Pet of the Day

October 6, 1998

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Harley, the Pet of the Day
Name: Harley
Age: Four years old
Gender: Male
Kind: African Pygmy Hedgehog
Home: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
   I can't resist nominating "Harley," my 4-year-old African Pygmy Hedgehog (light of my life). I adopted him just over a year ago from a neglected situation he was in and I happen to think he's adorable. My favorite special quality of Harley's is that he'll sit on my lap for hours and nap, while I gently scratch between his quills. He looks like a tiny football with legs when he swims laps around the bath tub. (I had a sink-full of dishes one day when I wanted to give Harley one of his aloe vera baths so I used the bath tub, and darned if he didn't go straight to the deep end and start swimming laps! (He appeared to be enjoying himself immensely). I was chatting with a vet who said he had worked with the hedgehog breeding program at San Diego Zoo, and he'd found out, during his work there, hedgehogs love to swim. I don't think most people know it.)

    Harley has a weakness for Dairy Queen Burgers, he snuffles little pig-like grunts when he forages for the treats I hide, he coos like a pigeon when he snores, and if I lean my long blonde hair down to where he can reach it, he likes to play tug-o-war with it! All in all a wonderful little guy (...and handsome too).

    Harley is my first hedgehog; and I decided to adopt him because I am a bleeding heart, and a sap. My sisters friend (who loves animals, but has 10 cats - so she didn't want to take him) was house-sitting and the owners said it had been a mistake to get Harley for their son, and they didn't want him. Harley was in a cage so small he had to sleep in his own feces, and couldn't move around; he'd been there for a year. She saw that he seemed to be in a terrible state of anxiety, and his skin was all cracked and bleeding. She ended up calling me (she knew I love animals too), and, though I wasn't entirely certain exactly what a hedgehog was, I said I'd come get him right away. (I purchased a book about hedgehogs that same day and a period of discovery began ... "worms!!...eeew, they eat mice, snakes, bugs and...worms!!". He wouldn't 'un-ball' in the beginning, and was scared pretty much constantly. Long story short, I bathed him in warm aloe mixtures 6 times over 2 weeks before all the dead, grey skin came off naturally; then his skin healed (which seemed to help his personality quite a bit). I installed a few safety features, and gave him free reign of my apartment. I held him every day, and spoiled him with little treats (grub worms & minced steak), aside from the regular kitten kibble he eats. Now he's OK!

    He comes up to me, and sits like a dog & stares at me, I know darn well he wants me to pick him up and rub & scratch his back, so I lean down to get a hold of him, and still always get a cursory single hiss and grunt (just to make sure I still know he's a tough guy); but as soon as I begin he just sinks down, all his quills fall flat against his back, and he melts. I think he's absolutely adorable, and "he's me boy."

    I clean up after Harley when he forgets to use his litter pan (25% of the time) because I'm an adult and I choose to do so. Hedgehogs can be very loving and affectionate, but respond only to gentle, loving handling. They are nocturnal, inquisitive and fun to watch, especially when they're exploring a new activity you've given them, but they do not "play" as such. While their spines do not release like those of a porcupine, they're needle-sharp, which means that when they're not in the mood for it, they're not cuddly pets. I think it's tragic, the large number of hedgehogs ending up at the SPCA, and now that I know more about them I wish pet stores would warn parents (especially at Christmas) that hedgehogs are not good pets for children.

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