Spectators at a Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting last week were on pins and needles as a long-running and emotional debate finally came to an end: Local lawmakers in the Virginia jurisdiction voted to strike down a ban on keeping hedgehogs as pets. The Board also lightened restrictions on hermit crabs and chinchillas, which previously required permits.
Why the reticence toward hedgehogs, those harmless mammals that spend the vast majority of their days curled tightly in the fetal position? It's not because their quills are too dangerous for public exposure. Rather, it's because they are "exotic animals"—ones that welfare advocates say are misunderstood.
"That is the perfect recipe for people to think it would be fun to own one," said Christina Anderson, a member of the Fairfax County Animal Services Advisory Commission, who testified in favor of the hedgehog ban. "Nothing could be further from the truth."
Chris Schindler, vice president of field services for the Humane Rescue Alliance, echoed Anderson's sentiments, arguing that the bristled beasts are no walk in the park. "People get them and then realize there's more to caring for them," he said. They are built to forage and are nocturnal, added Schindler, the latter of which could keep some unassuming owners awake at night.
But hedgehog devotees say those concerns are misplaced. "Hedgehogs can be cared (for) through widely available products, through education and through an effort to remind people that when they take on an effort to care for an animal, whatever that animal is, they have a responsibility," said Mike Bober, President of the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.
My sister Molly, who used to own one of these spiny critters, agrees.
"They only need to go to the vet once per year (assuming they're in good health), eat once per day, bathe once per month, and have their habitats cleaned once per week," she tells Reason. "They love to explore, play with small toys, and they're easy to dress up, if you're into that kind of thing."
Several other locales have hedgehog bans on the books, including California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, and New York City. Those laws make up just a fraction of the restrictions placed on domesticated animals across the country. Owning a Quaker parrot is illegal in quite a few states, and pet ferrets are prohibited in California, Hawaii, and D.C., with a slew of other states requiring permits. Many species of bat are federally protected, which means those cave dwellers are a no-go if you're looking for your next winged companion. (Good luck if one gets into your home; if it happens to be on the Endangered Species List, as some bats are, you need to get it out alive.)
While Fairfax County just became a haven for hedgehogs, they are still outlawed in neighboring Washington, D.C. The nation's capital was poised to lift the restriction last year, but backed down after the Humane Rescue Alliance pressed them to reconsider. Spineless.