Love-prickled to the core – (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS - VI)
“What have you got there? A rat gone “punk”?”
-- Miguel, my sister Paula’s son
“Did you know hedgehog’s prickles go all soft when they’re with kind people?”
-- From the novel “Riders”, by Jilly Cooper
“(To) my sister, Paula, who, in spite of her many – and often overwhelming – family and professional responsibilities, never gives up on her gruelling campaign, developed in collaboration with some non-profit organizations, to prevent the abandonment of pets (and to find new homes for those who are actually abandoned), as well as on the backbreaking task of caring, flawlessly, for a varied and varying population of dogs – which, between her own family’s dogs and those temporarily in her care, never drops to less than the average 50…”
-- From the introduction to INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS, ©2006 Alexandra* ~ OneLight*®
Here’s a revelation: Although we refer to one another as such, because that is how we feel deeply within our hearts, we are not really sisters, Paula and I. Our mothers were. However, due to certain family circumstances, Paula went to live with our grandparents when she was little more than a baby, and I spent a great deal of my childhood at their home, as well. So, we basically grew up and were raised together, and, although we are, in many ways, very different, we have always been closer than most actual siblings we know, which may be, along with other more subtle reasons, because we do have quite a lot of views, beliefs, interests, likes and dislikes, loves and passions in common.
Among some of our great shared loves, is, for example, that of nature and animals – “infused” in our DNA by our grandfather. This, combined with our also shared and great passion of rescuing and nursing – inherited, in turn, from our grandmother – has caused us to get involved, for as long as we can remember, in countless adventures of all sorts and degrees of complexity. When I think back, I reckon that my own most daring adventure, so far, was to engage, several years ago, in the recovery of injured and/or mistreated sports horses – especially show-jumping horses – an activity as stimulating as it was testing, and as rewarding as it was depressing (in this case, mostly, because too many of the owners didn’t in fact give a hoot about their horses, and treated them like jumping machines, removing them from our recovery programs much too early).
This, however, is another story, which I may develop further one day… but not today, because, today, it is of Paula’s adventures, and about one very special adventure in particular, that I want to write. And, boy, not only are they far more daring than any of mine, but they also occur – or she makes them happen – on a fairly constant basis! In fact, at our grandparents’ estate, that Paula rightfully inherited and where she lives with her family, there is always some exceptionally audacious undertaking going on, in addition to the main, and already rather adventurous, dog-rescuing (and treating, and spaying or neutering, and re-educating, and adopting, or, as much as possible, re-homing) activity.
So, along the years, she has also adopted and/or rescued horses – one of them, a thoroughbred mare, Didi, that, under Paula’s exceptional care, lived to the more than respectable age of 32 – a donkey, several goats, a few cats (these, however, she sends straight to other fellow animal-rescuers, because, she says, “there are just too many dogs here for the cats’ own good!”) and too varied an array of other furry and feathery creatures to mention here… except for one: A wild creature, representing an adventure so unique, and - with all due respect, and apologies for the nonetheless loving irreverence - so symbolic of Paula’s inborn “Mother Theresa-of-the-Animals” vocation, that it deserves a special reference. In fact, it is the central character of the utterly endearing story that I bring you today. Enjoy!
Among Paula’s many other, and already described, responsibilities, is the one of taking care of her granddaughter, while her mom – who happens to be my goddaughter – goes to work. Sometimes, however, when my sister is even busier than what I call her “normal state-of-busy”, other relatives look after two year old Maria – a tiny, beautiful, rambunctious replica of her grandma at the same age, and equally crazy about all things of nature and animals.
That particular day, when Paula returned home after a hectic morning, spent running about a million different errands, Ju, Maria’s other grandmother, who had come over to baby-sit in my sister’s absence, signalled a small, greyish-brown, hirsute “sphere”, lying perfectly still on the kitchen’s doormat. “Preta (one of Paula’s many housedogs) brought “that” in a while ago; I shut all the dogs in the laundry room, so they wouldn’t trash it, but you’d better check out what it is, exactly, and whether it’s alive, because I don’t dare touching it myself!”, she added, with a shudder. Intrigued, Paula dropped her purse and her shopping bags, and, to the accompaniment of a chorus of excited barks from the laundry room next door, as well as of Maria’s screams of high glee, she knelt on the doormat, and very gently picked up the creature, not much bigger than a walnut. “Why”, she exclaimed, “it’s a baby hedgehog! But”, and she turned it around, cradling it upside down in her hands, “it’s so still and cold, I wonder if it’s dead!”
Determined to find out, Paula went into action immediately. While Ju patiently tried to control a frantically squirming Maria, more than eager to join in the rescue mission, my sister took the small animal to the lawn in the backyard, and placed it there, in the hope that, after a while, in that quiet, more natural environment, away from scary noises and smells, it would begin to come out of its tightly curled, ball-like position. When, however, after what she thought was a long enough wait, nothing happened, Paula, never one to give up on anything without trying a variety of alternative strategies first, decided to do… exactly that, and switched to an impromptu “plan B” without further delay . And so the inert little creature was carried back to the house, more precisely into Paula’s bedroom – where it was lovingly placed inside a dog-carrier, snugly wrapped in terry-cloth towels, and flanked by two hot-water bottles.
After yet another seemingly endless, nail-biting wait, it finally looked like “plan B” had been a good one; ever so slowly, but steadily, the hedgehog began to stir and stretch, showing a delighted Paula that it was very much alive, indeed! Soon, however, apprehension began to creep in. The little creature’s skin, under its bristly pelt, was still a glossy, bright pink, and its eyes were still closed, which meant that it was not only a baby, but actually a new-born one. And, her general knowledge of hedgehogs being quite limited, Paula really didn’t have the slightest idea of how to deal with such a young and still totally dependent one! All she knew was that it couldn’t possibly be returned to the wild, at least for a while. Nobody could know where Preta had found it, or where the nest and the mother might be, and to place the defenceless little thing anywhere in the garden or out in the fields would mean certain death, either in the teeth of predators, or from starvation. So, there was no other option; she simply had to keep the hedgehog and jolly well learn how to take care of it, pronto!
And so, the next moment, Paula was on the phone with one of the many vets she works with – a particular one who, in addition to being so kind-hearted and so extraordinarily devoted to his mission, that he charges the most ridiculously low fees for his nonetheless first-class services, also happens to be a specialist in exotic pets. When Paula told him about the “prickly” emergency she had in her hands, however, the good vet, excited as he was with the news, was also very cautious in his approach. “Hmmm, Paula, this may be a tough one. You see, it’s a European wild hedgehog you’ve got there, an orphan, and, from what you tell me, a very, very young one. And”, he explained, “contrary to African hedgehogs, which are not difficult to rear, and, given the proper nutrition and care, can make marvellous pets, European wild ones are virtually impossible to rear in captivity”. “Well”, she exclaimed, “but I can’t possibly return it to the wild! The poor thing hasn’t even opened its eyes yet, it wouldn’t stand a chance! And besides”, she added, “it seems to be famished, so, we have to do something, fast”. “Right, right!”, the vet pondered, and then added, in a resolute tone, “Ok, so here’s what you’re going to do. Mix some of that puppy formula you’ve got there, and see if the little guy takes it. In the meantime, keep it warm, and I’ll be over to check on it as soon as I can!”.
Later, Paula called me, anxious to share the news – which I, being a hedgehog lover myself (although my experience in dealing with the species was then restricted to little more than saving them, at the most ungodly hours of the night, from our dog Bota’s jaws), was thrilled to hear. The baby hedgehog had been declared a male by the vet, who had also carefully observed him, and pronounced him in perfect health. Pico-Pico – so Paula had named him – loved the puppy formula, which she was feeding to him every four hours, from a tiny plastic bottle. Also, he seemed really content in his makeshift “cradle”, the dog-carrier, that - with her husband’s half-resigned, half- amused acquiescence - she still kept in her bedroom, so she could give him his night-time feeds. All the family, she added, was enchanted with the little bristly fellow – or the “rat gone punk”, as her son, Miguel, thoroughly tinkled-pink by his mother’s latest protégé, had first defined him – especially Maria, and now, she really wanted Joseph and me to make his acquaintance, as well!
For some reason or other, however, this wouldn’t come to happen for quite a while, but, in the meantime, both Paula and I – she, of course, more in practice, and me, by then, more in theory - did all we could to add to our knowledge of European hedgehogs, especially by scouring the internet for more specialized information that we could exchange and which could supplement the basic guidelines provided by the vet – who, incidentally, and albeit following the case with utmost interest, was still rather sceptical about the success of the whole enterprise.
Scepticism or not, the fact is that, when the opportunity finally came for Joseph and I to meet Pico-Pico, the combination of my sister’s determination, of her intuition, based on her natural caring instinct, of her upbeat attitude, and of some wonderful pieces of advice, offered by a most helpful website (1), was already proving to be an undeniably winning one.
Invited for dinner at our home with her husband, a month – give or take a few days – after Preta had deposited the baby hedgehog on her kitchen doormat, in marched Paula, with Pico-Pico in the dog-carrier! “When the auntie won’t come to the hedgehog, the hedgehog will come to the auntie!” she misquoted, rather mischievously! And so he did, and what a delightful sight it was, too! Still tiny, but visibly plump, bright eyes like two jet beads, pointed nose twitching inquisitively, his skin darkened to the same coffee-brown of the pelt poking out from under his now truly prickly back, Pico-Pico was let loose in the kitchen (the dogs had previously been sent to bed, in the garage, of course) which he proceeded to explore thoroughly. Lost in the observation of the fascinating little creature, we almost forgot all about our dinner. Pico-Pico, however, didn’t, and soon he was demanding his own supper, of canned puppy food, which he gobbled up in a matter of minutes! Later, in the living room, we were treated to the sweetest display of the hedgehog’s extraordinary amiability; he willingly accepted to be picked up and caressed by any of us, then played hide-and-seek among cushions scattered on the floor, and finally showed, by snuggling with Paula, that he wanted to take a snooze and so it was time to go home!
As I write, about a couple more months have gone by since our above described, exciting first meeting with Pico-Pico. He’s grown almost to the full adult size, and has been weaned, his diet being now a varied one, composed of canned dog-food (the pâté-like, chicken-flavoured one, being his favourite), some cereals, a bit of mashed boiled egg once in a while, fruit (especially apple, which he loves), and the odd fly (he’s kind of picky, in what comes to insects!). He still sleeps in the dog-carrier – and in Paula’s bedroom, too – but he now spends most of the day in a very special “hedgehog park”, that my infinitely ingenious sister put together in her house’s upper floor terrace, away from the dogs and other perils. It is, in fact, a fairly-sized square of turf-grass, placed inside a large baby playpen, and equipped with pieces of terry-cloth, in which he likes to wrap himself, a small water bowl, and his pieces of fruit for the day. His main meals, however (one at dawn, one around 2 p.m., and the last one as late as possible, at night), are given to him by Paula, who, we believe, the little guy thinks is his mom, and with whom he actually demands to play, by the means of authoritative snorts and nose-jerks at her hands. He also still loves to be cuddled, and to hide underneath my sister’s long, lush mane of black hair.
In short, not only has Pico-Pico been successfully reared, but he is most definitely thriving in captivity – to the vet’s highly delighted incredulity. “I’ve never seen anything like it!” he keeps exclaiming. “You should share this story”, he adds, laughing, “with the National Geographic, or the Discovery Channel! This is, indeed, a rare, if not unique case!” And Paula laughs with him. “Yeah… and aren’t you thrilled your predictions were proven wrong?”
He is, of course, and so are we all, even more so because, we all now realize, it will probably never be possible to return Pico-Pico, the European hedgehog, to the wild. Not only is he totally domesticated, but we have more than a good reason to suspect that… he doesn’t even know he is actually a hedgehog! First an African (borrowed from a pet shop) and then a European hedgehog (an adult one, found by the man who helps Paula take care of the dogs) were alternately introduced to Pico-Pico. Well, he summarily snubbed his African “cousin”, which was returned, with thanks and an apology, to the pet shop. As for his even closer one, the European hedgehog, it had to be hastily taken back to the fields… because a furiously snorting Pico-Pico actually beat the heck out of it!
In spite of this double, resounding failure in inter-species socialization attempts, and of the somewhat wistful consciousness that he is being deprived, as a wild creature, of his natural environment, we believe – the vet included – that Pico-Pico is quite happy with his life, which we trust will be a long, healthy, and merry one!
This, of course, with Paula’s unfailing, devoted contribution. Because we know that, whenever she is love-prickled to the core – and she thoroughly is, in more than one way, in Pico-Pico’s case – nothing, on heaven, or hell, or, least of all, on earth, will deter her from doing what she does best and most passionately believes in: Saving the animals and saving nature, as the first and most important steps… to save ourselves!
-- Story © 2008 by Alexandra* ~ OneLight*® - (Photo of Pico-Pico the hedgehog, being fed by Paula, courtesy of Miguel Guimarães)
(1) – “Hedgehog Care” – The “Lincolnshire’s famous little hedgehog hospital” website: http://www.hedgehogcare.org.uk/
INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS – title and texts Copyright © by Alexandra* ~ OneLight*® - is a collection of short stories in which the main characters are animals of different species… including the odd human, once in a while!
To read the INTRODUCTION to this series, go to:
Other stories in this series:
. “And three dogs in a dessert spree!” (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS I) - http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewshortstory.asp?AuthorID=14937&id=23825
. “The Visitors” (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS II) - http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewshortstory.asp?AuthorID=14937&id=24714
. “A wild tale of wild asses” (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS III) - http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewshortstory.asp?AuthorID=14937&id=24923
. “Honour, heart, and…balls” (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS IV) - http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewshortstory.asp?AuthorID=14937&id=26009
. “When a turkey barks” (INDISSOLUBLE CONNECTIONS V) - http://www.authorsden.com/visit/viewshortstory.asp?AuthorID=14937&id=28528