Long ago, when my daughter was in preschool, she got her first pet of her very own. “Pikachu” was an albino dwarf hamster. He had little red eyes and a short little tail. He was amazingly patient, “piloting” her Fischer Price airplane, sitting quietly in her little hands while they watched Disney movies together, and navigating the mazes of blocks she would create for him as little playgrounds.
One weekend, while my daughter was visiting at her grandparents’ house, after a long and happy hamster life Pikachu passed away… and I panicked.
I only had a few hours before her grandparents would be bringing her home, so I had to act fast. I called about twenty different pet stores within a fifty mile radius. I finally found one that had an albino dwarf hamster in stock. I drove there like a bat out of hell (or a hamster out of heaven, as the case may be) and told them that I was the one who had called earlier. I looked into the little cage, and saw a white hamster, but it was not albino. It had dark little eyes peeking out from behind his fuzzy, white whiskers. There was no more time, so paid for this imposter, brought him home, and put him in the recently vacated cage.
When my daughter got home, it wasn’t long before she went to get Pikachu out of his cage. Soon, she came to me with a worried look on her face. “Pikachu is acting funny. And his eyes are all black.” I carefully examined “Pika-Two” (as I’d come to think of this replacement) and just like the Grinch, I thought up a lie and I thought it up quick. “Maybe he’s growing up, honey. Babies’ eyes change color and get darker when they grow up, you know.” She was still puzzled by the squirming annoyance her little friend seem to be exhibiting rather than his usual placid cooperation, but she accepted my explanation of the change in eye color.
A few years later, when Pika-Two went to his eternal rest, too, I didn’t attempt to replace him a second time. For quite a while, my daughter labored under the delusion that a normal lifespan for a hamster is over seven years, though.
When she was older, Pikachu the albino hamster came up in conversation, and someone unfamiliar with the old switcheroo questioned his unusually long life. I fessed up and explained to my daughter what had happened. She was shocked, but not upset. In fact she laughed and laughed, and I did too while describing the frantic search for a hamster body-double, and my improvised explanation of the changes in her friend. “At least I know now why he started biting me all of a sudden,” she said.