2018 continues to challenge us in some of the most difficult ways. I had this post planned well before Tito’s unfortunate and unexpected passing on December 15th. Along with our cat Tater Tot, Tito’s adoption story is unique and one I feel should be told. Given recent circumstances, I feel like this post is more relevant now than ever before.
Early 2017, I was itching for a new pet. We already had our cat, Teddy, but I was desperately wanting something smaller. I had become obsessed with hedgehogs and began researching them nonstop to determine if this type of animal would be a good addition to our family.
For anyone who is not familiar, hedgehogs are small spiny mammals in the Erinaceidae family. They have spikes all over their backs that are used as defense out in the wild. Unlike porcupines (which everyone confuses them with), hedgehogs cannot shoot out their spikes and they don’t come out and stick into predators that challenge them.
Another huge misconception, hedgehogs are NOT rodents! Rodents (like rabbits and mice) have teeth that continuously grow. They chew on hard surfaces to shave down their teeth. Hedgehogs are like humans, the teeth they get are the only set they’ll ever have. And ask my fiancé, their teeth are sharp!
I learned a lot about hedgehogs before I decided to take the leap and get one. My fiancé and I talked about it for a while. He was originally opposed to the idea. He loved Teddy but wasn’t crazy about adding another responsibility to our life. After much discussing and convincing, on Valentine’s Day my fiancé gave me a card and inside it said: “Okay, let’s get a hedgehog.”
I was elated! I immediately began searching the internet for places I could get a hedgehog. There are several breeders in my area, but a lot of them had a waiting list. I then took it to Craigslist. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right. Craigslist isn’t the best place to find a pet. Before you start, I already had a terrible experience with Craigslist pets’ pages before and will tell you all about that another day. Despite having bad experiences in the past, I can’t help but feel bad for the pets listed on Craigslist. Those animals need saving too!
After many weeks of scouring the internet for hedgehogs, I finally found an ad on Craigslist for 2 1/2-year-old hedgehog two hours away. I decided to take a chance on Craigslist and arrange to meet this person. My fiancé and I got in the car one day after work and drove two hours one way to where Tito was living.
To say that we were in the middle of nowhere is an understatement.
We finally pulled up to the house and noticed several dogs running around kids playing in the front yard. I won’t lie to you, it was definitely sketchy. As we walked up to the door, we saw they had two horses in the worlds smallest pen in their backyard. It was sad.
We walked into their porch and Tito was in a small cage on the ground next to a cage full of baby ducks. He had a small plastic house, food bowl, and water feeder. My fiancé said before we walked into the house that if the hedgehog bit him more than five times, we shouldn’t get him. I have no idea why he decided on that particular stipulation, but that was it.
Tito’s original owner led me to his cage and let me hold him. He was very skittish. He balled himself up and did not want to come out. Eventually, he stuck his little nose out and started smelling my hands. Hedgehogs naturally have horrible vision and rely heavily on their sense of smell and taste. He licked and smelled my hands for a bit and then I passed him over to my fiancé. Almost immediately, he bit my fiancé. And then he bit him again, three more times. I took Tito back from my fiancé because I knew we needed to take him home with us. This environment wasn’t a good place to determine Tito’s personality. He was scared and there were several people around and animals. There was just too much going on for him to be comfortable.
We agreed to take Tito and loaded him up in our car. On our way out, Tito’s original owner asked us if we wanted their boa constrictor as well. We politely declined. We love animals, but I draw the line at snakes and spiders.
We began our two-hour ride back home with our new pet tucked away in the backseat. It took Tito a few days to warm up to us. If I’m being honest, I was a little disappointed at first. He was extremely cautious of us and hated being held. He would roll up into a ball and make a hissing noise any time anyone came near him. I worried for a while that he would never warm up to us.
Over the next few months, we worked very hard to socialize Tito more. We got him a ball, so he could run around our house without getting stuck under anything. He loved roaming around our home. I now understand why Sonic the Hedgehog was so fast because real hedgehogs are surprisingly fast for how small they are! We also got him a bigger multi-level cage. The cage he had was small and rusty. His new cage was twice the size, big enough to hold his new running wheel we got him. And he loved running on his wheel. Every single night once the sun went down (hedgehogs are nocturnal), we would hear him start his nightly workout on the wheel. The clicking noise of his wheel could be heard all over our small little home. It was comforting to hear him being active.
Soon, Tito became the sweetest little pet I could have asked for. I strongly believe Tito just needed someone to love him and spend time with him to come out of his shell. He even got along well with our cat Teddy. In fact, Teddy adored little Tito! I used to joke that Teddy thought Tito was his pet. He would sit outside his cage and just watch him eating or running. And Tito never minded. Of all the things he feared when we first got him, he was never scared of Teddy. He would run right for him, leaving Teddy unaware of what to do. He knew he couldn’t “boop” him, he learned that very fast. So, he would just jump out of his way and then lay back down next to him.
The few weeks before Tito passed, I was bragging on him so much. He was acting so much more social than ever before. One night after work, I took him out of his cage and he just sat on my shoulder while I did a few things around the house. Not once did he roll into a ball. He let me pet him and rub his tummy. He licked my fingers and my face and was just so sweet.
Maybe he knew his time was limited and wanted to leave us with another great memory of him. Whatever the reason, I’m forever thankful that we had a few years with Tito. Believe it or not, he taught me a lot. His standoffish personality in the beginning (coupled with the obvious obstacle of his sharp spikes) caused me to question if I had made the right decision. However, I wouldn’t let myself give up on him. And I’m so glad I didn’t. His personality did a complete transformation while he lived with us and I could tell he was a much happier creature.
We’ve decided to not get another caged animal for the time being. Tito’s cage and wheel are still in great condition and I’ll be donating them to a small animal rescue along with his uneaten mealworms and dried fruit. I already miss him more than I really thought I would have. But I take comfort knowing that he’s with my grandma in heaven somewhere.
Like my mom said, “Grandma needed a pet, and Tito needed to rest.”