GARDNER, Mass. (AP) — They are tiny animals with cute faces. They’re covered in quills. They roll into prickly balls when they are scared. The ideal pet?
Hedgehogs are steadily growing in popularity across the United States, despite laws in at least six states banning or restricting them as pets.
Breeders say the trend is partly fueled by the fact that hedgehogs require less maintenance than dogs and cats, and because they emit little odor — in sharp contrast with rodents and rabbits. They are largely hypoallergenic and are solitary, making them ideal for those with a busy lifestyle.
“A hedgehog can hang out all day while you are at work, you can come home, hang out with it for a couple of hours or . you know, put it away,” said Massachusetts-based hedgehog breeder Jennifer Crespo.
Crespo’s 4-year-old son, Wyatt, sat on the sofa in their home recently, his arm wrapped around the neck of a German shepherd named Ares while an African pygmy hedgehog named Jambalaya clambered across his legs.
The attraction to the animals may have started with a video game — “Sonic” is a blue hedgehog who runs at supersonic speeds and curls into a ball to attack its enemies — but it has grown through people sharing pictures of their pets on social media and elsewhere online.
An Instagram account set up by the owners of a hedgehog named Biddy in Oregon has nearly 370,000 followers, while National Geographic Magazine put a hedgehog on the cover of its April edition to illustrate a trend of people owning exotic animals.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which requires anyone breeding at least three hedgehogs to get a license, says it has no data on hedgehog ownership.
But Jill Warnick, a breeder in Brookline, Massachusetts, said demand for hedgehogs has grown so much over the years that potential pet owners have to fill out an application form and then wait for their turn to buy the weaned offspring.