News & Politics  |  Pets

More Hedgehogs Are Coming to Washington. Here’s Why I’m Not Happy About It.

No, I don't like hedgehogs. Yes, I'm sure.

Photographs in photo illustration via iStock.

The apocalypse is coming—the hedgehogs are here.

Well, at least in Fairfax County. You’ve probably heard that county restrictions on owning a hedgehog were removed last week, as were permit requirements for owning hermit crabs and chinchillas. (Stop, take a second, and let that digest: You need a permit not only to carry a concealed weapon, but also to possess a hermit crab.) The critters are allowed in Loudoun and Arlington counties, as well.

While I’m tickled by the fact that someone, somewhere is impassioned enough about these pokey mammals to champion their legality, I have a sincere question for all these hedgehog hounds, these protectors of the prickle: Have you ever actually spent an elongated period of time with hedgehogs? Because, well, they kind of suck.

Sure, they’re cute for about the .0005 seconds they unravel from their little sea urchin balls, poking out their furry snouts and beady eyes before giving you a look that says, “Yeah, I’m an exotic animal worth $200, who TF are you?” But a soundbite of cuteness does not a worthwhile justification make: That’s like marrying a dude you just met at a bar because he remembered your drink order. Nah.

I once dated a guy who bought a hedgehog, a wee varmint named Quillium (I’m talking about the hedgehog, not the guy). It came from a breeder he had found on the internet, a man from West Virginia whose sole income and apparent sole calling in life was to breed and sell hedgehogs. At the time, the legality of hedgehogs in Virginia was murky at best, nonexistent at worst, so we met this man in a ramshackle Best Western parking lot off Route 66 for what was, I can only imagine, an experience comparable to staging a clandestine arms deal.

He opened his trunk, where a series of Happy Meal-like boxes sat stacked upon one another, each emitting rattling and snuffling noises. He picked one up, undid its flaps, and there, unfolding like the Birth of Venus, prickly and pissed off, was the hedgehog.

I held it on the way home, trying to coax it out with the same kind of language you’d use on a Golden Retriever (I mean, how do you talk to one of those things? There are only so many times you can say “Who’s a good hedgehog? You are!” and be greeted by a resolute silence before you feel like a massive tool). Finally, it unfurled, its lower body descending slowly down like the steps to Air Force One, our eyes locking in a moment of inter-special understanding: woman and hedgehog, mammal to mammal, two creatures in communion. And then it shit on me.

It was all downhill from there (as it turns out, hedgehog poop is very hard to get out of sweaters). A nocturnal creature, it was so distressed by the light in this guy’s bedroom that it took to aggressively running on its wheel, working out with an intensity not seen since Rocky challenged Drago in Soviet Russia. It hissed when you tried to pick it up and impaled you when you tried to set it down. Cuddling with it was like trying to spoon a Swiss Army knife.

A few months A.H. (anno hedgehog), the guy and I were no longer seeing each other. I’d never pin a relationship’s natural course on a four-legged creature, but I mean, come on—it’s kind of hard to feel the love when, across the room, one angry hedgehog is squeaking away on a wheel like he just chewed two Adderall.

Before the hedgehog defenders start hauling their pitchforks to my apartment’s front porch, let me concede: I’m aware that my experience with this species is incredibly limited. Somewhere, I’m sure, exists a lovely, affectionate group of socialized and spunky hedgehogs, just waiting to repudiate this grouchy human’s claims.

But I’ll sign off with this: It’s no coincidence I have a DC address, where these tiny infidels are still—blessedly, reassuringly—banned. Each night I sleep a deep, full slumber, blissful and worry-free, knowing that, for now, I am safe, separated from these Virginia-dwelling foes by the Potomac—aka nature’s hedgehog moat.

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.