The tale of Tilly.
Hedgehog: a prickly pin cushion with an adorable face. When I first broached Phillip with the idea of getting a hedgehog he was completely skeptical and I bugged the living crap out of him about it. So much in fact I totally ruined his surprise to get me one for Valentine’s Day as we drove up to the adoption center in late January when he finally gave in. Whoops. Sometimes I am admittedly a little intense when it comes to adopting furry ones; (looking at our three dogs which two were completely unplanned) I can’t help it; I love animals.
We had done a bit of research before we went up to the breeder to take a look at all these pokey little creatures, everything from their nocturnal habits to their typical attitudes which can be a bit introverted or…prickly.
We got extremely lucky when we entered the room with all these little guys. The litter we were interested in had a week or two to go before being able to go home which we expected and this was strictly a “we’re going to look” visit. Then we met Tilly, an Albino West African Pygmy Hedgehog.
She was just about the size of a small whiffleball and prickly as hell with all her baby quills. The breeder lifted her out, handed her to me and the craziest thing happened. Tilly immediately uncurled from her ball and started crawling all around my hands, arms, shoulder and into my hair. And proceeded to relieve herself down my sweater.
The breeder told us that how Tilly was so immediately comfortable with us was extremely unusual. Hedgehogs mostly don’t unfurl themselves until after they have gotten used to your scent and decided you are safe and familiar. Tilly, decided-yes these are my people.
We were allowed to take her home that day with the breeder’s blessing that she was comfortable and happy with us, knowing we would take good care of her. That left us with the decision; what the heck are we going to keep her in?
“Chateau de Tilly”
We had seen the normal hamster type wire cages with running wheels and such in them, they just seemed too small for a nocturnal creature that can run up to 12 miles in one night. So, in true Phillip fashion- he created what we call ‘Chateau De Tilly’.
We had a 3 compartment IKEA cabinet (Besta) we were using for a coffee bar downstairs. It seemed unnecessary since we don’t even drink coffee. Who knew they could make great hedge enclosures?! We built shelves for the cabinet out of actual wood rather than the particle board IKEA uses and then designed and cut plastic board slide out trays that would sit on top of the shelves to protect the wood from any messes she would make. Spoiler alert: hedgehogs poop. A lot. With two sets of wooden stairs made from plywood and popsicle sticks; we were in business.
We were informed to only use Alder Shavings for her bedding but after reading a lot online about the best type of bedding we went with fleece for ease of cleaning. (Honestly, the smell of wet wood shavings is just gross.) The fleece we found was easy to change out daily or every other day depending on mess. Velcro on the bottom of the fleece to attach to her plastic trays helped Tilly from making a giant tornado zone of her bedding every night when she runs around like a tiny lunatic.
You can see we have a running wheel for her (not the wire ones since their tiny paws can get stuck!), some ping pong balls for her to throw and roll around as well as some chew wicker toys. Her favorite by far is her shark bed and ice cream trailer we made from a bird house. (All these items we found on Amazon or at Joanns)
For Christmas, Phillip decided to unleash the big guns and make her an actual castle for Chateau de Tilly. A lit, sparkling, Cinderella Castle that she could hide out in and poke her little head out of. Is it possibly the most extra thing we have ever done for one of our pets including 132 hours of printing time on a 3D printer, gloss coating, paint, fake snow, drilling lights and harnessing wire to make this 2 and a half foot tall fairy tale castle….for a pincushion with legs? Yes, yes it is. But, damn if it isn’t adorable and makes her happy.
Things to consider when adopting a hedgehog. I get this question a lot and I’ve narrowed it down to a couple key points:
-Be prepared that they are not cuddly creatures like dogs or cats. We got lucky with Tilly that she wants to be held as much as she does and likes to adventure. Most hedgehogs can take up to 6 months to be ok with being held and become accustomed to your voice. We definitely held her a lot and talked to her all the time in the first 2 months we had her. Introducing her to friends and family helped her become more accustomed to people in general. Avoid the hissing ball of spikes when possible is always a plus.
-We travel with Tilly. With a small dog carrying bag they are easy to take on road trips or by train but technically there is no airline that allows animals such as hedgehogs onboard until yours truly raised hell with Frontier Airlines. Frontier allows all sorts of animals including hamsters, ferrets and guinea pigs. When I called about taking Tilly to Utah with us for a family reunion they originally said no- after 2 customer service reps and a manager I convinced them that since hedgehogs are silent animals that are nocturnal and also hypoallergenic it’s actually safer to have a hedgehog on a plane than a bird or guinea pig. Frontier now allows hedgehogs on all domestic flights. You’re welcome.
-Consider your environment. Hedgehogs need to be kept anywhere from 68 degrees F to 85 degrees F. If they get colder than that they can go into hibernation which will eventually lead to death. To combat this, we have a small heat light above her cabinet section she sleeps in and have only had one scare in the year we have had her. It’s best just to keep an eye on them during colder weather in your home and buy a small digital thermometer that can keep track of their temperature in their little home. Also remember hedges are nocturnal animals meaning they really only one out at night. During they day they will be pissed if you try to play with them too much! It all depends on your hedgie but we have realized Tilly really likes her beauty sleep int he morning, tolerates us in the afternoon and at night its go time.
-Self Annointing. A strange but slightly adorable habit of hedgehogs. When they discover something particularly yummy or smells good to them, they lick or bite it, foam it up in their mouth and spit it onto themselves. This to the unprepared eye can look like your hedgie is about to have a seizure or got a role as an extra in the exorcist but no, they just want to smell like that thing. It’s totally bizarre. But once you see it a couple times it becomes more comical than anything. Tilly’s favorite things to this with are strawberries, my lotion and Phillip’s beard. Go figure.
-Know that they are adorable creatures that love treats and playtime. There is nothing funnier to me than watching Tilly run at night; it’s like her entire body goes up on hydraulics on her long legs she usually keeps tucked under her and she just zooms around! Remember like any pet, it’s important to pay attention to them and give them lots of love. They’ll love you right back.
Tilly, we love you a whole hedge of a lot. You’re over a year old now and lookin’ pretty sharp. We know sometimes you look at a hairbrush thinking it’s your mom and it puts you on hedge but trust us; everything quill be alright.
**thank you for allowing my terrible hedgehog puns**