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Confessions of a Former Exotic Pet Owner

When my friend Lisa Metzger at Metzger Associates in Boulder recently sent me some hedgehog links, I realized I’ve never written about Xena — the pygmy hedgehog in my past. She was an albino (to boot), so she was entirely white, with pink eyes and everything. I would never have an exotic pet again, and I would caution others against it, but it was an interesting experience. Granted, it’s not a freaky as the camel featured over at Days of Speed, but it’s a tad bit nuttier than the goat who runs with horses that I blogged about last week.

I don’t remember when I first decided a hedgehog was a good idea. I vaguely recall a lobbying effort with Tom that spanned many months. So, I can say that the decision to have one wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing, like when I nearly adopted that chihuahua-mix while out shopping for ear cleaner.

But, the story goes something like this. Tom had met a guy somewhere who bred hedgehogs. They swapped contact info, and a good while later, the man called saying he was in town visiting his mother and had some baby hedgehogs with him. As a surprise, Tom met the guy and got me Xena. I don’t even remember how much he paid, but I happily created a habitat from an old rabbit cage we had. (Yes, we had a bunny once too … I tell that story another day.)

Hedgehogs like having a place to hide, so I used an empty oatmeal container as her house. I also sewed little fluffy liners for it, so that she could snuggle up. These prickly little critters are easy to litterbox train, so we set one up using a plastic drawer organizer (like a pencil box) that she could easily climb into. She drank out of one of those bottles with the ball-bearing-like end tubes (like what hamsters use). She ate canned cat food and babyfood veggies. She was fond of flinging mushed green beans into the spikes on the top of her head, so often she sported a bit of a green mohawk.

We would crate the dogs and let her run around a bit each day. When she was really hauling butt, I always heard that Fred Flintsone twinkle-toes sound (like when he was bowling) in my head.

Sometimes Xena just hung out and snuggled. Yes, she liked to cuddle and would make a “nest” out of the excess of our shirts or blankets, and curl up on our chests.

When she was happy and relaxed, her spines lay perfectly flat. But, if she was freaked out or mad, then she would puff up, roll into a ball, and make a popping noise.

She was small enough to hold easily in the palm, kind of like this (photos from one of those cute forwarded email trails … many thanks to the person who shot these images):

{Sorry. These photos went missing in a blog meltdown.}

Oddly enough, I cannot find a single photo of her, even though she lived more than five years with us. We did NOT have a digital camera at the time. So, you’ll have to imagine an entirely white hedgehog.

It looks like there is a bunch of good information in this Hedgehog Roundup, if you ever get the urge to have one. There is a “blonde” one pictured on that site, but it has dark eyes … not pink ones like Xena had.

Xena died in 2000 of spindle-cell sarcoma, which is a weird, rare one. She grew a tumor about the size of a pencil eraser on her side. We had it surgically removed by an exotic animal veterinarian I knew, but it came back with a vengeance (inside and out). It’s very sad because they can live to be as much as 10 as I recall, and she passed away half-way to that goal.

So, while I did adore her and enjoy our time together, I learned that really small pets stress me out. They can get very sick, very fast, and by the time you realize something it wrong, it can be too late.

She died the same year as our lab-mix Cody and the same year as Tom’s dad. That summer is when Ginko came home. We needed a puppy, like you would NOT believe. It was a rough year.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

Peggy - January 12, 2009

So cute! The closest “exotic” pet I ever owned was a hermit crab, when I was in college, because that was the only pet they’d allow in the dorm. It kind of creeped me out though.

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