The Elegance of MY Hedgehog

Posted on: 2017/02/04

“Madame Michel has the elegance of the hedgehog: on the outside she is covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary–and terrible elegant. ”

― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog


The Domesticated Hedgehog (a\k\a white-bellied or four-toed hedgehog), is a species much smaller than its European cousin.  In the wild, members of this breed are found scattered from Senegal in western Africa to southern Somalia and Tanzania on the east. Sometimes referred to as African pygmy hedgehogs, owing to their size and origin, they became a fad pet in the 1990s. Utterly adorable, these odd little creatures can make wonderful companions.  But, hedgehogs are not for everybody. Even the most experienced pet owner should carefully consider whether to welcome one of these little urchins into his or her home.

Luckily, I did not practice what I now preach.

My entrée into hedgehog parenting came about in December 2013. My best friend had decided to give one to her daughter, J, who had been wanting one most of her life.  Her mother, wisely, held off until J was nearly 17 years old. The promise of a hedgehog was all wrapped up under the Christmas tree.

Now, I have to admit, I was just teensy bit jealous. I have adored hedgehogs since my mother read me The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle. Of course, because my mother had been raised in Britain, she was able to add little details about the European species.  I believed that hedgehogs were the most magical and enchanting of creatures. (There are no living species of hedgehog that is native to N. America. I had no idea how charming they are in real life.) So when the opportunity to go with the family when it was time for J to collect on the promise, I couldn’t resist.

A tiny bit of background: December 2013 was less than two months after my mother passed away. She and I had been very close, especially near the end of her life.  I found myself overly emotional about a lot of things… including hedgehogs.  The moment I laid eyes on the three little lads from whom J was to pick, I was smitten. I was pressed into service to hold one of the boys whilst J made her choice. My heart filled to bursting when he snuggled into my jumper and fell asleep. I hadn’t felt that kind of joy – well, let’s just say, the sudden break from mourning grief was overwhelming. Rashly, unexpectedly, I decided to adopt (read purchase) the little prickly dude. I named him Thistle, honoring his spikes and my Scottish heritage.

Having a new “someone” to focus on was a balm for my heart.  The learning curve, however, was steep. I was used to cats and dogs – hedgehogs, well….

Hedgies are solitary creatures in and by nature. Males especially can be rather territorial. However, they will bond with their human companion provided sufficient time and care is taken to build that connection. They have excellent hearing and sense of smell.  Their eyesight leaves a lot to be desired, but as they are nocturnal, it made sense.  I had to be very careful about letting him wander on the table. Having no depth perception, Thistle would step off the edge into thin air giving us both heart-stopping fits. And he could move! One minute he’d be bumbling along and the next he’d be halfway across the room.

Thistle made little, if any, noise. He had a gentle whuffling sound he’d make when curiously sniffing about.  An indignant HUFF!! would accompany a small jumping motion if I startled him or tried to pick him up without his permission.  He’d emit the funniest little growl\grunt if I persisted on bothering him, which nearly always had me giggling and him huffing even more!

We gradually grew used to each other. Neither of us liked bath time. Bonding time was special, though. I looked forward to our evening sessions: quiet time spent watching TV or reading a book while he nestled in his blanket (or, more often than not, in my shirt.) The cats would curl up next to us and feign indifference.  My therapist had suggested meditation to help with my grieving process, and I discovered that Thistle was the perfect partner. He had a very “zen” personality – always living in the moment.  He could sit quietly for ages just breathing.  He also provided useful biofeedback.  If I were too restless, he’d bristle. That was a sure cue to refocus and stop wrestling with my mind monkey.

Hedgehog lifespans average about 3.5 years. Unfortunately, Thistle and I didn’t have that long. He developed a stomach cancer, and I had him euthanized a few months shy of his second birthday. He was the most rewarding pet I have ever spent time with, so much so that I happily, and mindfully, adopted his successor, Bramble, a happy, healthy little boy.  We’ve recently celebrated our first anniversary together.


4 Responses to "The Elegance of MY Hedgehog"

I have no idea how I unfollowed you…my phone has issues, but I am so pleased to find and follow your blog again:)
Great post, Bramble is adorable xx

NO worries! Stuff happens. I’m glad you liked the post. Bram is a little sweetie – when he’s not trying to nibble on my finger. 🙂

I loved the post 🙂 well written and informative about an alternative pet-saving my Mrs.Tiggywinkle 50p for you for next time you’re here :)xx

I think my heart just burst, LOL! Thank you, my lovely friend!

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