May 28, 2006
At the Hamster Hilton, a Little T.L.C. for the Furry Ones By SAKI KNAFO
ONE summer day in 2004, a 26-year-old fund-raiser for the Theater Development Fund, Jessica Wells, was walking along Broadway in Inwood in Upper
Manhattan near her apartment when she noticed something small and furry sniffing about the base of a trash can.
"What a weird rat!" she remembers thinking, noting the missing tail and thecreature's failure to scurry away when she drew closer.
Then it struck her: she had stumbled upon a stray hamster. Meeting up with the little animal, Ms. Wells said recently, was "one of those happy accidents that
happen in New York."
First, she rescued the hamster (and named it Kaiser Wilhelm). Then, she adopted several more. Finally, 11 months ago, Ms. Wells created the New York
Hamster House, which may be the city's only hamster shelter. The complex of wire cages, futuristic-looking plastic habitats and brightly colored exercise balls
is gradually taking over her one-bedroom apartment.
Ms. Wells, whose previous experience with pets was limited to dogs, has over the past year relieved more than a dozen people of hamsters they could no longer
support or tolerate. She has found homes for 15 hamsters and has taken care of more than 40, providing them not only with food and shelter and affection but
also with amusing new names in place of their invariably banal original ones.
(Fluffy is a particular favorite.)
Her current charges include a retired classroom pet and four 3-month-old sisters named Simone de Beauvoir, Marie Antoinette, Josephine Bonaparte and
Brigitte Bardot, which were handed to her on the corner of 145th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue by a stressed-out woman with a French accent.
"She thought she had two girl hamsters, and then, voilà, two weeks later she has 15 hamsters," Ms. Wells said. "That's where a lot of the hamsters come from.
People either buy a hamster that's pregnant, or they think they have two of the same gender and they don't."
Ms. Wells, who is lively and articulate, with gentle blue eyes, recently gave a guided tour of her surprisingly neat and odorless apartment. She started in
the living room, where the four "French ladies," as she calls them, dozed inside a stack of donated metal cages, while Blueberry — a hamster so vicious that Ms.
Wells has been unable to turn it over to ascertain its gender — pedaled furiously on an exercise wheel. A white dwarf hamster named Michael Bloomberg
ran around on the coffee table. "You're funny-looking, dude," Ms. Wells said affectionately as she scooped him up.
As he scrambled about within Ms. Well's cupped hands, one might never have guessed that the mayor's namesake had once been as skittish as a street mouse.
Ms. Wells credits the progress of the hamster Michael Bloomberg to a progressive regimen of touch therapy that she began administering shortly after his arrival
last October. She believes that residents of Hamster House often bear psychological scars of abuse: Michael Bloomberg, for example, came from an
apartment in Woodside, Queens, where he had been living with two other hamsters in a bucket.
Ms. Wells, who is single, grants that she may strike some people as a rodent version of "the crazy cat lady," but she draws a distinction between hoarding
animals and running a shelter. She is working on registering the Hamster House as a nonprofit organization, and she has launched a Web site:
www.thejessicawells.com, on which visitors can offer hamsters for adoption, or can request to adopt one of Ms. Wells's. Would-be adopters must sign an
official-looking contract with the New York Hamster House, which requires them to agree that "every hamster deserves a happy home."
Now, Ms. Wells has begun to diversify. Last month, she took in Hermann and Friedrich, a pair of abandoned gerbils someone found in a trash can in Fort
Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
Created 28 May 2006