Despite strong opposition to hedgehogs as suitable pets, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved adding them to the list of commonly accepted pets, along with chinchillas and hermit crabs.
Yesterday’s decision ends a nearly 20-year-long push to legalize the prickly animals as pets.
Strong concerns about pet owners’ abilities to care for them dominated the public testimony before the supervisors voted.
While hedgehogs seem trendy, that doesn’t mean they are ideal pets, Christine Anderson, a member of the county’s Animal Services Advisory Commission, said. She then listed several reasons, including their risk of spreading salmonella, their high maintenance care and potential animal abandonment.
Others argued that it’s not so much the animals, but rather the humans who are the main problem.
Chris Schindler, the vice president of field services at the Humane Rescue Alliance in D.C., argued that exotic animals often suffer from poor care, highlighting a disturbing news report about 15 hedgehogs found in a trash can in Ocean Beach, Calif.
After the novelty of the impulse purchase wears off, people often don’t like hedgehogs’ noisy, aggressive and destructive behaviors, he said.
While several supervisors acknowledged the potential risks for hedgehogs and humans, ultimately they argued that people armed with resources and education can make the right pet ownership decisions.
Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins said she cautiously supports the proposal. “This has come to us quite a few times, and with that in mind, maybe it is time,” she said, adding that she wants to the county to monitor the impact of the change.
Hedgehogs first popped up in a proposal to add them to the list of commonly accepted pets in 2001, Casey Judge, a senior assistant to the county’s zoning administrator, said in a presentation. Ever since then, the county has continued to receive inquiries from residents about them, she said.
Fairfax County now joins Loudoun County with allowing all three pets. Meanwhile, Arlington County only allows chinchillas and hedgehogs.
Fairfax City and Falls Church either do not allow or are unclear about the three animals.
Hedgehogs are nocturnal animals that require space, exercise and room temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit to ensure they do not start hibernating, according to the Hedgehog Welfare Society. Judge said that care for chinchillas is similar to rabbits, while care for hedgehogs is similar to ferrets.
Two students argued in the animals’ defense, saying that other pets, such as lizards, also require special care and that their pet care costs are comparable to dogs.
The student from Longfellow Middle School said that breeders ensure that future owners have the training and resource materials needed to help them take care of hedgehogs.
In response to Gina Marie Lynch, from the Human Society of Fairfax County, saying that hedgehogs breed like rabbits, the student said that hedgehogs will fight if left in the same space. “If you don’t want babies, don’t keep a male and female together.”
The student from Sandburg Middle School pointed out that the county won’t have to worry about escaped or abandoned hedgehogs becoming an invasive species. Since African pygmy hedgehogs can’t hibernate, they would not survive the cold weather.
While the three animals are unique pets that require special care, Chairman Sharon Bulova said that she does not expect everyone to go out and buy them.
“I frankly don’t think that this action will open up a floodgate of many, many situations where people will adopt a hedgehog or a chinchilla, but some people will,” Bulova said.
Images via Planning Commission and Kelly W.