Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hedgehog Bath

I had been researching hedgehogs for about six months. I go on research binges, often lasting for days. Partly this is because I am a hypochondriac empath, and frequently research diseases I am sure my boyfriend or roommate are about to die of. The hedgehog thing started with a video of a hedgehog bathing in a sink. It looked like a disgruntled wet kitten, only covered in spines and soap. His name was Quentin. More videos had been posted of Quentin: Quentin getting his head stuck in a toilet paper tube, Quentin waddling after his owner about the lawn, Quentin climbing into his cage to poo. I was completely under the impression that hedgehogs were the most well behaved, social, quiet, sweet animals. I could not wait to purchase one and give him a bath.

Except hedgehogs are not easy to find. There are maybe fifty breeders in North Carolina but none within three hours of me. Pet stores had them, but the hedgehogs pet stores offer haven’t usually been socialized. Buying an unsocialized hedgehog is like spending a lot of money on a spiny ball that huffs a lot but is too painful to toss around or even pick up to throw at someone you don’t like.

I spent the time that could have been wasted on schoolwork devoutly studying hedgehog videos and educational research. I joined an online hedgehog club because the International Hedgehog Association charges a fee. I bookmarked pages on their specific dietary needs and read every page on how to treat things like ear wax and a hedgehog cold, which is like a person cold only much smaller and spikier. I learned how to read their body language, and proudly told anyone I saw that hedgehogs only spoke in ‘chirps, whistles, and purrs’ because hedgeyluvr24 said so.

Then one day, while visiting my boyfriend in northern Virginia, I skimmed the internet for breeders nearby. An hour away, a woman who described herself as a “hedgehog breeding fanatic” had “one loud pinto chocolate Algerian male” left. I wasn’t sure about the breeding fanatic part, or the ‘loud’ bit since according to my research hedgehogs only spoke Adorable. But I called her and agreed to pay the $200 and meet her at a Food Lion parking lot.

I didn’t have a cage, hedgehog food, a hedgehog litter box (all the sources insist they can be litter trained), bedding, a wheel, hedgehog furniture… So I took an emergency trip to Petco.

I spent an additional hundred dollars on supplies, including a cage that could comfortably house a cougar. Petco offered aquariums, mouse traveling kennels, or enormous cougar-sized cages with a whole playset for whatever wild animal you decided to capture. I had already confirmed the hedgehog purchase, so I committed myself to the obscenely large cage and even more obscene price.

My boyfriend, who stands taller than Abraham Lincoln by a head and exercises daily, teetered off towards the car dwarfed by my hedgehog’s new home while I filled out the paperwork for a Petco card. I saved a dollar and seventy cents with my application! Always something to be excited about.

I assembled my hedgehog’s dream home in my boyfriend’s kitchen, dumping the aspen bedding out and gingerly spreading it an even two inches. In my maternal frenzy, I didn’t notice the layer of aspen on every surface of their pristine kitchen. My boyfriend’s dad cut down an old wine box so the critter would have a place to hide. I hadn’t decided on a name yet, so I just painted ‘home’ at the top, in case he needed clarification.

I drove the hour to the designated parking lot in good cheer. Since I was driving straight home afterwards, my boyfriend followed me in his little box car to make sure I wasn’t going to get mugged or kidnapped or enslaved in a hedgehog spam scheme.

My prepared cage sat strapped in the back, a dirty undershirt that might have been my sisters but now smelled like me in the wine box so he could adjust to my scent. I mentally went over the cautionary steps the internet advised when purchasing a hedgehog. I’d copied a list and my boyfriend quizzed me so I would look more professional when whizzing through the steps in front of the lady without consulting notecards.

1. Place him on a flat surface and wait for him to uncurl, which he should pretty quickly if he’s been socialized.

2. Listen for wheezing or wet breathing in case he has respiratory problems.

3. Inspect his quills for bald spots and nails for proper grooming.

The list goes on, but it didn’t matter anyway because when the breeding fanatic drove up in her enormous roaring pickup truck and pulled out the cardboard box with a yawning ball of quills, and then handed me the ball of quills, I made this face:

She had just handed me a live animal. A live animal entrusted to me. I haven’t been able to keep a goldfish alive longer than a month, and that’s with dedicated focus. I haven’t kept plants alive past their first watering. I sniff-check my clothes in the morning, and most of the time I can’t find a matching sock. And here she was giving me a baby.

I handed her $200 and she handed me a hedgehog birth certificate. “Do you have any questions?” she asked me.

I remained in my dazed stupor. The hoglet’s stomach was soft and quite warm. He snuffled about my hand like he was the most fantastic thing he had ever experienced. He pooped a little. The lady left and I kept staring at the sniffling adventurer.

I just bought a hedgehog.

I was holding a pet, my first pet that I bought with my own money and would take to my apartment and care for all myself.

What had I done?

Maternal instinct swept through me. It was terrifying. I just kept staring at him and wondering what I should do. I wanted to frolic with him, only he was small and rather sharp. Eventually I stuck it in the cage with the smelly shirt. In retrospect probably not the best homecoming I could have given him.

When I got home I gave him a bath. It was a dream come true.

Afterwards I wasn’t sure where our relationship would go. I’d already achieved my greatest desire.