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Kwyneth's story

By Kwyneth's owner.

Kwyneth wasn't likely. A few months before him, we had another hamster, who died from what was probably an accute organ failure. He was still young, but his breath was sounding weird, wheezing. One day, we started to worry, as we had not seen him in a while. After deliberation, we decided to dig into his abode, for we thought the need greater than any discomfort it might cause him. There, we could find his small unconscious body. But it was still possible that he was just hibernating - the flat had been quite cold that winter. We quickly phoned our veterinarian for an emergency appointment, then I scooped and carried him in my hands, hoping the warmth would wake him up. Eventually, we arrived. The vet was supportive, and did her best to check on him. Of course, we had been in denial all along - he had been dead since the night.

As is usually the case, you think you never want to go through that again. Then over time you mellow, and eventually you feel ready to try the experience again. One new day, we went to an animal shop. Hopeful, we got to the hamster cage - would there be anyone in there that could get along with us? Well, there didn't seem to be much going on in there. Maybe they were sold out, and we'd have to come back. I was a bit disappointed. But, wait, there's actually some movement in there! Yup, a small Russian dwarf. But, meh, already unconsciously, I feel against it. It's the last hamster in the bin, what could it mean? Also, am I even sure I want to do this again? We should just go to another shop, and not pick the last one out of desperation. Just to be fair, we stay a bit to observe. We weren't the only ones to do so. He was looking back at us, from behind the secure walls of his shelter inside the bin. Great. It's also a fearful one. Probably the reason why no one would pick it up. It's decided then, we'll just not waste any more time and go. But my husband insists. Ok, I put my hand close to the grid, a finger on it. What do you think, little one? Do you think I'm a predator to be avoided? I see him hesitate a bit, then all of a sudden, he inches closer, and, in a surprise move, starts licking my finger through the grid. Well, that was unexpected ... can we really leave this little prisoner all alone in here? Ok then, if he wants to come, let him come. We tell an uncertain employee that we want to buy that hamster. In confidence, he tells me he doesn't really like them hamsters, as they always screech so unpredictably when he tries to catch them for clients. We buy a transport bin, leave some food and hay in it, then put it in the larger bin. Eventually, the small animal moves in, no screeches there, all is fine. Forward to our home.

We had already prepared a cage, just in case. Now is the time to move our little pensionary to his new home. Opening the transport bin, hi there little hammy ^^. ... greeted by a terrible screech. Wow. Ok, I guess I'll have to leave you alone for a moment. In the end, we decide to just leave the transport bin in his cage and have him decide when to get out ... yep, better that way. He was really agile. I mean, other hamsters had been able to grip the vertical bars of the cage to climb, but not much more. Our new hamster was, erm, so lively, that he did even just literally run on the horizontal roof of his cage. Until that day.

This was our second and last screech. We did see it even. He was pawing his way along the roof of his cage, quickly and without surcease. Then all of a sudden, his strength gives way to exhaustion. His hindlegs slip, he holds by only his forelegs, desperately trying to cling. Without success though, as his strength eventually wanes, and then he falls. Ok, to be expected. But not by him. If his screeches after transportation were loud, these were deafening. To this day, we still don't know what could possibly have happened in his mind. Our own romanced story is that he just got so pissed at the cage for not being shaped in a way he could use to walk the roof, that he just started screeching at it. Slowly, an identity was being accreted.

Before saying more of this, I must make explicit that we don't name our animals for a while after acquiring them. We use temporary names, but ultimately a name is something that must correspond to you, something you earn - not something is thrown casually and without meaning. And thus, at some point, we decided to name him by the noises he made, those berserk screeches, just as his frantic use of his squeaking running wheel. Couinette it would be. Or rather, Kwyneth as it would become, for being more original, and closer to an existing surname. Oh yes, we initially didn't have any idea what his gender was, but since no external signs were visible, we assumed he was a female. Then somehow, at some point, it became shockingly obvious this wasn't a correct assumption. Kwyneth then. Although, for years after, we'd still refer to him as a "her", for the habit had been strong already.

Our years with him were quite hectic. At first we had ourselves a perfect pet. You could just fetch him from his bin - at some point we decided a large plastic bin, without bars would be better for his sanity, and ours. And he'd just let himself be petted. But over time this changed. I cook a lot (I love to optimize nutrition and taste). My hands are probably smelling of food all the time. And Kwyneth was under caloric restriction for his health and longevity. So it was that I became the "food human". Biting me became commonplace - much less so for my husband, whose fingers apparently didn't possess that ineffable food quality. Kwyneth's legend was accruing. He was fast becoming the "food hamster". Nothing seemed to displease him, his appetites unsatiables. Until he had a head-to-head with turmeric root. Boy did he disdain that one. We spent a few years together. Winters gave way to summers. Kwyneth would just sleep out, as if dead on his back, unable to cope with the heat. Whenever possible though, he'd stay in his coconut shelter - a completely isolated, impregnable fortress, where he'd ignore us no matter how we tried to catch his attention - we decided to go along with it, and pretend he was indeed invisible when there. Over time, he became more tame again. Now he'd start to try and communicate by making some short squeaking noises when he desired our attention. Like, when he wanted to wake us us to get up early to provide him with his beloved food. His was a presence for us, everyday. The same routine of weighting him, checking on his health, living on the side and having him interact with us on his own terms. He was a very healthy hamster, we made sure of that by providing him with the best diet and anti-aging treatment we could. He also did his part, by exercising a lot on his disk (not a wheel anymore at this point).

Then at some point, he became sick. It wasn't immediately obvious, but he slowly stopped eating correctly. Once we realized it, we went to the veterinarian. Apparently, he had managed to break one of his teeth while opening and enlarging a secondary entrance to his coconut dwelling. And it had progressed to a point where it had gone pretty bad, pretty far already. The broken tooth had given way to an infection that had propagated to his jawbone. Our veterinarian tried her best to operate him. And succeeded, against all expectations. Kwyneth was in an ok state of health again. But we had had our first intimation of his frailty. And this one mistake of not noticing this problem soon enough would come back to haunt us again in time.

From there on, Kwyneth would never be quite the same. Antibiotics would be needed regularly to contain the infections that would regularly contaminate him again from that broken tooth. We'd need to be extra careful for he wouldn't be quite as healthy as before. But in a way, it was still business as usual. He'd just squeak for us more, and be generally more needy for our presence, and less interested in food. We did go back to the vet a few times, every time the situation seemed to require it.

Then one day it became obvious that Kwyneth was not going to last for much longer. The legendary food hamster wasn't really interested in feeding himself anymore. His pelt was getting less clean. One day, by coincidence, as it is often the case, we saw a mention by Elena Milova that she was fondly remembering her cat, who had been cryopreserved by KrioRus. And we both are very convinced transhumanists. Cryonics wasn't really such a weird idea to begin with. We asked Elena about the whole process - how hard would it be? It turned out, less hard than we had expected, though still not a simple matter. Kwyneth was dwindling. We had to make a call. Soon, we'd be absent from our home. We could either leave Kwyneth there, alone, sick. We could also leave him at the veterinarian's place, under care. But in his state, he'd still very likely die before we came back in any case. And then what? Likely, he'd just have vanished, like so many others, humans and animals before, on his way to being a decaying corpse. So, you know, there has to be a point where you draw a line in the sand. Kwyneth was a very small animal. We're not exactly rich, but for a hamster, stretching our resources a little, cryonics would be a possibility. That's one step in the right direction. And so we decided to have him euthanised, then cryonically suspended. This was by no mean an easy decision. Even though we were convinced already this was for the best, the emotional and social hardships of this decision are still with us. Not everyone around us agreed with this decision. Some called it a scam, some called it excessive. And of course this is a large sum of money to be spent on a hamster, which is, after all, just a 5 euros buy in any shop - rinse and replace. But what is the value of life, especially an innocent life such as his? And what is the value of the feelings and habits we developped with him? There was no question that these were invaluable already. So there was no other choice for us really.

I'll share something of those last moments we had. We came to the vet, as per our appointment. She told us she'd put him to sleep, and then inject barbiturates in his liver. Before coming, we had to force him out of his nest - out of his impregnable coconut. This was no time to fool around anymore after all. Of course, I felt guilty to do that, for I knew this was leading him to his euthanasia. We fed him a last meal - he didn't eat much from it though. Then it was time to go. Once again, we had to scoop him from his transport bin against his will- the very same we had bought and used to carry him to our home a few years ago.

Then after saying goodbye, we left him in the veterinarian's care. Denial is a strong force. When after a while the vet came back, she asked me,

"do you want to hold him"? I was like, sure.

"By the way, you've just put him to sleep yet, right?"

"No, he has already been injected. He is dying".

I lowered my eyes to the small body in my hands, the glazed, wide-open eyes, the fast, labouring breathing that was clearly becoming slower. Realizing I had indeed taken the decision to have him killed, with all the implications. And that didn't even matter anymore. There was no more time for more emotions. Any moment wasted was going to lower his future chance of survival, whatever those may be. I wrenched myself from the macabre spectacle. Time to put him in the care of Roman, for transport and preparation for cryopreservation. For that was the only way, in this time and age, that anyone can have a better than zero chance of being alive, well, and with friends and loved ones again at some point in the future. No matter how weird it could still feel, no matter how wrong and sad the situation could feel emotionally, even for nerds like us who thought ourselves prepared. And so we carried on the whole process of having Kwyneth cryopreserved. And now it behoves us to steer the world to a state where people who don't want to be torn apart from each other can actually have a fighting chance at finding each other again.

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