Can you walk a pincushion?

Can you walk a pincushion? by Bob Karolevitz Phyllis thought that a cuddly little prairie dog would make a nice pet � but that was before she heard that "monkeypox" was spread by them.

In case you didn't know, "monkeypox" is the latest of the dread diseases that we humans are heir to. Supposedly the virus came from the rain forests of West Africa, and somehow South Dakota's tiny rodents got into the act.

So now Phyllis has second thoughts!

She read in Ranger Rick � a wildlife magazine sent home by Sister Margo Tschetter for our 10-year-old grandson, Sam � that a hedgehog might be a good substitute for a prairie dog.

I was appalled, thinking that I'd have a small, prickly animal underfoot, and I couldn't go without boots on in my own house. Besides that, I didn't relish the thought that some pet-peddler would be richer by a hundred or more of my hard earned bucks to satisfy a wifely whim.

However, in that same magazine I was happy to read that we don't have wild hedgehogs in the United States. They are mostly an English thing, and the Brits can have them, too.

Granted they don't dislodge their quills like porcupines do, but they are stinky and they often have fleas. I made sure that Phyllis knew about that.

The hog part in their name is probably a misnomer and most likely comes from the fact that they are pig-shaped, though a lot smaller than an average Hampshire.

Actually they are primarily insect-eaters and are more related to moles than porkers. They eat just about anything, though � frogs, mice, slugs and small birds. Included are poisonous things and rotting flesh. Ugh! I told Phyllis that besides being smelly, they no doubt have halitosis, too. That should give her something to think about.

Hedgehogs, the magazine says, protect themselves by rolling up in a ball with their spines on the outside. At night they come out of the English hedges (thus, the other half of their name) and waddle about in search of food.

Seemingly, they cross numerous highways in their wandering, but rolling up in a ball doesn't protect them from autos. Consequently many of them are road-kill victims of English drivers.

They say that in Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts used rolled-up hedgehogs as croquet balls, which made them good for something. However, I'm sure that Phyllis would not condone such a use for her pet.

I suppose if she gets one, we'll probably have it on a leash so it doesn't stray out in the road where cars would have a shot at it. I can see me now, taking our little pincushion out for an evening stroll. Thank goodness we live on a farm where I'm safe from peering eyes.

Getting back to prairie dogs, I've never felt good about them since our cattleman friend, Skee Rasmussen, told me how they raise hob on the ranch. Not only do they eat all the grass within their reach, but their burrows can break the legs of cowboys' horses when they go galloping across the range. Now "monkeypox" adds to the strikes against them.

Thank goodness Phyllis has changed her mind about a pet prairie dog. And I hope the hedgehog thing is just a passing fancy.

However, lately I heard her telling a friend that she thinks de-scented skunks are cute. That, I guess, will be my next worry.

© 2003 Robert F. Karolevitz

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