By BELLA HEILNER
Welcome to the Heilner abode, the home of miscreant creatures. In our family of seven, including my mother, father, three younger brothers, infant sister and I, we have many stories to tell. We currently have two very large dogs that people in general and especially mailmen find frightening, a chubby half blind rescue cat who most often times doesn't really like any of us, and my four-year-old brother's pet, Dan the hamster, who we actually believe is a girl. Shhh, don't tell Isaac that.
Then of course there's the four fish that we won at the Fulton County Fair right after my mother turned to my father and said the words, “No one ever wins those things.” Six years later they're all still alive and massive.
The newest additions to the family are two African Pygmy hedgehogs, Benji and Willow. Online, you can find an array of humorous pictures of hedgehogs, including a baby hedgehog sitting in a cupcake tray, a “herd” of hedgehogs running through a yard, one little guy floating around on his back in a bathtub, etc.
They are very fun animals to keep and they are actually considered exotic pets. You can’t find them at just any pet store. We drove all the way to Toledo to pick up Benji, my male hedgehog. But it didn’t feel like that long of a car ride for me, since I had passed out a few minutes into it while sitting up, mouth wide open. I didn’t even wake up to the flash of a camera. Apparently it was too good of a photo op to pass up.
We got Willow as a companion for the boys soon after that. They went to Bowling Green to buy her from two college students who socialized her well. She still has bits of glitter between her spikes. I guess you could say she was a real party animal there. Willow is the model hedgehog and lady who enjoys human interaction and cuddle time, unless you wake her up mid-nap. Then she gets grumpy—grumpy as in will sink her teeth into you.
You would never guess how large their teeth are. It's borderline vampire level. Dylan made the mistake of not only waking her up, but also having a midnight snack before doing so. She mistook his fingers for chicken flavored biscuits and didn’t hesitate to take a bite. As the blood ran down his fingers he looked into her little beady eyes and said in a hushed tone, “I forgive you, Willow.”
Benji, on the other hand, has a bit of a prickly personality. That should be taken literally as well. He's less than a year old so he still has his first set of quills which are much sharper than the ones that come in later years. It’s a sight when he “poofs up” and rolls into a ball that can fit in the palm of your hand. The quills aren’t sharp enough to pierce the skin, it’s just enough to leave small indentations in the skin that last for a moment.
We have a strained relationship, but at least he’s loyal. Everyone else tries to get on his good side, but he’s a one-girl kind of guy. I give him mealworms, he lets me pet him. It’s a fair exchange. They are nocturnal animals. So they are the perfect companion for a night owl. I’ve adjusted to the sound of him running on his wheel throughout the early morning hours.
Right after bringing Benji home, I wanted to help him get adjusted to being in my room so I put on a nature sounds video. It played in there for a few hours before the thought occurred to me that I should Google what the natural predators of hedgehogs are. They are exactly what make up the majority of the nature sounds—birds and owls. That was my bad “parenting” moment. Hopefully I won’t have many more.
A few weeks ago we bought a baby swimming pool that is the perfect size for the pair to run around in while outside. Perhaps the fresh air, sights and smells makes them feel like their wild and free ancestral hedgehogs. We’ll just have to look out for hawks while they’re frolicking.
All in all, the hedgehogs fit in quite well in our house. I can only wonder what we’ll bring home next.