July 14, 2011 in Washington Voices

Prickly, hypoallergenic pets inspired local breeder

Hedgehog business for love, not money
Jill Barville jbarville@msn.com
J. Bart Rayniak photoBuy this photo

Sarah Doering shows off one of the hedgehogs that she raises at her home-based business, Lilac City Hedgehogs.
(Full-size photo)

On a whim three years ago Sarah Doering bought a hedgehog through Craigslist.

This came as no surprise to her family, as she’s owned everything from dogs, rabbits and guinea pigs to turtles and flying squirrels. But her prickly new pet, named Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle after the Beatrix Potter character, led to a passion and home-based business.

Soon Doering added two more hedgehogs and bred her first litter. When she realized there weren’t any breeders in the region she decided to fill the void. She joined the hedgehog breeders alliance, got her USDA license and opened Lilac City Hedgehogs.

Since then she’s bred almost 100 African pygmy hedgehogs out of her Spokane Valley garage in a climate-controlled, ventilated room with a skylight and a hedgehog townhouse –- a shelving unit with three rows of clear plastic bins. Each of her 15 adult hedgehogs has in its own room -– a 120-quart bin with bedding, a little plastic hut, a toy or two and a small litter box. Most aren’t good climbers, so this is enough to keep them contained and content.

“They are all my personal hedgehogs,” said Doering, taking Milla from her bin and stroking her quills. “I handle them a lot. It’s not just a business.”

Since it’s a side business, Doering still works full time in human resources. But the hedgehogs don’t care. As nocturnal animals, they sleep during the day. Doering said she doesn’t recommend keeping a hedgehog in the bedroom, because it’ll stay up all night, running on a solid surface wheel if you have one. “They will run for hours at night,” she said. “For miles and miles.”

Prior to placing baby hedgehogs with new owners Doering handles them daily from the time the mother will let her, so when they stop nursing at about six weeks they’re well socialized. She usually has a waiting list for the litters, which have three to four babies on average. With the babies selling for $175 each and retired adults for $50 to $75, it isn’t a lucrative business.

“I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t something I loved,” said Doering, adding that she also enjoys meeting different animal lovers and seeing their excitement when they come to pick up their new pet. She also speaks at schools and clubs and keeps some of the “thank you” cards she receives on a bulletin board in the hedgehog room.

According to Doering, hedgehogs have tiny teeth, so biting isn’t an issue, and they don’t stink. Even with 15 adults and two litters of babies in the small room there’s a barely perceptible scent that’s warm and clean. Put the same number of guinea pigs in the space and you’d probably have to plug your nose.

They’re also a good pet choice for people with allergies, she said, adding that she’s allergic to cats and horses but has no reaction to the hedgehogs, which have quills instead of fur. Thankfully, they can’t throw their quills like a porcupine does.

Though it’s still a little prickly, you can hold one in your hands and if the pet is calm it lays the quills flat. When scared they raise their quills in a criss-cross pattern and puff up. It’s their only defense mechanism.

“They can make themselves into a little quill ball,” she said, demonstrating by cupping Milla in her hands. On her back, Milla curled up until only her face and feet poked out.

For interested pet owners, it’s important to get a hedgehog’s pedigree and a health guarantee.

“Know the parents and that they’re healthy. There’s a genetic disease called wobbly hedgehog syndrome that’s similar to MS in humans,” she said, noting the disease doesn’t manifest until the animal is about 18 months old, but results in paralysis and death.

Along with offering a health guarantee, Doering will take back any hedgehog if the owners are unable to care for it. She pointed out an animal that couldn’t make a move to a new apartment, where pets aren’t allowed. The sad owners returned the hedgehog along with its wooden home, many little fleece blankets, its customary food, and a slew of toys. She gave the hedgehog a stroke along its back. “I meet really neat pet owners.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email