Stories about People and Pets

Hooray for Hamsters!
Sharon Romm

An adorable, furry pet small enough to hold in the palm of a child’s hand? Not much bother and not much care needed? Well: Yes and No! There is no doubt that a pet hamster, with its tiny nose, round eyes, and silky fur can capture the heart of a human of any age. But hamsters are complex animals that require considerable attention and specialized care. They’re promoted as a fine child’s pet but, because they require a good deal of attention and gentle handling, they might be less than ideal for an unsupervised youngster.


Classified as rodents, there are 19 recognized species of which the best known is the golden or Syrian hamster, the type most commonly kept as pets along with three dwarf varieties. Today’s entire population of pet and laboratory Syrians are descendants of a brother-sister pair captured in Aleppo, Syria in 1930 and brought to Jerusalem by an Israeli zoologist. 

Typically stout-bodied, they wear a thick fur coat that comes in many colors including stripes. The smallest dwarfs are no more than 2 ¼ inches long and the largest, the European hamster, can measure up to 15 inches. All hamsters have very sharp upper and lower incisors that grow continuously and must be regularly worn down by eating appropriate foods.  All have spacious cheek pouches used in the wild to carry food to underground storage chambers. When full, pouches can make heads appear double in size.

Hamsters are nocturnal or “crepuscular,” that is they live underground during the day and only leave their outdoor burrows or their indoor cage for activity at dawn and dusk. In nature, they hibernate to reduce the need for food during the winter. Although pet hamsters don’t hibernate, they still keep to a schedule that includes daytime sleep and nighttime activity, a problem for those who prefer pet interaction when the sun is shining.


Hamsters generally make good family pets but these fragile creatures require much care. As solitary animals intolerant of their own kind, each individual needs a separate cage. They require a cool, draft-free environment free from high frequency sounds such as those from the TV or computer.  To keep the hamster healthy and happy, their sleep schedule must be respected. As great escape artists, the cage has to be secure and sufficiently large to provide room for hiding, playing and exercise.

Hamsters are good company. They enjoy interacting with their guardians but can easily become frightened and aggressive. With proper socialization, the hamster will bond with his particular human. Since vision is poor, the hamster gets to know his person by sight, touch, sound and scent.

Hamsters live, on average, about two years and are prone to a variety of illnesses. They need regular veterinary care, ideally provided by an exotic animal specialist.


Hamster shows are similar to those of larger animals. Rules are strict with only standard display pens allowed. Competing hamsters are provided snacks of fruit but not standard hamster chow because stuffing it’s capacious cheek pouches distorts the appearance of its head.  Hamster judging is based on breed standards of conformation, color and fur.


Like other rodents, hamsters are naturally motivated to run on a wheel. Wild rodents will run on a wheel installed in a field and captive animals use their wheels even when provided with other types of enrichment activities. Running can be so intense that their tiny feet can be injured but still they keep on running.

How much energy can your hamster generate on his running wheel? Scientists actually considered how many hamsters on electricity generating wheels would be required to provide enough energy for an average American household. Conclusion: 2,465 hamsters with infinite stamina and no sleep requirement could electrify your home for a year!

Time to stock up on hamster chow!

The Unique Dogs of Japan
Sharon Romm

Japan is a dog-friendly country!  This nation has a population of approximately 126 million people who enjoy the companionship of 10 million registered dogs. In general, Japanese city dwellers favor small breeds that adapt to the limited space of urban life while larger dogs are found in the country where they have the freedom to run.

Dogs have featured in Japanese history and culture since reported domestication as early as 10,000 BCE. In the Edo period of the 17th to 19th centuries, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi the Shogun (military ruler) and ardent Buddhist, became known as the “Inu (dog) Shogun because of his strict regulations guaranteeing protection to the dogs of Japan.  Children enjoy the gentle folk legend of Hanasaka jiisan introduced in the 19th-century where a beloved white dog restores life to a withered cherry tree.

Japanese dogs originate in several of the country’s regions, many of which are cold and mountainous. Bred to assist their masters in hunting boar and bear, they gained the reputation of endurance, strength and unwavering loyalty. After Japan opened itself to Western influence in the late 19th-century, pure Japanese breeds were crossed with Western dogs. An example is the massive Tosa, a 200-pound dog bred for fighting and likened to a sumo wrestler. The Tosa’s bloodlines include the Mastiff and Great Dane and, because of their potential for aggression, ownership is banned in some countries.

There are six dogs of pure Japanese lineage, ranging in size from 20 to 100 pounds. In the mid-1930’s, the Japanese government declared these breeds “National Treasures.” Some are rare enough to fear that they might become extinct. Others have prospered because of their popularity from international attention. Some breeds are exclusive to Japan while others have limited availability in other countries.

The Akita is one of the six Japanese dogs designated as “National Treasures.”  Originating in northern Japan, these highly regarded dogs are large, gentle and particularly loyal to adults and to the children with whom they live. The story of Hachiko, a golden-brown Akita, is  legend.

Hachiko lived with Professor Ueno who taught at the Tokyo Imperial University. Ueno commuted to work by train and Hachiko greeted him upon his arrival at Shibuya Station at the end of the day. After a year of this routine, Ueno died while lecturing and didn’t appear at the train station where Hachiko waited. Every day for the next nine years, Hachiko returned at precisely the time when Ueno’s train was to arrive.  Because of faithfulness to his master’s memory, Hachiko became a national symbol of the spirit of family loyalty and is now immortalized in statues, books and popular media.

Another “National Treasure” is the Shiba Inu, a smaller dog that can adapt to apartment living. The Shiba has easily become the most popular Japanese breed. With its curled tail, affectionate nature and boundless energy, it’s a popular companion dog in Japan and the United States. Maru, is a Shiba with the largest number of followers to an Instagram dog account. 2.5 million people follow the happenings of this cheerful, photogenic dog.

Japanese dogs are admired in Japan and around the world. May they continue as devoted companions and energetic workers and may the six native breeds prosper!

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