Laura Hayes
Laura Hayes

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My first hedgehog used a litter box. We’d take the thin, Styrofoam trays that held grocery store meat, clean them, nestle them into the hay in the corner of her cage, and sprinkle on just enough kitty litter to absorb her waste. Her name was Polly and she died of stomach cancer after becoming the mascot of my fifth grade class in the suburbs of Philadelphia. She ran obstacle courses, curled up for naps in the crook of my arm, and noshed on dried cat food.

I was an 11-year-old renegade and Polly was contraband. In Pennsylvania it was, and still is, illegal to own a hedgehog. As of January 2018, the same held true for California, Hawaii, Georgia, Arizona, Maine, the five boroughs of New York City, and Washington, D.C. Some of these states and cities allow you to have one if you have a special permit, and several of them are trying to get legislation pushed through to change the legal status of hedgehogs as pets.

And in D.C. yesterday, the Council delivered the first of two required “yes” votes to permit District denizens to “possess, display, offer for sale, trade, barter, exchange, adopt or give as a household pet, an African Pygmy hedgehog,” according to the Committee on Health’s committee report. It amends language in the Animal Control Act of 1979 to expand on language that previously only included rodents and rabbits as pets. The final vote will come on Dec. 4.

The amendment pushing for pet hedgehogs was attached to the Vulnerable Population and Employer Protection Amendment Act of 2017 (B22-0480). The overall purpose of the bill is “to authorize a health occupations board to discipline a health professional who has financially exploited a patient, client or employer and provides for the summary suspension or restriction of the license, registration, or certification of a professional who financially exploits another without a hearing.” 

Eric Goulet from Ward 7 Councilmember Vincent Gray‘s office explains that when there are small changes to existing laws—changes that don’t merit a separate bill and a hearing—the Council will tack them on to unrelated legislation. But before the hedgehog language was added, Goulet says they did their research and learned that European hedgehogs can be a danger to the environment, but African pygmy hedgehogs less so. That’s why the language specifically calls out which species is OK to own.

Some states and cities have outlawed these highly Instagramable animals because of what would happen if they got loose in the wild and disrupted a region’s ecosystem or food chain. Then there’s the fact that they can transmit salmonella and hand-foot-and-mouth disease. Hedgehog fans in states where they’re outlawed argue that the pros outweigh the cons. Goulet believes the call for change came from a couple of Capitol Hill residents, who City Paper is trying to reach.

The picture you’re seeing at the top of this post is of my second hedgehog. I got Javier during my senior year of college and drove him from Syracuse to San Diego even though he was a bit of a dud. That’s how hedgehogs are. Some rarely unfurl from spiky ball to cute, cuddly creature. It can be hard to open up these days.