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An innocent sentiment to own a cuddly rodent turned one TBS’er into an accidental black market pet dealer. This is their story…
I’ve never been in trouble. Never got detention, didn’t drink until I reached the legal age, never had a speeding ticket. Now I’m a fully-fledged criminal.
This whole mess started because I simply couldn’t live without my childhood pet.
When I first moved to Australia, I was surprised to learn that many Australians think that hamsters are guinea pigs. They’re pretty easy to differentiate – hamsters are much smaller with a less squashed face.
I’ve now learnt that perhaps what separates hamsters most from guinea pigs is that they’re absolutely illegal.
It’s easy to love hamsters. They’re round, fluffy, active, inquisitive, friendly – all the cuteness that one could ask for in a pet. Growing up, I had a lot of them. One can rarely ever have just a few hamsters because – and this becomes important later – they breed like Catholics.
A few years ago I packed my bags in my home country to start a new life here in Australia. I got my apartment, settled into my job and it was only a matter of time before I’d go and get myself some hamsters.
So, I took myself up to the local pet shop.
The shop assistant, with spiky red hair and colourful tattoos, was busy feeding some fish. “Have you got any hamsters in?” I asked her.
“Yeah man, sure, they’re just over here!” She skipped over to a cage in the corner.
“Uh, these are guinea pigs. Do you have any hamsters?” I asked.
We had a bit of a back and forth. This girl was convinced that these were hamsters, that they’re just called guinea pigs here, that I’m probably used to a smaller breed. Finally, she got her manager.
“Oh, hamsters hamsters?” the manager asked me. “They’re not allowed in Australia.”
Are. You. Serious.
It made sense when she told me about the history of Australia’s rabbit problem. I found out that it wasn’t long after rabbits were introduced here that they quickly spread all over the land, breeding like mad, destroying the ecosystem. “We even have a rabbit proof fence,” the manager told me. Australia never wanted this to happen again and they decided that hamsters would do exactly the same thing.
I was devastated. I know that it’s completely understandable. I know that I’m an asshole for wanting a hamster. I know.
So, I went on a search to find one. Surely there are some somewhere? After a few attempts of rewording the sentence “black market hamster dealer” into Google, I gave up.
Soon thereafter, I went back home to visit my mom. I took one look at the cage, took one look at their furry little faces and puffy cheeks and I knew what I was going to do.
Smuggling Benny* back to Australia was terrifying. This country’s rules about what you can bring in are notorious. As I boarded off the plane and went through customs I was tense, sweating, trying not to think about the hamster squirming in my bra, or how those sniffer dogs could sit down in front of me at any moment, or what a cavity search feels like, or whether I’d survive in jail. A man in front of me had his boots taken away because they were muddy; another woman had her bag confiscated.
Then all of a sudden I was out of the airport. Benny and I had made it. I was a successful smuggler.
I set him up in a shiny new cage in my sunroom. Benny had almost a year of running on his spinning wheel, cuddling up to me in front of the television and puffing his cheeks up with seeds and grains before he got sick.
Usually, when a pet is sick one can go to the veterinarian. This was not an option. Benny would be put down immediately, I’d go to jail, get a criminal record. I spent a week Googling “black market vet” before Benny passed away.
I was inconsolable.
And if I told anyone about my illegal pet they wouldn’t be able to comfort me.
As time went on my tears dried up, his cage collected dust and I decided that I just absolutely needed another hamster.
I know, I know, I’m an asshole.
I went back to visit my mom. “Of course,” I said to myself. “I’ll bring in two this time, that way they can breed and I’ll never run out.”
The fear coming back on the plane was even more intense. Why was I doing this? Why was I putting Sasha* and Percy* at risk? Myself at risk? The entire bloody country at risk?
After nine months I had forty-two hamsters.
It was out of control. Their cage was full. I bought three more cages. I put my own rabbit proof fence in the sunroom.
After months of Googling, my Internet literacy improved. I came across the dark web. In between the drugs and hitmen, I found the exotic pet market.
As it turns out, there are lots of people in Australia who know the difference between hamsters and guinea pigs. There are lots of people with an insatiable desire to have Sasha and Percy’s offspring. And I’m the person to help them out.
From an innocent sentiment to own a cuddly rodent, I turned into a criminal. I am now a black market hamster dealer and I have no idea what the hell I am doing.
Sorry for putting your country at risk. I know I’m an asshole.
*names have been changed to protect identities.