Kelly Jones and her partner wanted a pet.
But they were both allergic to just about every conceivable animal, and since they lived in New York City at the time, they could not adopt an exotic pet.
Jones’ partner, Charles Keilin, was applying to medical schools and the pair visited Boston for a tour. While there, they encountered a woman who was crowdfunding for hedgehog-specific food and had a hedgehog with her.
She asked the couple if they wanted to hold it.
“This was a particularly friendly hedgehog who would just let strangers hold him,” she said. “It was amazing.”
A year later, after Keilin came to the Medical School at U-M, they adopted one as their first pet together.
“They are easy (to care for) as far as I’m concerned,” said Jones, sustainability programs manager for the Graham Sustainability Institute. “They’re not too expensive. They’re cute. The caveat is they are not very affectionate. They can be easily startled, so you have to get them acclimated to you.
“To a large extent, if they have food and water and are allowed a warm, dark place to sleep, they are quite content to be on their own.”
Jones and Keilin have found it easy to fall in love with their hedgehogs since moving to Michigan in 2016. Their first was named Lump — after Pablo Picasso’s dog and the general shape of most hedgehogs — whom they cared for until he died of cancer three years later.
They adopted a 3-year-old hedgehog named Icarus from the Hedgehog Welfare Society not too long after that, and enjoyed spending much of the first pandemic summer together until he also died. They now have 2-year-old Peary — short for Prickly Pear — whom they adopted from a breeder.
Jones has learned one of the most important things to know about caring for a hedgehog, especially in Michigan, is making sure they stay warm. To account for that, Jones, a sustainability champion who prefers to keep her house at a cooler temperature in the winter, utilizes a small pet-specific heating pad in Peary’s enclosure, and a simple reptile heater in his fleece-lined playpen. Neither utilizes more energy than an incandescent lightbulb.
Peary’s enclosure is an antique pie safe, which Jones repurposed quite easily as a small-pet enclosure: “It already had wire mesh doors to allow for airflow, and was quite large, so it perfectly fit his exercise wheel, sleeping bag, and his food and water bowls.”
Because of hedgehogs’ poor eyesight and being “super clumsy,” Peary does not roam the house. “He’ll walk right off the end of the table,” Jones said.
“That’s pretty typical for them as hedgehogs are nocturnal and use their senses of smell and hearing just as much as they do looking around.”
Although hedgehogs are not particularly affectionate and are quite “pokey” — Jones likens their spines to toothpicks — cuddling with them on the sofa while knitting or reading a book is one of her favorite ways to spend an evening.
“When hedgehogs relax, you’ll find their bellies are covered in very soft fur. And they are usually toasty warm, too,” she said.
She does admit that finding their spines on the floor by stepping on them is not particularly fun. That’s especially true when Peary is quilling, as he is now, and the amount of lost spines is higher than usual.
NOMINATE A spotlight
- The weekly Spotlight features faculty and staff members at the university. To nominate a candidate, email the Record staff at email@example.com.
Hedgehogs can be fed grain-free cat food, but Peary has shown a fondness toward kibble made of dried insects that Jones purchases online through Hedgehog Precision, and which is specifically designed for hedgehogs. These soldier fly larvae are raised on pre-consumer food waste, so that appeals to Jones as well.
He’s so fond of the food that he sometimes becomes “a little chubby,” so Jones monitors the amount he gets. His small legs can make losing weight off his 600-gram frame difficult, but being overweight is a common health problem for “hedgies” so it’s important for their owners to be mindful.
Jones said it’s not often she encounters others with hedgehogs.
“Most of the time, people are super entertained that we have a hedgehog,” she said. “So it seems pretty rare anecdotally. We did know one other med student who had a hedgehog who was in Charles’ class, so his medical school class of 170-something had two hedgehogs.”
Jones manages the Planet Blue Ambassador program for the Ann Arbor campus, so she connects with a wide variety of people to educate and inspire them about sustainability.
“In a kind of funny way, having a hedgehog as a pet and working in sustainability are two things that I love, but that other people are often slightly intimidated by at first — pokey spines and impending climate crisis — but I really enjoy telling people about both of them and hopefully encouraging them to consider either one as something they might look into themselves,” Jones said.