Against the Odds
Sadie Conway, ten years old, tapped the glass of the eye-level aquarium. Rather than holding fish, the glass box held an assortment of hamsters – most young, brown, and fuzzy, darting through plastic tubes on the cedar chip lined bottom of the tank, or nosing the ball at the bottom of the water tube, small bubbles rising up the plastic holder announcing their victory at securing a drink.
But Sadie’s eyes were fixed on another hamster at the back of the cage. He was curled up, his breathing rapid, and seemed oblivious to the antics of his fellow critters. When a blue jacketed employee wandered down the aisle, Sadie turned and stepped in front of him. She was accustomed, as a child, of being overlooked by adults, even those in service to customers.
“Is there something wrong with him?” she asked, pointing to the cage.
The man – a boy, really – bent and peered through the glass. “The one in the back?”
The boy squinted at the hamster. “Dunno. Probly not. You want me to check?”
Sadie nodded again, and the boy sighed, walking off.
Several moments later, the boy was back with a woman whose jacket was slightly different. She nodded without really looking into the tank.
“Oh yes, that one. He’s not sick, I don’t think, just older than the others. Sometimes they live a long time, but sometimes they seem to age quickly like this one. We’ll probably pull him out of there tomorrow. He’s a pretty depressing sight.”
She walked away without ever looking at Sadie. The boy glanced at her, shrugged, and also walked away.
Sadie sighed and, with another look at the sleeping hamster, turned and started home.
“There’s a dog rescue just for senior dogs – to give them a home at the end of their lives.”
Sadie’s sister, talking around her mouthful of baked chicken casserole, looked up at her mom. Sadie had just told the story about the hamster and how sad it made her.
“What do you think they’ll do when they take him out of the cage tomorrow?” Sadie asked, also looking at her mom.
The mom shook her head, forking some green beans. “I don’t know, honey. Doesn’t sound like they’ll be selling him, though.”
After a silence, the mom spoke again. “I had a friend in school who sold her horse. We all knew how much she loved that horse. When we asked her why she sold him, you know what he said?”
Both girls stared at their mom, forks mid-air, and shook their heads.
“She said, ‘Because he’s going to die.’ Well, we were horrified. We didn’t even know he was sick. But she explained that he was perfectly healthy and pretty young. But she had realized that one day he was going to die. The thought made her so scared that she decided she’d rather get rid of him now than go through that later.”
The girls looked at each other, then back at their mom.
“That’s nuts,” Sadie said.
Her mom nodded. “I thought so. But to her, the hurt now was worth the trade off of not feeling that grief later. Personally,” she added, “I felt sorriest for the horse. How was he to understand why she was getting rid of him? What if the next owner didn’t love him like that? Can you think of anything sadder than spending your final years alone? Sometimes people think too much of themselves. Those people adopting the senior dogs have just a short time with them, but cherish the time. Remember our motto…”
“No pain, no gain,” both girls recited quietly.
“It’s not just about exercise,” their mother finished.
Sadie stared at her plate. Thought about that horse. Thought about the hamster. When she lifted her head, her mother was already looking at her, smiling.
“I think the store’s open until nine,” her mother said, winking at her as she answered Sadie’s unspoken question.
Sadie’s face burst into a smile as she bolted from the table, barreling to her room for her allowance money. She and her sister were shouting appropriate names for a senior hamster to each other as the three headed for the car.