Very early on Thursday morning, our little guy found out.
He actually woke us up on Wednesday night, a bit after midnight, squeaking. The Nibbler rarely did that. He was quiet in his happiness. He ran on his wheel, and dug around in his tunnels, and popped up whenever we came over to visit with him. Some dwarf hamsters are leery of handling, but he enjoyed running back and forth from hand to hand, and up and down arms. He would try to climb the outside of his wheel whenever we fed him - and especially his "Ratatouille" branded treats, shaped like little crunchy croissants. And he would take naps by propping himself up on his hanches and closing his eyes like a furry blue-gray Buddha. When we finally got a house instead of an apartment, we were able to put him in his ball and let him tool around the entire living room.
He would get "ball time" most often when we cleaned out the habitat. I can't tell if he was happy about the ball or just anxious that I was dismantling and reassembling his home, but he'd pop right up when I closed the little door between his main box and the tunnels. But yesterday morning, when I shut the door and took the tunnels away, he didn't budge. I dumped the old bedding and re-stuffed the two end boxes and I still didn't see him when I went back, and I knew. I tapped the box just to make sure, but he didn't come out of the cardboard tube he liked to sleep in. Sure enough, he was gone, and not for very long. He just looked asleep, and a little thinner maybe than usual. I also found a lot of uneaten food... My guess is, he had not felt well enough to eat, so he was just hoarding without actually eating at all, and we never knew it.
We buried our little guy in the yard, in his cardboard tube. Having no headstone on hand, and not thinking all too clearly, I grabbed what was already on hand and put it up as a tribute to the Nibbler - but in retrospect, I think that the message has a bit of an edge that I did not intend at all.
I'll fix it when I can. He was a terrific little critter and deserves better.
There's a minor debate among believers regarding pets and whether they gain any sort of eternal life. For what it's worth, I like CS Lewis' take on it, expressed best in the chapter in The Great Divorce where Sarah Smith comes into view, attended by a veritable crowd of such critters, even strays she found. The spirit of George MacDonald explains that the love of the saint has called them, love enough to wake all the dead things of the world to life, because it springs directly from Love Himself. And it makes sense to me. People usually treat pets like they were more than just animals; in fact, God treats us like more than we really are, thus helping us become what He means us to be. I think that the process may well carry along the chain, from us to the things we have loved on earth.
So little guy, may all your tunnels end in piles of croissants, until next time.