Good grief: Face your hedgehog’s death with tears

I came home from a camping trip in middle school in the ‘90s to my mother in tears – Hokey Pokey died while I was away.

 

My mother was rather beside herself having watched him slowly die while not knowing what to do for him. It was the ‘90s and we were just getting the internet. We didn’t know of blogs and websites about hedgehog care. There was nothing to Google. Exotic vets that see hedgehogs were few and far between.

I, being the strong, independent, grown up middle schooler I was, hardly shed a tear. But for almost 20 years I have kept a few of his quills tucked away in my desk. A photo of him in a hedgehog frame has been solidified, like a painting that cannot be erased.

I also somehow felt I was to blame for Hokey Pokey’s death and that kept me from properly grieving. As I became a middle schooler, I remembered I had been spending less time with my pokey friend as my attention shifted to teenage girl things. Hokey Pokey was my childhood dream and I was growing into new interests. I felt I must not have been taking good enough care of him and that is why he got sick.

It was only years later I realized that Hokey Pokey was about four years old when he died and that is the expected life span of domesticated hedgehogs.

The short life span of hedgehogs, plus the fact that they are susceptible to difficult diseases such as cancer and wobbly hedgehog syndrome, can cause much grief to the hedgehog community.

As I peruse across Instagram adoring cute hedgehogs, I invariably come across a RIP account or a current friend who recently lost a beloved spiky pal.

In these moments, I think about my new, dear hedgehog Ginger and how quickly she may pass.

Ginger brought healing to my heart after nearly 20 years of silently blaming myself for Hokey Pokey’s death. It was through becoming part of the ‘2010s hedgehog community that I realized a hedgehog owner cannot prevent their hedgehog from dying when it is their time to go, but they have the privilege to give them a loving life for three to four years.

In death and in life, the power of love is what reminds us there is still hope. If you loved a hedgehog, cry. If you love a hedgehog, cry. For, we cannot prevent their deaths and make them live for more years than they have been given. We can prolong their days, but we cannot prolong their lives. How I wish hedgehogs lived longer than four years.

 

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I have kept some of Hokey Pokey’s quills for nearly 20 years.

 

Crying is a gift God has given us to face the grief that is part of this broken world. Someday, there will be no more crying or pain, and no more dying hedgehogs. Just cute, healthy ones scurrying about forever beneath the fruit trees next to the river of life that flows from God’s throne in the new heaven and new earth.

Grieving your hedgehog’s death is healthy. Grief is good in that it helps you face the reality of your love and loss. Others may not understand how you could be so distraught over a small creature, but please, cry. It will bring healing to your soul.

If your hedgehog has died, consider taking another one into your life when you are ready. Ginger certainly was a gift from God to me to remind me how new life can comfort and heal what has been lost, even years later.

Not long after I got married, I began longing for a hedgehog. I started buying all sorts of hedgehog decorations: salt and pepper shakers, mugs, linens, Christmas ornaments, etc. etc.

I was remembering with happiness my childhood hedgehog days but unsure whether the investment of time and money was worth having another hedgehog. But I was finally ready to face my lost longing with new life. I started praying for a blonde girl. I contacted a breeder.

Ginger was born on my birthday.

 

Sara Marie Moore is a journalist and happy hedgehog owner. She had her first hedgehog in fourth grade long before the current hedgehog craze. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers to FAQs about hedgehogs

Everywhere I go with my little ball of quills people want to know who she is . . . so I tell them.

 

Yes, she’s a hedgehog. Her name is Ginger. She’s blonde — not albino — a recessive gene that makes her quills cinnamon and ginger-colored. Hedgehogs are born in many shades  — salt and pepper or chocolate brown are the most common.

 

No, she doesn’t release her quills like a porcupine. Actually, they are technically spines, not quills. They feel bristly like a hairbrush or beard, but you might get poked if she curls into a ball.

 

Yes, she might be nervous or shy about meeting you, which is why she starts to curl into a ball.  Or she might be tired. Hedgehogs are nocturnal and she probably ran a few miles on her exercise wheel last night. When she gets up in the late afternoon, it is early morning for her and she sticks out her two-inch long tongue and yawns. If she makes a huffing noise, then she is really nervous.

 

No, it’s not too hard to take care of her. She eats cat food, mealworms, eggs and fruit. She lives in a rabbit hutch inside, which needs to be cleaned often. She uses a litter box, but not 100 percent. She often has an urge while exercising on her wheel. To give her a bath, I brush her with a toothbrush in warm water with oatmeal soap and coconut oil.

 

Yes, she was expensive. I got her for $250 from a breeder. I took her home at six weeks old. She is full size at six months. She went through the “terrible twos” when she shed her baby quills and grew in adult quills. It is uncomfortable, like a baby teething. She was grumpy and curled into a ball and made huffing noises more often.

 

No, she is not a wild animal native to the U.S. She is an African pygmy hedgehog, which was bred for domestication from two types of wild hedgehogs about 30 years ago. She looks and acts differently than wild hedgehogs in Africa, Asia and Europe. She still has some wild nature in her; the more time I spend with her, the tamer she becomes. She loves to snuggle in a blanket.

 

Yes, she is a great pet — but not for everyone. She needs a lot of unconditional love, understanding and fortitude. She is near-sighted so she can’t see well what is going on around her, which is why she can be timid. I spend lots of time with her so she gets to know my voice and smell. I pet her from her nose to her back so she knows it is me. But she still huffs and puffs into a spiky ball sometimes.

 

No, she won’t live long. The lifespan of domesticated hedgehogs is four years. They are susceptible to cancer and a neurological condition called wobbly hedgehog syndrome. They can also get mites or infections. There are vets who treat hedgehogs.

 

Yes, she is adorable. She slowly pokes out her snout out from her ball of quills as she sniffs the world and uncurls. She explores her surroundings and then finds a cozy place to burrow. If she comes across an interesting smell, she will lick and chew the object, salivate and spread the new smell on her quills, a normal behavior called “anointing.” She is camouflaging herself with the smell, or perhaps wants to perfume herself. No one really knows why.

 

Yes, ask me more questions. I love talking about her. She is fascinating — both cuddly and prickly, a pet for those who are intrigued by paradoxes and enjoy an adventurous challenge.

 

Sara Marie Moore is a journalist and happy hedgehog owner. She had her first hedgehog in fourth grade long before the current hedgehog craze. 

This article was originally published as a column in the White Bear Lake Press, where she is an editor. 

http://www.presspubs.com/vadnais/opinion/article_078c3a8e-602d-11e7-9306-4f52812ed588.html

10 reasons to get a hedgehog

1. You think hedgehogs are cute.

2. You are a night owl. Hedgehogs are nocturnal. While you can teach hedgehogs to wake up during the day to romp and play, it is best to mostly stick to their natural nocturnal schedule and play with them in the evening.

3. You like tactile experiences. Hedgehogs have fur on their belly but the place you will most often pet your hedgehog is on their back where their quills are. When hedgehogs are relaxed and their quills are laid flat, they feel textured —like a beard only thicker and rougher. You will sometimes be poked.

4. You are more of an introvert than an extrovert. Sometimes I think hedgehogs chose to be nocturnal because they are such introverts. Your hedgehog needs plenty of time alone. They get that overnight. They also need plenty of time just hanging out with their primary owner. However, you and your hedgehog must be prepared to be social if you go out and about together. Hedgehogs attract a lot of attention from strangers. Read Huff, Huff Away: Socializing your Hedgehog.

5. You like a challenge. Hedgehogs are not naturally affectionate. You need to teach your hedgehog you can be trusted and this journey comes with dealing with your hedgehog’s sometimes apparent rejection of you. Hedgehogs need to be loved through their scared huffs and puffs.

6. You like to snuggle. Hedgehogs mostly like to burrow in “snuggle sacks” while they are out of their cage. Hedgehogs also like to explore around the house and outside but you will notice they tend to wander to any dark corner they can find. They are digging, burrowing creatures. They like to nap and burrow in blankets and their owner’s clothes. You can put them in your pocket.

7. You enjoy learning. Taking care of an exotic pet is a learning curve. You’ll need to do lots of reading on what hedgehogs need for their care and find a veterinarian who is able to care for hedgehogs if your hedgehog has any medical issues.

8. You can handle a mess. Hedgehogs can be litter box trained. However, it is rarely 100 percent. Hedgehogs can poop on their owners while they are out and about or around their cage. They often poop while they are on their exercise wheel. They also poop a lot. This mess needs to be cleaned. Often.

9. You don’t have a big pet budget. While hedgehog babies can cost a couple hundred dollars, the cost to care for a hedgehog is relatively low compared to larger pets. Pet hedgehogs generally eat cat food, mealworms and fruit. They don’t eat a lot. (I’m not sure where all that poop comes from!) Their litter boxes are small and one large bag of litter can last a long time.

10. You can let go. Pet hedgehogs have a lifespan of about four years. You should be prepared to have lots of fun and pour love on your hedgehog during that time knowing that your memories can expand beyond the time you had with your hedgehog.

If your heart skips at most of these 10 reasons to get a hedgehog, you might just be a hedgehog owner.  If you felt stressed or overwhelmed reading them, it might be better to live vicariously through a hedgehog on Instagram or a stone hedgehog in your garden. That’s totally cool, too.

 

Sara Marie Moore is a journalist and happy hedgehog owner. She had her first hedgehog in fourth grade long before the current hedgehog craze. 

 

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