How to Pet a Hedgehog

Yttrium, sleeping on my lap on her first night at home.

We had taken very good care of her.  One night, after staying with us for almost two weeks, our little pet hedgehog, Yttrium, became very listless and unresponsive. We feared a hibernation, so we warmed her up by holding her and we made sure the house was 72 degrees – I even started up the furnace.  And she perked up. She was running around and seemed fine, even up to a couple of hours before….well, before the next evening.

Friday night: Et. brings her downstairs; he is distraught. Yttrium lifts her head just a little bit, weakly. Then she becomes all slack again and can hardly lift her head. I tell Et. that she is fine, she just needs to be warmed up.  An hour later, she dies while I am holding her. I feel something terrible and unexpected – my heartwrenches. Perhaps the soul of a hedgehog is equally prickly–it tears through me.

I don’t think I had become so close to an animal in a very long time! and I am no beginner at this. I have rarely been without 10 – 12 pets in my house.  Nevertheless, this one caught me completely off-guard. Perhaps it was because she was so young – still a baby, really.  Maybe, I saw so much of myself in her.  The way she would roll up into a ball when scared, but would so easily unroll, and just, well, let you connect to her.  As I held her, I kept thinking, Maybe she is just hibernating….Maybe she is just hibernating.  I kept holding her, hoping the warmth would wake her.

Finally, I knew she was truly gone. I cried for an entire hour. My boy, Et,, he wept too.   In the middle of the night, he awakened, and woke his sister with his crying.  You are thinking, “This is ridiculous.  It’s just a little rodent thing. Does this guy know what a sap he is?”  Funny, that’s exactly what I am saying to myself, too, as I write this, with tears streaming down my face.

The next day, Saturday, I sent an email to the vendor at the reptile and animal expo that sold her to me. I explained what happened:  “I am not sure if there is even anything that can or should be done or said. We loved Yttrium. I’ve never been this upset about a pet. I just wanted you to know this happened.”  I hoped his other hedgehogs were OK.

He replied with, “Call me.” and his number.  He answered on the second ring and immediately apologized, and said that this hadn’t happened in a few years? As i spoke to him, I was trying so hard not to cry on the phone with this guy. And you know what?  He got it, and understood.  This man loves hedgehogs as much as I do and told me I should have another one.  Frankly, I didn’t want another hedgehog.  How could any creature compare to Yttrium?  I decided to follow my own advice.  “Giving up” is failure. Don’t fail.

He told me to come see him at the expo, and he would let us take home another hedgie, no problem.  So we drove there and of course we got lost three times on the way there due to too much emotion in the car, but we got there eventually and we brought home a new bundle of prickly joy; an albino hedgehog we named Sodium.

This is, of course, a very unplanned side-affect to naming our animals after elements on the periodic table.  Yes, Et. will know many of the elements, but if any professor should mention Yttrium, I guarantee a tear fest.  I can see it now…

“Ethan, why are you crying” asks the chemistry professor.

“It’s just, I loved Yttrium so much!” He’ll answer.

“Well, maybe we should talk about copper or nickel instead?”

“Waaaaaaaaah!!!!! My cats!”

Hopefully this won’t happen, hopefully he will be able to compartmentalize actual element names from pets names.  I digress….I was talking about my crazy love for a hedgehog.

How did this happen?  How did I fall so hopelessly in love with that beautiful creature?  I don’t know.  The new hedgehog, named Sodium, is just another animal to me. The spark that Yttrium had, it just isn’t there. I haven’t bonded with her like I did with Yttrium.  She is less friendly, and less interesting to hang out with.  More prickly. Regardless, I am making the effort.   Sunday night, we left Sodium alone.  We wanted her to get used to her new home.  Happily, she is eating and drinking healthily.  We are measuring her food and water intake, weighing her, and holding her for an hour a day.

It aggravates me that Sodium curls up into a very tight ball whenever we try to handle her.  Monday night, I sat with her on my lap for an hour, simply pondering how to deal with her.  I then began to gently prod at her prickles.  Ah-hah! a reaction! she uncurled just a little bit when I pet her in a certain way.  Sure enough, 15 minutes later, she uncurled completely and said hello to me.  It was very rewarding, and I felt a little closer to her.  Still, she wasn’t Yttrium.  Et. and I would both give the world to have Yttrium back (you have no idea the power this creature held in her little paws!!).

Do you know what the worst part of this whole thing is?  I roll a lot of video around here. I video everything. But the only video I have of Yttrium is of our cat, Copper, sniffing her while she slept on me and then Copper giving me a funny look.  I don’t understand my inaction.  It’s like, now I can’t even show you how wonderful she was to us.  Perhaps therein lay the answer….finally, I had something that was all mine and Et’s–something that just I and my boy would share.  She was OUR pet.  How unimaginably sad you know I must be when Et. told me on Sunday morning that he didn’t want another hedgie.  That the new hedgie would be mine.

Saturday afternoon, when the sun was low in the sky, we laid Yttrium to rest in the garden in a Hamilton watch box, under a nice stone. Sunday, we planted a flowering shrub by her marker. I hope she will find comfort here, and I hope that, if hedgies have souls, that she is hanging around, and watching over our garden, and my prickly little soul, too.