One year for her birthday, Karina told me she wanted a pet hedgehog.
Her obsession with hedgehogs had begun around the Christmas prior; one of the cute gifts she got me was a toothbrush holder that mounted on the mirror - it was an adorable little happy hedgehog toothbrush holder. After that, she decided that one would make the perfect pet for her. She perused some online forums to learn the jist of what hedgehog care entailed, and then presented to me her expectations for that year's birthday.
"I want a hedgehog for my birthday this year"
"Huh? I thought you wanted a paddleboard."
"No, I want a hedgehog."
"But you have to take care of a hedgehog. Wouldn't a paddleboard be easier? You won't need to feed it, clean it, take care of it--"
"I WANT A HEDGEHOG!"
And that's basically how we decided that she was getting a hedgehog for her birthday.
Next challenge: procuring a hedgehog. Right! How does one acquire a hedgehog? Corner drug stores don't carry them, nor do pet stores. You have to seek out a hedgehog breeder. That's right - there are people whose jobs or hobbies entail breeding hedgehogs. What a world! So Karina had done her homework on what it means to be a hedgehog owner, I found a reputable breeder in Western Washington, and next thing you know we're visiting a local hedgehog breeder to see the adorable little baby hedgehogs. Karina was smitten and we immediately purchased a spot on the waiting list for an upcoming litter.
Karina decided to name whichever hedgehog we adopted Sir Reginald. She would later add, on our next drive to the breeder's to pick one out, that were it to be a female hedgehog the name would instead be Madam Blueberry.
We were met with an adorable little batch of prickly cuteness. Hedgehogs by nature tend to be a bit guarded, shy, and not-so-social. We looked around the litters of small, shy hedgies, trying to discern which one we wanted for adoption. Karina had picked up a small, tan and brown hedgie that had curled itself into a tight, prickly ball and seemed to take a liking to her. In the meantime, I myself looked down in a bin to find a light colored hedgehog standing on its hind legs, front paws pressed against the edge of its bin, looking up toward me. I cocked my head and reached down, carefully scooping him into my hands and watched him curiously sniff around and inspect his surroundings. He seemed to have a decent temperament and appeared to be a curious hedgehog. And this would be this one that we were to take home.
And so began our life with Sir Reginald.
Shortly into our drive home on that warm summer day, we saw a roadside cherry stand which we pulled over for to purchase a box. We had read that hedgehogs like fruit - so we decided to give some cherry to Sir Reginald. Reggie took a bite or two before his body appeared to involuntarily stiffen. His mouth began a bit of a rhythmic licking and smacking, and in awkward set of twitchy motions, he began to twist himself and repeatedly lick his quills.
Karina freaked out.
"He's dying, Michael!!"
I myself wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but he looked like he was frothing a little at the mouth while doing this...which all made for a really, really strange thing to witness. After about 30 seconds, he seemed to get back to normal again like nothing had happened. We would later learn that this peculiar phenomenon was called "anointing" and it's something hedgehogs do when exposed to either new or intense flavors and foods. He would be subjected to a number of foods that would cause him to anoint during his lifetime, his favorite being watermelon.
We also learned on that first drive home that Sir Reginald could get car sick. Shortly into the drive, Karina also saw Reggie make a miserable face, throw up, and then keel over on his side. To which once again, she would exclaim "Oh my God Michael, Reggie's dying!!"
His first day was a little bit of a long one.
Once home, we would learn a good many things about taking care of hedgehogs. Things like:
Hedgehogs are nocturnal.
They also will sleep for a good 18 hours in a day. Myself, working night shifts during the first year and a half of having him, also had a propensity for sleep; one friend brilliantly dubbed this condition "chaircolepsy".
Hedgehogs LOVE running - some consider it animal cruelty if you do not give a hedgehog a wheel. Reggie would spent a great deal of his time hauling on his wheel - he even broke a wheel!
Hedgehogs don't have the foresight to not poop in their wheels. Reggie was no exception. He would poop in his wheel, then run and run and run and run.
Hedgehogs aren't particularly affectionate, cuddly, and generally don't do tricks or anything cute other than whatever it is they want to do...and that's mostly eat, sleep, run.
Despite his first impression of being curious and of a friendly temperament...Reggie really, REALLY preferred to be left the heck alone.
When disturbed, annoyed, started, or scared, hedgehogs will curl into a very tight, spiky ball and make a strange, rapid little huffing and hissing noise. I don't know what to compare it to because it's so unusual and unique to them.
In the wild, they will go into hibernation if it gets cold. Domesticated hedgehogs, when cold, will go into a pseudo-hibernation state, but this is often lethal and not something they wake up from.
Karina loved and adored Reggie. But she did not realize a hedgehog's propensity to poop in its own wheel before running for any number of miles at a given time. This quickly deterred her from a lot of handling of Sir Reginald, as it would require bathing him of any hedgehog poop he managed to fling about while running in his wheel, and also soaking his feet in some soapy water to help address his little poop-feet. Side-note: I once saw a clip of a hedgehog owner lovingly put her hedgehog's feet in her mouth, to which I immediately became quite mortified.
Reggie's running also tended to occur most at night. The persistent pitter-patter sounds of his little feet carried quite readily in the open. His general nocturnal activity became a little bit of an auditory challenge in the household. This would ultimately result in him having his own room. Oh yeah, and hedgehog poop stinks (whose doesn't?) - it simply wasn't compatible with most areas of the house.
With Karina's busy life, I found myself regularly spending time with him; I bathed him, would let him spend time in his little portable playpen in our living room or take him to Karina when she would be working at her desk, and I would also cook for him.
Oh yes - this was a well cared for hedgehog. Nearly every meal of his was home-cooked. You can call him spoiled if you want, but at the end of the day he was ours, and he was family.
His meals consisted of a mix of chicken, zucchini, broccoli, egg, hedgehog food, flaxseed oil, and mealworms. He ate like royalty! Does it matter that he was anti-social and grumpy most of the time? Psh. Shut up.
There were times where after a good scrubbing in the bath, he would simply be too worn out to fight us any more and simply accepted his fate - to be pet and doted on. Though times like these were more on the rare side.
We loved finding ways to spoil him and treat him special. One time, we found one of those claw machines with various rubber duckies as prizes. "Win one for Reggie!" Karina would exclaim while grabbing my arm to go play. Another time it was a claw machine with tiny little stuffed dinosaurs that she made me win for Reggie. When we traveled to Turks and Caicos a couple of years back, we spent some time wading in the perfect crystal waters, seeking the right conchs to bring back as gifts to friends and family. When I found an exceptionally small and cute one, Karina's eyes lit up and she immediately said "That one is for Reggie!!".
No matter what we did or where we were, he was always on our mind.
Reggie went with us to Portland for our little wedding escape during the winter - while there, the hand-warmers I tried to give him apparently were expired and no good, and he almost went into hibernation. He felt cold in the morning when I checked on him, was acting drunk and wobbly, and was not himself. So he spent that day nestled in my vest pocket, snuggled close to me and sharing my body heat. I remember later reaching into my pocket to check on him, only to be greeted with angry huffing and sharp quills being jabbed at me. It brought a smile to my face.
When voiceover became an active pursuit of mine, I also found that Reggie especially enjoyed trying to dig and burrow in his cage whenever the mic was on. Numerous outtakes exist of me reading a script only for the abrupt scratchy scratchy sound of his tiny little paws - generally followed by a short bark from me that went something along the lines of "Reggie! Not now!" ...he would SOMETIMES pause for a moment, usually long enough for me to start recording again, before resuming his noisy activity until he was content.
In his older age, he started slowing down a little. He still put up a good fight when receiving his baths, and kept his adorable charm that made it impossible to hate him, despite his generally grumpy temperament. Though one day while he fought through a bath, I observed what appeared to be a large, wide-mouthed gasp from him during his struggle, which was new. In the time following, we would discover a noticeable lump over his neck. This lump would noticeably grow in the following couple weeks. Reggie also appeared to be slowing down a bit more as well, and bath time appeared to prompt more of these strange gasping moments for him. A trip to the vet would confirm our fears.
Hedgehogs have a couple of predispositions; one is commonly called wobbly hedgehog syndrome - a neurological degenerative disorder. Another is cancer and tumors. Reggie had an aggressive cancer that had abruptly shown up.
I brought Reggie home that day, heavy-hearted. We would keep a close eye on him and ensure he got to do the things he enjoyed and loved doing, before taking him in for one final vet appointment if he appeared to become uncomfortable. He slowed down more over the course of that week, and when it became clear he was not getting to do any of the things he liked, we decided we needed to say goodbye.
I never thought I would be so broken-hearted over a critter that was so simple and seemed to have so little interest in me. For 5 years I made him food, I said goodnight to him every night, I bathed him, I cared for him. He was a part of my life. There were so many instances in which my funny little personality quirks were compared to his. I adored him. And it was so hard to leave his room with him for the last time that day. SO hard.
That first night without his tiny presence at home...it felt very, very quiet and empty.
The next morning, my phone brought up a memory.
5 years ago today, it read.
Our very first pictures with Reggie.
5 years ago to the day, a baby hedgehog had pawed his way upright onto his hind legs, to look up at me - almost curiously. Karina always said he chose me. A seemingly sweet little ornery hedgehog would dupe his way into Karina's heart, into my heart, and we would spend the next 5 years of our lives, to the day, doting on him, loving him, adoring him, and thinking about him around the clock.
It has been somber at home in the time since. There's still an empty space in the center of the paper fluff, where he liked to sleep in his little sleeping bag. When the time comes, I'll clean his cage for the last time.
I miss him. It's hard not to still try to bring him food at night before bedtime, or say goodnight on my way past his room. I'm still not used to hearing him scratching away in his cage when I'm recording something in his room.
I will always miss him. That's just how it is. Pets, family, loved ones - they find a place in our hearts that's always special to them. And the sad fact of life is that we all have to leave one day. And while it feels like there's an empty space where these loved ones once were, we get to live with the memories they enriched our lives with. We get to have the gratitude for the love we knew when we shared our time with them. I'm sad, but I wouldn't forfeit the memories and love that I had to not feel this way. At the end of the day, I remain thankful.