R.I.P. Cookie

HerbTarlek“As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

                                                ~Herb Tarlek, WKRP

Tough day yesterday in the Stanglin household. I killed Valerie’s birthday gerbil. It’s dead. And I did it. It was an accident, a completely innocent mistake. But I did it.

We got the gerbil, which she named Cookie, for Valerie Thursday night, January 24th. Sunday afternoon, the 27th, we gave it a bath. We cleaned out the already smelly cage and gave it a bath. I didn’t think twice about it. Pets need to be bathed or they’ll stink up the house. I had a hamster when I was a kid and I gave it a bath all the time. It never died as a result. My hamsters died because I forgot to feed or water them. That’s another story.

So we’re giving this little gerbil a bath in warm water and liquid soap in the bathroom sink and the thing starts to freak out. He shut his eyes and just kind of curled up and froze. Like he was paralyzed. He stuck one little leg up in the air and just stopped moving. Of course, with his fur all plastered against him we could plainly see that he was still breathing. So we rinsed him off and put him in a towel and just stared at him. Once he warmed up, I guess, he came to. He fluffed right up and eventually bounced back to being the same old Cookie we’d known and loved for three days. I assumed maybe I’d gotten soap in his eyes or maybe the water was too cold or maybe he had gone into some instinctive defensive position.

Cookie made it through the rest of the week just fine. But I thought we needed to bathe that thing once a week. Clean out the cage and give it a bath, right? It’s part of the responsibilities of owning a pet. So Monday evening we get Cookie back in the sink.

The joke all week had been how Cookie had curled up during that first bath, In fact, Carley was making little cracks all day Monday. “When are we going to paralyze the gerbil?”

I was more careful this time. I made sure the water was extra warm. I made sure not to get any soap in the little gerbil’s eyes. And it was much easier this time because Cookie didn’t move at all. I assumed he knew what was coming and was just resigned to his fate. He was being still so I could do what I needed to do and we could get it over with and he could go back to his wheel and his food dish and his little cage. I was so careful.

And the whole time, the whole ten days, it never occured to me one single time that there was even a remote possibility that a bath could kill a gerbil.

But Cookie froze up again. It didn’t look good. We dried him off as best we could and put him back in his cage where he just kinda wobbled over to a corner and stood there. And he kept wobbling. I kept assuring Valerie he was going to be fine. But by this moment, I wasn’t sure. He just stood there. Wobbling. Like he needed a cane or a walker to balance. We checked on him before we went to bed and he had fluffed right out and was eating. Everything looked good. I was greatly relieved. And I resolved then to call a pet store and find out maybe if there’s something I should know about giving gerbils baths before we try again with Cookie.

I never got that chance.

At least not with Cookie.

Cookie passed away sometime late Monday night-early Tuesday morning.

I leave the house at 6:00 on Tuesday mornings for our weekly Bible study up here at Legacy. So I didn’t see anybody until Carrie-Anne walked into my study at about 8:00 to break the news.

And I felt like Herb Tarlek from WKRP. Remember when Herb, the promotions guy at the fictional Cincinnati radio station from the late ’70s, pulled a Thanksgiving publicity stunt by dropping live turkeys from a helicopter over a shopping mall? The results were disastrous. Newsman Les Nesman, unaware at first of what he was seeing, reported on the turkeys as they crashed “like bags of wet cement” onto the pavement and into windshields of parked cars. Chaos ensued. Hundreds of turkeys lost their lives. And Tarlek’s classic response: “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly.”

As God is my witness, I thought you could give gerbils a bath.

I met Valerie at school with Chick-Fil-A for lunch. We talked about it. She’s sad. But she’s very understanding and forgiving.

Unlike the ladies up here at the church building who expressed great shock that I would give a gerbil a bath. They were incredulous. Like everybody in the whole world knows you can’t give a gerbil a bath. I didn’t know. How was I supposed to? And at last night’s Jr High Bible study at the Engers’ house, Keith kept asking me if I’d give his daughters’ guinea pigs a bath. Not funny. Not nice. Give me a break. I’m now the Grim Reaper of household pets. Great.

We’re trying again this afternoon. Val and I have a 4:00 date to go buy a new gerbil. This time, I’ll ask a few more questions about rodent hygiene.




  1. Jason S

    I have a couple of cats I would like you to bathe if you have time. Don’t worry they are pretty old.

  2. Jason Wolfe

    Better hope there’s not a Gerbil Lover to grief you on this. I’d hate for you to have aroused the anger of any rodent aficionado. They can be down right scary.

  3. dbyrnes

    I guess I would be right alongside you at the rodent ignorance club meetings. Can’t bathe ’em? You’ve got to be kidding. Thanks for the insight, now I won’t have to worry about us ever having to own one. I think the fact that you’re willing to buy a pet that you can’t clean far outweighs the fact that you killed one.

  4. Bird lover

    Sorry about Cookie. Ever the philosopher I noticed a couple of items in your narrative that say a lot about humans.

    Firstly, about mistakes. Mistakes are all innocent. By their nature mistakes are unintentional, accidental, without malice. The interesting point about humans is that we tend to attach adjectives to the word mistakes. When speaking of our own mistakes (see your first paragraph) we use adjectives like innocent and honest. When referring to the mistakes of others we use adjectives like silly, stupid or careless. All the while our mistakes are no different than the mistakes of others.

    Secondly, with regards to how we access our truth perceptions. You said, “And the whole time, the whole ten days, it never occured to me one single time that there was even a remote possibility that a bath could kill a gerbil.” This is pretty much the way it is with all things we hold to be true. The mind just does not know how to ask the question “is it really true?” If we could reach the point of really asking, the answer is easy. Cookie would be alive if you were capable of questioning your beliefs. Don’t feel too badly; none of us can.

  5. Bird lover

    PS: Just noticed something else that (probably only to me) was humorous. It was not enough that you made a mistake, and also insufficient to make it clear that it was innocent. You took an additional step to make sure we knew it was “completely” innocent. Again, all mistakes are completely innocent. It is just that the mistakes of others do not seem that way.

  6. D

    Can a bath kill a Maltese? If so, please let me know, my family has been plotting the murder of my puppy for quite some time and I want to make sure I dont let it happen.
    Sorry about Cookie, maybe that bearded dragon whatever lizard is looking better and better now.

  7. Jenn

    Is it bad that I am laughing out loud? I’m not telling Aaron about this or he will be bringing over my dog for you to bathe later today. Oh, this is just funny. Not for Val, but for you, my friend. 🙂

  8. Allan

    Not all mistakes are the same. Some really are innocent. Some really are careless. There really is a difference.

    And it is entirely possible to question one’s own beliefs. I don’t have time to get into the philosophical or theological aspects or arguments. But I would suggest that if one doesn’t question his beliefs, he really has no beliefs. Your statement sounds very determinist.

  9. Mel

    My kids hate this response to the exclamation, “I didn’t mean to!”

    “You didn’t mean not to either.”
    There must be something about preachers and rodents. From the other church I came from I was told by the youth minister’s son about his hamster, while in one of those plastic balls you let them run around in, getting booted down the stairs by his dad resulting in yet another disposable pet incident.

  10. Mel


  11. Benger

    From “wiki.answers.com”
    “NEVER BATHE A GERBIL! You can kill your gerbil by doing that. Soap is not good for them. They clean themselves. Their saliva has cleaning solutions in it so you don’t have to clean them, just their cage.”

  12. Bird lover

    Allan re: questioning beliefs. I did not mean to imply we could not question our beliefs. I think we agree on that issue. I was merely saying it is more difficult than we sometimes realize. In the case of bathing gerbils the problem was not with the availability of answers, but the problem was with asking the right questions. Most of the time when we discover something new is is not from asking questions but more from being hit up the side of the head like with Cookie.

  13. Rob's Dad

    What a dogpile. Thanks to the greatness of the Internet, suggest you check agsgerbils.org. This is the website for the American Gerbil Society (who knew?). I didn’t see anything on there about not giving them a bath, but there were a few comments about the what type of bedding material to use along with cleaning their cage. Also if you are taking a trip to store, you might want to look at two (did you know that baby gerbils are called pups?) because of their social nature.

  14. Bird lover

    To Allan on mistakes. Assuming killing the gerbil was innocent rather than careless, could you provide an example of a mistake you consider careless as opposed to innocent?

  15. Mel

    wait…I’m confused…

    Who was hit in the head by a gerbil?

  16. Mel

    Oh… and if you do get another gerbil and learn all about “dust” baths…

    …no soap.

    (hey… I mean at this point you never know…)

  17. dbyrnes

    To bird. A few months ago my wife pulled out in front of someone on Denton Hwy and had an accident. She didn’t mean to but according to the police report, and our insurance company, she wasn’t innocent. ‘Failure to yield right of way’ was the classification. Careless, not innocent.

  18. Allan

    Bathing the gerbil the second time in the exact same manner I did it the first time would have been careless. I was being extra careful because of what had happened in the first bath a week ago. Warmer water; no soap near his face; bigger, fluffier towel and a longer dry time. That’s innocent. Careless means without care.

    Who knew? Gerbil dust? Ceramic bath houses? This little rodent is beginning to look more and more like a Roman Emperor.

    And we are aware of the social nature of gerbils. Thank you. What, Chris, are you working for Valerie?

  19. Mel

    six gun salute for Cookie


  20. D

    Allan, do you see what a sick and twisted family we have going on Tipperary Ct. If you ever wonder about our sense of humor blame it on Mel.

  21. Allan

    Three things:

    1) Mel has way, way, way too much time on his hands
    2) Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’ve not even thought about that commercial since I saw it during a Super Bowl, what, three or four years ago.
    3) Every single person who’s gone this far in the comments on this thing is REQUIRED to click on that link in Mel’s last post above and watch that 30-second spot. Oh my word. I’m watching it again right now. The cavalier attitude of the man in the chair is so perfect. Thank you. It’s the funniest thing I’ve seen in months!

  22. Mel

    just wondering where I can find a Maltese sized cannon.

  23. Jason Wolfe

    Can we put birds in the cannon?

  24. Bird lover

    Thanks for the example of a careless mistake. You changed the method for the second bath because you felt (incorrectly) the problem the first time was from incorrect bathing. You are suggesting now, that if you bathed the second time with no change in method it would be a “careless mistake”. Let me make sure I understand you clearly. You would be affirming the following:

    1) Your belief before the second bath was that your method in the first bath might have caused harm to the gerbil.

    2) You bathe the gerbil with no change in method (hypothetically, I realize).

    3) Therefore, you would be bathing the gerbil in such a way as you believe would harm the gerbil.

    If these understandings are true, I would argue this would not be an example of a careless mistake. I would suggest it was not a mistake at all, but rather something else. (Dare I suggest murder?). (Dare I suggest murder with premeditation?). At any rate, I do not believe it would be a mistake. Perhaps you disagree with this conclusion. If so, please let me know. However, if you agree, I would respectfully request another example of a careless mistake.


  25. Mel

    Bird lover-

    If you will pay close attention to the first five shots where the cannon operator did not take the appropriate care in aiming the gerbil you will have your example of a careless mistake

  26. Allan

    The distinction comes in caring, in being aware, in thinking about what’s happening. Your supposition #2 changes it. To bathe the gerbil with no change in method would be to do harm intentionally if indeed I believe the method might hurt the little guy. You’re right, that’s not a mistake at all. Not if I’d thought about it. To kill the gerbil even after thinking about it—even if I didn’t think enough about it—and caring about it—even if I didn’t care enough about it—and changing my method to protect the gerbil—even if I didn’t change enough of the method—is still a mistake. But it’s an innocent mistake. I was doing everything, I thought at the time, that I could.

    Can we just go watch the video again now?

  27. Mel

    On a serious note Allan.

    I had a hamster when I was younger. After showing it off to one of my friends I carelessly failed to make sure the cage was latched properly.

    My innocent yet careless mistake was discovered when the cat came parading into the living room with my pet in it’s mouth.

    My dad retrieved the hamster from the cat. Knowing there wasn’t much that could be done he took it out into the garage to “put it out of it’s misery”.

    I cried and as far as I can remeber it’s the first time I saw my dad cry.

  28. Bird lover

    I’ll go watch the video again after a summary. I was merely saying that all mistakes are “completely innocent”. We intuitively understand that about any mistake we (personally) make. Mistakes of others are not of a different character.

    Since, Mel did not respond to my last post of on the other discussion (about guessing), I was attempting the same point. It is easy to see other’s errors as from guessing or stupidity or maliciousness or carelessness or whatever. However, all of our errors are also completely innocent and of the same character.

  29. Bob

    What kind of mistake is it if you quote the wrong guy? It was the big guy, Arthur Carlson who made that statement.

  30. Rob's Dad

    I’ve heard “Hippo Talk” on the radio but I think “Gerbil Talk” might be worth a spin. I’m on a conference call right now and I’ll see if I can somehow wedge something out of this string into the call.

    Mel – thanks for the link. Needed a laugh

  31. Jason Wolfe

    Allan, exhausted, approaches from the right and sits behind at nicely draped table with a cluster of microphones:

    “Anybody tell you that I mistreat hamsters, if, if, if, if a bird loving commenter say I mistreat hamsters then y’all hear it, then that’s that. I mean, I might have mistreated one hamster this year. But if, if somebody say, “He comes to mistreat hamsters”, it can be one hamster, out of all the hamsters sold in pet stores this year. That’s enough.

    If I mistreat hamsters, I mistreat hamsters, man. If I mistreat, I mistreat. I mean, simple as that. It ain’t about that. I mean it’s, it’s not about that at all, you know what I’m sayin’? I mean, but it’s, it’s, it’s easy to, to talk about, it’s easy to sum it up when you just talk about mistreating hamsters. We sittin’ here, I supposed to be the franchise preacher, and we in here talkin’ about hamsters. I mean, listen, we talkin’ about hamsters. Not a sermon, not a sermon, not a sermon…we talkin’ about hamsters. Not a sermon. Not a, not a, not the sermon that I go out there and, and die for and study every verse like it’s my last. Not the sermon. We talkin’ about hamsters, man. I mean how silly is that? Man, we talkin’ about hamsters. I know I supposed to not bathe them. I know I supposed to lead by example. I know that. And I’m not, I’m not shoving it aside, you know, like it don’t mean anything. I know it’s important. I do. I honestly do. But we talkin’ about hamsters man. What are we talkin’ about? Hamsters? We talkin’ about hamsters man. (laughter from members of the press- less bird lover) We tal…we talkin’ about hamsters. We talkin’ about hamsters. We ain’t talkin’ about the sermon. We talkin’ about hamsters man.

    (now addressing one particular member of the press- bird lover)

    When you come in the church building, and you see me preach, you see me preach don’t you? You see me give everything I got, right? Well, we talkin’ about hamsters right now. We talkin’ about ham…Man, look, I hear you. I, it’s funny to me too. And I mean it’s strange, it’s strange to me too. But we talkin’ about hamsters, man. We not even talkin’ about the sermon, the actual sermon, when it matters. We talkin’ about hamsters.

    (inaudible question from member of the press)

    How the heck can I make my sermons better by mistreating hamsters?

  32. Allan

    Jason, I was halfway through the third paragraph before I caught it. And then I was so grateful to see you take it all the way. That’s all-out, dude. Excellent.

    It’s funny, Mel. But, seriously, get up and walk around for a couple of minutes or something.

    And I do get the point about mistakes. It’s hair-splitting, perhaps. Maybe, technically, all mistakes are innocent, just with different levels of liability or expectation attached at the end or the beginning. Maybe the difference I’m proposing is the exception, not the rule.

    It’s been great. Tip your waitress. I’ll be here all day tomorrow. I’ve got a date in 15-minutes with an 11-year-old daughter to go buy another gerbil.

  33. Rob's Dad

    Buy two – they are small. I also managed to get “baby gerbil pups” into my conference call. It wasn’t easy but you could see the questions marks forming over people’s heads across the world.

  34. Larry in Lewisville

    It is my recollection that this may not be your first foray into peticide.

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