The crime of manslaughter is when you kill another human being without malice aforethought, which is just a fancy way of saying you didn’t spend any time planning to do it. If you spend any time at all planning to kill someone, then you’re up for a degree of murder, like first or second. You will most likely be guilty of manslaughter, and likely convicted of it, if you kill someone, say, by running them over with your car. If you kill a hamster, accidentally, you won’t be guilty of manslaughter, because there is no crime of “hamsterslaughter”. Killing a hamster can have long-lasting and far-reaching effects though.
I can still hear the crack of the little rodent’s neck as it snapped under the full weight of my teenage foot. He didn’t feel a thing. My older sister, seventeen at the time, had been playing with the hamster in the doorway of the kitchen. I had simply stepped over her leg blocking the entry, and came right down on the scurrying critter. Death was instantaneous, as was hysterical screaming from the person sitting in the doorway that was entrusted to its care. In her defense, she tried gallantly to grab Speedy before my foot landed on his head, but he was too fast for her, but not for my foot. In my defense, I had no idea what the hell she was doing sitting across the doorway and was aggravated that I had to step over her to get into the kitchen in the first place. I have no idea why I was going to the kitchen, but motive isn’t necessary for my defense in this case.
I can still hear her screaming at me, and then crying as she held the mangled hamster corpse up, hoping somehow my all too accurate step hadn’t been fatal. I didn’t know what to say, so I berated her for playing with the damn thing in the middle of a doorway. How stupid could she be? How could his death be my fault? I clearly had no intention of stepping on it, thus there was not a scintilla of malice aforethought. The real problem was, the hamster belonged to my younger brother, and he was right fond of it. He wasn’t anywhere around when it happened. He was outside playing, I guess. And to make matters worse, the sister in the doorway, didn’t exactly have permission to be playing with it.
The plan formed quickly. Hamsters all look-alike don’t they? We could run interference for a time, keep the kid busy, until we could run down to Woolworth’s and get a replacement hamster. We stick him in the cage and no one, particularly little brother, is none the wiser. Big sister was off and I headed out back to find Speedy’s owner. The deceased was unceremoniously put in a shoe box, and I put him out in the garage for later burial.
Big sister returned in short order with a replacement hamster that looked to me like it could be Speedy’s twin brother. Although it’s difficult to determine the sex of a fluffy dwarf hamster, the Woolworth’s clerk, who sold her the thing, said he was a boy. Yeah, I know, check between his little legs but that’s not easy either, and this guy wouldn’t let us do it. It was also a fluffy hamster so their equipment can be largely hidden. She put him in the cage and we went back to our usual routines. Little brother had no idea what had transpired.
When he went to get his hamster after dinner, we mulled around to see if he would notice anything. He looked into the cage at the replacement hamster and didn’t seem to realize it wasn’t the same one he had left in there the day before. He put his hand in the cage to get Speedy II, and the critter proceeded to try and snap off his finger. The original Speedy did not bite or, at least, had never bitten him before. Speedy II was a carnivore.
I don’t know to this day why we contrived to replace the stepped on Speedy with the new hamster. Guilt maybe. Maybe we didn’t want to upset my little brother for something we had not wanted to happen in the first place. Maybe we just didn’t want to answer for the crime.
And why did this come up in my conscious mind again after 49 years? Because I still feel bad about it. My brother claimed over the years that he knew it wasn’t the same hamster right away, but he never said anything. Needless to say, he didn’t have the same relationship with Speedy II that he had with Speedy, and I have no idea what ever happened to the little rodent; probably died. They don’t have the longest of life spans; staying alive, without being stepped on, for maybe three years. Little brother probably remembers.
Another more sinister hamster death occurred in Tucson, Arizona, in the frigid closet of my youngest daughter. She was clearly guilty of “Hamstercide.” The little rodent had a habit of running in his hamster wheel in the middle of the night. Hamsters are nocturnal animals. They are awake in the dark, not so much during the day. So running in his exercise wheel was a natural thing for him to be doing at 3 am, but the damn thing was noisy.
So when the daughter couldn’t sleep on a cold January night, she decided to put the hamster in her closet so she wouldn’t hear it. That, in my mind, was malice aforethought. When she was moving the cage in the dark, she spilled water out on wood chips in the bottom of the cage. The hamster got wet, and in temperatures in the 20s, the little dude froze to death. The closet didn’t get any heat when the door was closed. Of course, we figured all of this out the next morning when she removed the hamster from the closet and noticed he wasn’t moving. Like I always say, ignorance of the law is not a defense. Good thing there are no laws against freezing hamsters to death. I still call her a hamster murderer. Takes one to know one.