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Trainer Pets: An Interview with My Son, Silas

A dad, a son, and a small, furry creature. But is a hamster any kind of a substitute for a dog?

Dog in a Hamster Wheel

Illustration by Aaron Stewart

For some time now, my son, Silas, has been asking for a dog. But this past holiday season, rather than present him with a puppy, my wife and I bought him a hamster. We believed that perhaps the ten-year-old could learn a thing or two about taking care of a pet—a pet hamster, as it were—before graduating to the more demanding levels of animal-care that come with dog ownership. After five months with his hamster, whom Silas named Peri (short for Periwinkle II), I sat down with my child to find out his thoughts on trainer pets and whether or not the experience has been at all beneficial. Here is our conversation:



Dad: For Christmas this past year you asked for a dog but received a hamster.

Silas: Yes.

Dad: The hamster was a trainer pet for the dog you want so badly.

Silas: I want a dog. That's true.

Dad: What was your experience when you first thought of the hamster coming into your life as a way for you to potentially build up those muscles for having a more demanding pet?

Silas: I kind of just thought that we would immediately be friends. But no, that didn't happen. In fact, I may or may have not already given up on that.

Dad: Do you feel like you were always thinking of Peri as the dog you didn't have yet?

Silas: Yes.

Dad: Do you feel like that affected your relationship?

Silas: I don't know. I just…I really wanted a dog, and when I heard 'trainer pet,' I thought, 'Oh, this could help my chances.'

Dad: Do you feel like there's anything you could learn from a hamster as far as taking care of it and applying those lessons to a dog?

Silas: No, because they're such different animals. Except for, like, filling their food and water bowl—or the bottle that you put on the side of the cage, in the hamster's case.

"When I try to hang out with Peri she either backs away or bites me."

Dad: Could you talk about the day you came to me and you were pretty much in tears because you were over Peri, the hamster, and you were ready to move onto a dog?

Silas: That happened?!

Dad: Yes. You came to me, you were very upset, and you told me you didn't want Peri, that you weren't interested in Peri, that you wanted a dog.

Silas: Yeah. I don't really think so, but that is kind of my mindset. I'm just not really doing anything with Peri. At this point, it's just you who's best friends with her.

Dad: Can you talk about the fact that Peri and I have developed a relationship? That that has been the actual outcome of this experiment? And, has that been strange to watch?

Silas: Ah, no, because I haven't even been watching. Most of the time that you talk to Peri is when you're on the toilet. [Silas erupts in laughter.]

Dad: That's true. Peri's cage is in the bathroom, after all.

Silas: Yes.

Image of the author's son, Silas, on Christmas Day, 2020, meeting the hamster for the first time

Silas meeting Periwinkle II on Christmas Day, 2020. Their relationship declined sharply over the months to follow.

Photo by Julian Tepper

Dad: So, can you talk about the dog you want to get? What does that dog look like, and how does it differ from Peri?

Silas: First off, I would prefer it if it were a very playful dog. So, that's immediately a difference that comes to mind. When I try to hang out with Peri she either backs away or bites me.

Dad: I know.

Silas: Peri just doesn't really like me.

Dad: Do you feel like you ever want to take Peri on a walk?

Silas: [laughs] No! Definitely not.

Dad: If I bought you a leash that could fit Peri, would you take her on a walk?

Silas: No.

Dad: When you get a dog, will you take your dog on a walk?

Silas: Yes! Most definitely. I'm just more attached to dogs than hamsters. It's easier to get attached to one.

Dad: Because hamsters just don't really want to play?

Silas: They're not really part of your life.

Dad: The doorbell rings, hamsters don't run from their cages and greet you at the door…

Silas: But a dog would.

"She's a very small rodent in a slightly bigger cage...."

Dad: Should you get this dog, are you worried that Peri might become jealous of the dog and the attention it's shown?

Silas: Even if that does happen, how would Peri show it? She's a very small rodent in a slightly bigger cage.

Dad: Do you feel that if we get a dog, Peri would then become my pet, or would Peri still be your pet?

Silas: I don't think that Peri would be my pet anymore. I think that you're more attached to Peri. Honestly, at this point, I barely even consider Peri my pet.

Dad: Ouch.

Silas: Peri's just more yours. So, congratulations, Dad.

Dad: Thanks. Would you say that the trainer pet was a total fail?

Silas: Yes. A total fail.

Dad: I would like you to know that I appreciate that you welcomed Peri into our home and gave it your best. And, I love you. We'll see about a dog.

Silas: I hope we do.

Two days after this interview was conducted, Periwinkle II escaped her cage and has not been seen since.



Julian Tepper
@juliantepper

Julian Tepper is the author of three novels, Balls, Ark, and Between the Records, as well as many essays, including the notorious, "In Which Philip Roth Gave Me Life Advice," which originally appeared in The Paris Review. He lives in New York City.

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