Before the Insanity, Part Drei

The very first living creature for whom I ever had complete responsibility was a gerbil. His name was Elmo. He was black and white, which cost me an extra two dollars. I was thirteen and wanted to go all out. This was before the age of digital cameras so I don’t have a photo of Elmo. He looked a lot like this guy.


Only fatter.

My younger sister also purchased a gerbil at the same time. She named him Frenchie. At the time I remember we thought these names hilarious. I can’t recall why. I can’t even recall why we wanted gerbils in the first place. Frenchie was a “non-fancy” so he was cheaper. He looked something like this guy.


Only more evil.

On average gerbils live up to three years of age. Elmo lasted about that long. Frenchie, however, lived much longer. I believe we had him for at least five and a half years. Four years too long. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My sister and I had all sorts of plans for our new rodent friends. My parents paid for the cage, bedding, exercise wheel, and food. It was our job to take care of them. Because I had a friend who had an endless succession of hamsters growing up, all the way to Fluffy IX, I figured myself the expert on gerbil rearing so I got to have them in my bedroom first. We planned on switching every other month, but as the oldest I knew I would find a way to extend my time with them when the month was up.

For the first few days everything was awesome. We got a little plastic ball we would put them in and watch them roll around the house. Again, I have no idea why we found this so amusing. Most of the time they would just stand there urinating until we took them out. Poor little souls. It was even fun cleaning their cage.  We put them in a large cardboard box and took turns making sure they didn’t jump out while the other dumped the litter. I loved holding them, even when they tried to eat my fingers. Their little claws scraping at my skin for dear life made me giggle. I tried to teach them to use their exercise wheel but neither seemed all that interested. Maybe if clicker training had been more popular back then I would have had more success. For the most part all they did during the day was sleep and poop. I grew bored.


Gerbils, apparently, are nocturnal. I read this in the little booklet the pet store gave us but didn’t give it much thought. After a week, I realized what exactly this means. Though utterly dull during waking hours, at night the little jerks would come alive, squeaking on their wheel, burrowing in their bedding, scratching at the floor of their cage, and banging their water bottle against the metal bars. They made a complete mess of my bedroom carpet with the gerbil litter flying all over the place. Essentially, they drove me up the wall. With two weeks of very little sleep, it was time to call it quits.

“Hey, Joanna!” I called to my sister. “Since I am the best sister ever, I have decided to let you have Frenchie and Elmo for a little while.”

“Really??! Yay!” cried my unwitting sibling. “Thank you so much!”


Naturally, it wasn’t too long before she realized the problem with gerbils and wanted to give them back. This continued on and off for awhile. Her forcing them back on me, me forcing them back on her, each of us dreading our time with the nasty buggers. Eventually my parents had enough of our arguing and made a place for the cage in our family room.

At this point it was about a year in and we were done with finding them at all amusing. Taking care of them became just another chore. Except for routine cleanings and feedings, Frenchie and Elmo were left to their own devices. Probably the way they preferred it.

And then, tragedy struck. At about the age of three, Frenchie had had enough of his fancy friend. Maybe he was tired of Elmo eating all the food, maybe he was tired with Elmo taking up all the space in their little house, maybe he just felt like being evil. Either way, the brown gerbil decided the cage wasn’t big enough for two of them and committed rodenticide. My mother was the first one to find the body. I still don’t know what she did with him and I’d like to keep it that way. While I was a little sad that my dream of a gerbil friend had ended so violently, I don’t think I lost much sleep over it. Poor Elmo.

It was two more years before Frenchie finally passed. I can only assume it was old age. He lived quite happily alone in the mean time. All the food, bedding, and wheel time he could ever dream of, without too many grabby human hands. Since he was my sister’s gerbil, I made her do most of the work. After all, I couldn’t be expected to be nice to Elmo’s murderer.

For a little while, after they both were gone, I felt bad we hadn’t spent more time with them. Though now I think they probably preferred it that way. It was probably the secret to Frenchie’s longevity. In all those years – other than to defecate in their plastic ball – they never once got free of their cage. They never once knew what it felt like to roam free.

I don’t think I would ever get a gerbil as a pet again. They are too much work for so little reward. And if I ever have children and they decide it is what they want most in the whole world?

I will tell them to go play with the dog.

27 thoughts on “Before the Insanity, Part Drei

  1. I had no idea gerbils would do each other in. So sad for Elmo. I had guinea pigs once upon a time. I’m with you. I prefer pets that aren’t palm sized and caged. Good story.


    • My sister once brought home the classroom guinea pig for a few weeks. All I remember was the smell. I think he bit me several times.

      Dogs it is!


  2. Awwww! Poor Elmo! Frenchie does look like a very evil gerbil! You can see it in her eyes that she is always plotting…

    I would never want a pet where I have to clean its cage or tank. I’m a happy dog owner and that’s the way I like it 🙂


    • Ugh, agreed with you on the tank. We have a fishtank, or rather, the husband has a fishtank. That thing requires so much work and it is just not for me.


  3. I had hamsters when I was a kid. I think I had 3 total. They didn’t last as long as your gerbils did. The third one I had ended up being pregnant when I got her (I didn’t know this when I got her…frankly, I didn’t even know if it was a girl or boy) and had one little hamster baby 3 days after we got her. The good mama took care of the baby for 2 weeks until one day the baby was gone. Mama had eaten the baby in its entirety!! Yuck. I don’t even remember that hamster’s name now. That little act of homicide made me get over my want of hamsters. Now I’m a dog person.



    • Yuck! Though I’ve heard that rodents can be carnivorous like that. All the more reason to stick with dogs and cats, I say.


  4. Ha ha ha! Your post brought back the days when my sister and I both had hamsters! Oh, we both got Teddy Bear Hamsters the first night, brought them home and my sister’s promptly bit her on the end of the nose. She had a little scar there for the longest time. He went back to the pet store in the morning. She got another one who lived for a while until one night the towel covering his cage slid loose and allowed him to escape. She got one more, a tiny little powder puff looking cutie who lived for about a year. My hamster lived a long three years before dying of old age. I never did like cleaning his cage!


  5. Oh my gosh, that was such a tragic story, but I admit I laughed through it too. Poor Elmo! Plus, I learned something – I had no idea gerbils had such a short lifespan. Good for me to know all this, though. I didn’t know anything about gerbils.


  6. this is the greatest post ever. seriously. i felt like i was having a good posting day today, but yours totally dominates mine. way to go girl!
    as an aside, i too had gerbils. i named them chip and dale, which i also thought was HILARIOUS. in the end, dale (the fat one) killed and partially ate chip (the evil one). luckily i was too young to really be traumatized by it at the time!

    follow our foster:


    • Really? I haven’t seen your post yet but I am sure my weirdo rant about my stinky rodents has not beaten it.

      That is so hilarious (in a weird way) that your gerbil also turned out to be slightly cannibalistic! Maybe I’m just glad I am not the only one? My sister has yet to live it down. Though, I am glad you were too young to be traumatised. Gerbil ownership is not for the faint of heart, evidently.


  7. LOL. This was a hysterical post.

    My first pet was a chameleon, who refused to eat anything but live crickets. Stupid crickets would chirp all night.


  8. “in the “mean” time”…..evil Frenchie. Never have had rodents, never wanted them and now definitely won’t; besides, the hounds would get them for a snack no matter how safe I tried to make them. Hilarious story…


  9. But…but…I WANT one of those! I keep telling mom I would take care of it and make sure it was exercised real good. But mom feels like you do. That they’re a lot of work for not very much reward. So, uh, I don’t think I’m going to show her this postie. Sorry.

    Wiggles & Wags,


  10. Love that story! It reminds me of the gerbils I got right after I got married (yes, I blush to report that I got them as an adult). The apartment we lived in didn’t allow dogs and I had to have SOME kind of pet. After a year and a move to a place that DID allow dogs, they were given to a young neighbor who was thrilled to have the little guys.


  11. That’s pretty much what our parents told us. I really wanted a rodent for awhile; we had 2 dogs, 2 cats, 3 birds, some fish and a turtle, but I was convinced that was what I really wanted. We actually still have that turtle. He lives at my parent’s house in Memphis, and we’ve had him for 26 years! Every time I visit, they keep trying to get me to take him back because he was my turtle.


  12. Apart from dogs, I have never had any other little creatures with me and the smallest animal that I have had so far is Eva. I know so many kids like to have a hamster or gerbil but Rosie was never interested in anyone of them at all, she just wants dogs and more dogs. So it is so interesting for me to read about Elmo and Frenchie.


  13. I’ve never been fond of gerbils since they look so much like rats. Yuck!! My first pet was my cat, Snowball. I’ve also had an assortment of fish over the years, which I have really enjoyed. From time to time, I’ve thought of getting a bird, but I always find it kind of sad to keep a bird in a cage. I still think that dogs make the best pets!


  14. My parents were the ones who made weird pet decisions in our house. Our first puppy was 1/4 wolf (I loved him, but I have to ask, what were my parents thinking?).

    They eventually decided that we needed to have parakeets. Now I’m a bit frightened of birds up close so this wasn’t fun. And they have short life spans and are very subject to respiratory ailments.

    Each time a parakeet got sick and died, I cried my eyes out. And my parents got me another one (that I didn’t want either). It got sick and died and I cried my eyes out.

    It was years before the carnage stopped. I still can’t figure out why my parents kept torturing me.

    Thanks for sharing a “real world” story of small pets in the lives of kids. It’s not a Disney movie, is it?


  15. I loved my gerbils! I had a very elaborate habitrail in my room and tended to them daily, so amused by their antics. Until, yes, another case of rodenticide, I had left for school and everything was fine and dandy. Mommy and the babies in the little pent/treehouse. Dad on the wheel. Home. No babies, except for a random foot, and fat daddy. The father ate the babies! I was traumatized. Our big old tomcat Blue ending up knocking one of the tubes loose and killing them weeks later, I mourned the mom, not so much the dad.

    Give me my big furry pup Cheddar any day! Much more amusing and not a murdering bone in his body.


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