have been with you. I can’t even count how many hamsters I’ve lost over the past 25+ years. Almost ten, I think. A few only lived a few months; some held on for over two years. Sometimes I cleaned out the cage and toys and got another hamster right away. Sometimes I gave away all my hamster things, thinking that would be the last hamster… only to buy a new cage and supplies a year later in order to welcome a new little fluff ball. Sometimes I cried, like when one had to be euthanized. Today, I sat numb and heavy all day, then took ten minutes to myself to sit alone and gorge on Welch’s fruit snacks and peanut butter M&Ms. Yes, it helped.

I’m already searching for my next hamster – the SPCA currently has one available. Or maybe a hedgehog, though that would involve a greater monetary investment and different set-up. Whichever comes my way first, I suppose.

It doesn’t mean that I’m ready to move on. I felt a bond with Maximus, perhaps because of the effort I put into taming him and his hamsterific courage and death-defying feats. He was very tame and docile, never bit me or anyone else, and he was easy to handle. I was actually planning on offering introductory hamster care workshops for new hamster owners, particularly those interested in getting a hamster but weren’t sure what it all involved. Maximus was going to be my assistant.

He liked it when I dropped huge chunks of carrot and broccoli into his food dish, which he would industriously drag back into his coconut abode. Unsalted peanuts and huge organic Thompson raisins were another favourite treat. Those, he would gingerly take one by one from your fingers, stuffing them meticulously into his cheek pouches to indicate that he wanted more; when he had enough, he would just start immediately eating one.

My 3-year old keeps repeating “Maximus is dead. Maximus is dead.” She suggested we bury him… but we live in an apartment, and I doubt the landlord would appreciate having a little hamster grave in the yard outside.

I need to clean Maximus’s things. I don’t know if I’ll get to it tomorrow. Trash pick up is Monday, so it can wait until then.

Bye, Max. Thanks for everything.


Good news: Bel-Rea Top 25 Small Animal Blog


I’ve just been included in Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology’s Top 25 Small Animal Blogs of 2017! Thank you, Bel-Rea! I’m so honored and thrilled!

Bel-Rea is an American school for veterinary technicians. .Taken from their website:

Located in beautiful Denver, Colorado, Bel-Rea Institute of Animal Technology is one of the oldest and largest veterinary technician schools in the United States.  Since the program’s launch in 1971, over 6000 students have earned an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Veterinary Technology through Bel-Rea.

When I  take my cats or hamsters in for medical attention, I want the people handling my animals to be knowledgeable, experienced, competent, professional, and well-trained. I also want them to have good people skills, as I have had emotional moments, like when my hamster (Buffy) had to be euthanized and I cried or my new cat (Olaf) was sick and refused to eat or groom himself. Being a pet mommy and taking your sick/injured pet to the veterinarian’s office is just like being a human mommy and taking your sick/injured child to the doctor’s office – it has to happen, the patient doesn’t really know what’s going on, it’s emotional, it’s stressful, and it’s potentially expensive. I’ve seen (and heard) vet techs drawing blood from my screaming cats and shaving areas so they could do tests. Clients and pets often spend more time interacting with vet techs than with veterinarians. I might ask them for tips on how to administer medicine, or how to better care for my animals. As a client, pet mommy, and pet sitter, I need to feel comfortable with health issues clearly explained to me. It’s particularly comforting that Bel-Rea takes an interest in small animal blogs.

Thanks again, Bel-Rea!

Centre d’Animaux Safari – Centre Rockland. It’s like a mini aquarium.

While I encourage adopting from a shelter or rescue if possible, sometimes it’s not possible to find what you’re looking for from those routes. There’s nothing wrong with buying your next pet from a good pet shop, as long as the animals for sale are healthy and housed in clean areas, and it is not an impulse purchase. I would steer clear of pet shops that have sick, overweight, underweight, dirty, overcrowded, or pregnant animals. People sometimes claim to have “rescued” their new pet from a bad pet shop situation… but I think it would be more honest to say that they bought their pet from a bad pet shop, who is going to use that sales profit to buy/breed/sell more unfortunate little animals for others to “rescue” from them. Despite my best efforts, most of the animals I have bought from pet shops have not lived long, and were not friendly. My healthiest, friendliest hamsters have come from shelters and hobby breeders.

My track record buying hamsters from pet stores isn’t good, though my current hamster, Maximus Decimus Meridius (the adventurer mentioned in my last post), came from the Centre d’Animaux Safari – Centre Rockland, and is a healthy (and durable!), friendly hamster. I had previously searched the SPCA and online communities like Craigslist and Kijiji, but had no luck finding a hamster. I checked out the hamsters at one pet shop on St-Laurent, and found not only one litter…but the daddy mating with the mommy right over the babies, creating the next litter right there. I did not want one of these hamsters, since there was clearly a sexing problem (that is, they were not able to separate the males from the females, and prevent unintentional breeding). It’s possible these were meant as feeder hamsters – I didn’t want to find out.

I kept looking. No visit to the Rockland Centre is complete for me without a stop at the pet shop to coo over the animals and fish. Walking through their aisles of fish tanks feels like being in a mini aquarium; it’s common to see babies and toddlers held up to see the fish tanks during their mall visit routines. They no longer have cats, but there’s always a bunch of hamsters, mice, rats, guinea pigs, degus, hedgehogs, gerbils, birds, and fish to gawk at. There are also aquatic turtles and a couple lizards, as well as live insects to feed said animals. I was really looking forward to getting a cup of mealworms to feed a hedgehog boarder I had recently, but alas, I wasn’t given permission to feed her outside food. Maybe next time…

Anyway… when I looked over the hamster selection, the staff member was very friendly and helpful, and even kissed the hamsters when she put them back into their bins. Unfortunately, the store isn’t able to separate the males from the females due to lack of space, but they can try to sex the hamsters for you to ensure that you get either a male or female. This is one of the reasons why I prefer getting male hamsters over female hamsters. Their small furry animals always look healthy, active, and well cared for (must be due to all the kissing).

I like the pet products they carry for hamsters and cats. They have a nice selection of high quality food, bedding, set ups, and toys for hamsters and cats. Things are attractively displayed, well-ventilated, and kept tidy. Scratching posts, carriers, grooming products, etc.. Small animals seem to be bought quickly, and there are rarely empty bins. The staff is knowledgeable and friendly. They have sales and a loyalty card. Mall parking is free, there’s a bus stop right out front, and you can multitask your visit buy doing other shopping at the same time.

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.