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Prickly hedgehog adventure ends well

ESF chemist Julie Hintz gives Hillary a good home

12/16

Monday, December 13, 2004

JEFF KRAMER CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST

Hillary the Hedgehog is going to be fine. Some of the rest of you, I'm not so sure.

More than 50 readers responded to my plea last week to take Hillary off my hands. That's double the number of people who attended a community forum last October at Henninger High School to solicit ideas to improve city schools. Thank goodness we have our priorities in order.

If you're new to this important breaking story, I purchased Hillary, an African pygmy hedgehog, earlier this month at an exotic pet store. It was soon clear that my attempt to introduce some unscripted holiday joy into our household was a mistake. Hillary curled up into a protective ball and hissed at me. My wife, Leigh, furious that I hadn't consulted her about the purchase, did the same. The kids were fascinated initially but grew bored when they realized they couldn't even pet the prickly insectivore unless they wore gloves.

Then things got really ugly. Having read that hedgehogs need lots of exercise outside of their cages - they travel as much as 15 miles per night foraging in the wild - I let Hillary loose in the kitchen while I did dishes. She cowered against the floorboards and showed no sign of going anywhere, so I left her briefly to sign for a delivery. When I returned, she was gone.

Leigh and I spent hours looking for her. Eventually, Leigh became convinced that Hillary had somehow gotten under the kitchen cabinets. I bought a jigsaw. Leigh used it to cut a hole in the compartment under the sink. Still no Hillary.

This is a good time to pause to defend myself against allegations in recent letters to the editor and other venues that I am an "irresponsible pet owner" and worse, "balding." While it is true that I brought home an animal without doing sufficient research and then staged a shameless newspaper stunt to give her away, I refer you to the following statement from my mixed-breed shelter dog, Nate:

"Mr. Kramer has been an exemplary caretaker and companion during our five-year relationship. He is generous with table scraps and provides bountiful opportunities for exercise and social interaction with others of my species. He cleans up after me without making me feel self-conscious. He has never left me in a kennel and lets me ride shotgun in his 1969 Buick convertible. Mr. Kramer even provided me with a makeshift 'therapy dog' vest, so I could tour Mount Rushmore with him."

But getting back to Hillary.

As I said earlier, she's fine. We found her that night behind the stove unharmed. But before I can tell you who "won" her, there are some semantic problems to clear up. As it turns out, The Jeff Kramer Hedgehog Christmas Essay Contest, announced in this space last Monday, is illegal.

Betsy Puffer, an investigator with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has informed me that, with few exceptions, state law holds that "no person shall give away any live animal other than purebred livestock or fish as a prize in any game, drawing, contest, sweepstakes or other promotion."

Contest? What contest?

Today, I'm proud to announce that the recipient of the Jeff Kramer Hedgehog Quality of Life Enhancement Opportunity Award is Julie Hintz, a chemist at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Julie bested an outstanding field of applicants that included hard-core animal lovers and hedgehog fanatics, educators and, most touchingly of all, children such as Claire Sears, 10, of Marcellus, who wrote, "I once had a hedgehog, and her name was Sweet Pea. She was very cute, but she got a tumor and she died."

Alas, I worried that Hillary's disposition might make her unsuitable around children. I also rejected anyone who cited the cost of a hedgehog as an excuse for not having one already. If price is an issue, what happens when your hedgie needs a $500 root canal, as one of Julie's did?

Ultimately, I thought it best to pick an existing hedgehog owner - someone already set up to handle one of these messy, quirky creatures. In Julie's brief essay, I sensed someone who both "gets" hedgehogs and doesn't have a busy social calendar that would distract from their care.

"Each of my hedgehogs goes places with me, has their own, very large cage and gets treated like royalty," she wrote. "I cook them supper every night and though I don't eat meat, I do cook meat for my hedgehogs."

My instincts were borne out when I brought Hillary to her new home and watched with chagrin as the hissing little home wrecker turned into a cuddly love ball in Julie's hands. She petted it without gloves. She played with it. She even kissed its face.

"She's so cuuuute," Julie enthused in her living room dominated by hedgehog cages. "Thank you."

Now, if we can just fix those schools.

Jeff Kramer's humor column runs every Monday in CNY . Reach him at features@syracuse.com.

© 2004 The Post-Standard.


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