Kaiser Wilhelm started it all.
Wilhelm was the hamster Jessica Wells found crossing Broadway during a walk home nearly three years ago. “I had been shoe shopping that day, which was really lucky,” said Wells, 30. “So I took the shoes outside and put the box on the sidewalk.”
Wilhelm walked straight into the box and the New York Hamster House was born. Local shelters do not accept hamsters, inspiring Wells begin taking them in.
Run out of her one-bedroom apartment in Inwood, Wells currently houses 22 hamsters and other small animals. Cages are neatly lined up against the overflowing bookshelves in the living room.
For a room with so many animals living in it, it was surprising quiet on a recent Sunday. This all changes come nightfall — the cacophony of the hamsters squeaking, running on their wheels and shredding cardboard boxes can regularly be heard. “I had to move my DVD player into the bedroom because it got so loud in here,” Wells said.
Before Kaiser Wilhelm, Wells had never owned or taken care of a hamster before. “A lot of it is trial and error,” she said, crediting hamster discussion groups online and comments hamster aficionados post on her blog for much of her knowledge.
“I’ve learned a lot. The good thing is that I don’t pretend that I know everything,” added Wells, who estimates she has taken care of more than 400 hamsters since 2005.
Wells does not charge a fee to adopt, though occasionally families will donate when they take their adoptees home. She said she spends $150 to $500 a month on supplies.
Currently, New York Hamster House is not officially a nonprofit operation, though Wells is working to change that. “Right now I’m just a girl with a lot of hamsters,” she said.