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Hamster Wrangler on the Set

Posted: January 24, 2014, 2:45 p.m. EDT


By Elizabeth Creith

In 2011 we had a brief brush with Hollywood. The movie "Foxfire” was shooting on location in Sault Ste Marie and Animalia was supplying set dressing in the form of animals for the pet store in the movie. We didn't have to supply 1950s-looking cages; the set dresser was in charge of that. We'd taken the finches, fish, hamsters and one lone iguana down the night before, and our job on the day was simply to keep the animals watered, fed and comfortable through shooting. An easy gig, or so we thought.

It was just past 7:00 a.m. when David and I arrived on the set. Shooting was to start at 8:00 a.m. On Gore Street the twenty-first century had been rolled back. The 1950s ruled, and the set dresser was about to make a change. Our powder-coated hamster cages looked too modern.

"We think this one looks better, don’t you?” she said in a soft Middle European accent. "We were going to change them last night, but we thought maybe they bite. So we waited for you.” She showed us a rabbit cage; it was made of welded mesh in one-inch squares with a metal base.

"Yikes!” was the first thing out of my mouth.

Hamster
iStock/Thinkstock

"You need something with smaller gaps,” David said. "They can get out of that easily.”

"But they're so fat!” the set dresser protested. "In this cage, it will be better.” She looked at the hamsters, pressing their fat little faces to the bars of their powder-coated prison. We looked at the hamsters. The hamsters made puppy eyes.

"Yes, we're so fat,” their little faces said. "Oh, please, oh, please, oh, please! In that cage we will be better!”

For about five seconds, we knew; then they'd suck in that fat and pop through the wire like it wasn't even there. Hamsters have little teeny skulls, with little teeny brains in them, and where that skull can go, the whole critter can go. Even if those hamsters had been as fat as softballs, we wouldn't have seen them for dust.

Reluctantly, the set dresser brought out some smaller cages. These were clearly made for birds, with spaces for bird food dishes. They looked like they'd been used to house finches on the Ark, and the proper dishes were missing. So were some of the wires.

We blocked the food dish gaps with cardboard and duct tape, and pinched the wires to fill in missing spaces. In just ten seconds one hamster, eyes bulging, had forced herself between two pinched-together wires and the escape committee had teams of gnawers taking out the cardboard with impressive speed. Hamsters were popping out in every direction.

Over the next three-quarters of an hour we improvised with everything we could find while actors, director, cameramen and all waited to start. Eventually, the electrical team found us some wire and we were able to make the cages hamster-tight. It was like "The Great Escape”, except I don't think there were people standing around Stalag Luft 13 cooing, "Aren't they cute!” while the kommandant cut his fingers twisting wire over the holes.

Finally, the Great Hamster Escape was contained. I hate to think what that lost shooting time cost the film company. It's all for art, I suppose. I have yet to see "Foxfire” in the video stores. If I do, you can bet I'll be renting it, and watching the credits for the Hamster Wrangler.

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