When Steph Veerman ran into the bathroom at work to take her dad’s urgent call last Sunday, she was nervous. She thought a family member had died because her dad was crying.
“Blubbering,” the 19-year-old said. “He couldn’t get out sentences.”
The problem: Daniel Veerman couldn’t find Chester, Steph’s hamster. Chester had become Daniel’s little buddy since he started taking care of the animal when his daughter went back for her sophomore year at Emmanuel College in Boston.
“My parents are divorced and my dad is a single dad, and he’s the opposite of you what you would think seeing him in this situation,” she said. “He’s conservative, Catholic, a lawyer, and usually strict, but when it comes to animals and babies, he has the biggest soft spot.”
Chester is a “pretty chill” little dude. He’s not that energetic, likes his downtime and snacks, and isn’t really one to pull any surprise moves.
So when her dad was frantically explaining that he had “put him in his little ball like I do every Sunday,” but that somehow the little brown fluff ball had disappeared, she was shocked and tried to stay calm — for her dad.
“I had a meltdown,” Daniel told BuzzFeed News. “I was having a freaking heart attack.”
The 53-year-old, who has lived right outside Boston his entire life, started watching Chester about a month or two ago after his ex-wife, Steph’s mom, “evicted” the hamster.
“At first, I wasn’t too keen on him,” the father of two said. “I grew up with German shepherds. I’ve never had, you know, when I first got it, it was like a mouse. It wouldn’t be my first choice of pet. But then I got attached. And even more because you’re taking care of it for your daughter.”
Before Chester’s great escape, they had gotten into a routine. The two would spend time together at night when Daniel got home from work. Sometimes, he’d put Chester in his sweatshirt pocket and send pictures to Steph to “show her he’s doing OK.” Every Sunday, on “football day,” Daniel cleaned Chester’s cage and made him exercise by putting him in his clear ball and setting him loose around his office.
But last Sunday, Chester did something he’d never done before.
“He’s a cunning creature,” Daniel said. “I think he took his hands and opened the ball, I swear to god. I cleaned the cage…and came back and he was gone and I had a heart attack.”
Thus began some of the most stressful, emotional 12 hours of Daniel’s life.
“It was a nightmare,” he recalled. “I was calling him, screaming his name, thinking maybe he knows his name. I was looking with a high-powered flashlight.”
After about an hour of intense scouring, Daniel called his daughter, informing her that there was an “emergency.”
“She told me it would be OK, but I knew she was saying that just to make me feel better,” he said.
During those long, dark hours, Daniel kept texting Steph updates, letting her know that he knew Chester was “still alive.”
“Im so wicked sorry I’ll keep looking all day,” he wrote.
“This is the absolute worst ever. I’m never going to forgive myself if he doesn’t come back,” Daniel texted. “If I can’t find him today I’m not going to work tomorrow so I can keep looking.”
“Dad- he’s just a hamster. I don’t blame you at ALL. you shouldn’t skip work you are a lawyer and he is a hamster,” Steph responded. “Dad it’s ok!”
But it was not OK.
“This has been the worst day of my life,” he messaged at one point.
Determined and putting his faith in God and Google, he went online and “looked up how to find him.” Expert hamster searching sites said he’d have better luck at night because hamsters are more nocturnal.
“But I couldn’t just sit there all day, I was going crazy,” Daniel told BuzzFeed News. “So I set traps. I re-created his cage in my office, took his toys and treats all around. Put out water. I thought if I didn’t find him at least he wouldn’t die because he would have food.”
He even scattered flour everywhere, as one blog instructed, to see Chester’s footprints, and spread peanut butter “all over the place.”
Daniel texted his daughter that the ordeal reminded him of the time he was 9 and lost his husky, Kojak.
Then he waited.
“Right after nightfall, I saw him run across the floor and said, ‘Thank god,’” Daniel said. “I came back and saw him standing on a book, cleaning himself, and I grabbed him.”
Exhausted and relieved, Daniel immediately told Steph he found Chester “next to a book about President Nixon.”
“I’m just thankful to God. Prayed all day,” he texted, including a picture of Chester peaking up from his cage. “He’s safe now. Good lord. I was a mess. This little bastard destroyed me today.”
Touched by her dad’s panic and hamster-hunting efforts, Steph shared their texts on Twitter and they quickly went viral.
People lost it over Daniel’s pureness and began sharing stories of when their own parents lost hamsters (along with amazing photos of the chubby pets), as well as rats, cats, and dogs.
Like this poor “mum,” who had to remove a sink drawer and FaceTimed her daughter all night until their hamster came out…two days later.
“Ah that was stressful reading,” wrote another user, who added that it reminded him of the time his dad stayed up to look for the family’s rat, Sebastian, who escaped and hid in the wall. “My dad stayed up and did the same thing and caught him 9 hours later…”
Parents also added their harrowing, heartbreaking memories of when they became guardians of their children’s pets after they left for college. Like this mom, who got “too attached” to her “grandfish” when her kid went back to school.
“I would send my kid selfies of me with their fish. My heart broke when my grandfish died,” she said.
People experienced many, many feels about Daniel’s traumatic journey, especially his decision to spread flour so he could track Chester if he came to get food.
Most everyone, though, was absolutely touched by Daniel’s love for and dedication to his daughter and her hamster.
The two have always been close, Steph said, explaining how their relationship evolved after her parents got divorced and her dad picked up necessary new hobbies like cooking and gardening.
“I love to cook,” Daniel added. “I cook Thanksgiving every year. Whenever the kids are over, I try to make a really good meal. I even made duck à l’orange once.”
Although it was tough — he put 35,000 miles on his car in one year driving to and from sports games and school functions because he “tried not to miss anything” — Daniel said he feels lucky to be so close to his kids. But having them both in college has been hard to get used to.
Luckily, though, he has Chester.
“I am an empty-nester now, and rather than having my kids around all the time to take care of, Chester is the substitute,” he said. “I transferred a lot of parenting to the animal. I felt like I was taking care of my daughter, so when he disappeared, I panicked.”
Now that the saga is over, Daniel is focusing on Thanksgiving. He even bought Chester his favorite treats, “which are from Germany.”
“I went to Petco and cleaned the place out,” he said. “He’s going to look like Santa Claus just in time for Christmas.”
Steph and Daniel’s last name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.