The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Jess Macinko
News Editor 

Local woman corners 'cute' market


Jess Macinko

CALL OF THE HEDGEHOG: Rebekah Scarola holds a baby hedgehood at her shop. Scarola raises the pets for distribution to qualified consumers.

Six and a half miles outside Goldendale, Rebekah Scarola cups a hedgehog in her hand. "Rosalee," she explains, is unusually comfortable with people-the result of frequent handling and careful breeding. "I've been doing this long enough, I have certain [blood]lines I know are friendly ." Scarola, owner of Briarpatch Hedgehogs, has been breeding the animals for over seven years. Acccording to her website, she selects for health, temperament "and of course cuteness." Rosalee lives in a room on the side of Scarola's house, along with about 30 other hedgehogs. Scarola, who has children ages five, seven and 11, says the prickly boarders are a part of the family . "I put a litter of babies in a kiddie pool and the kids play with them. They're a great help." Scarola's own interest in hedgehogs began in childhood. It was more common to see them in pet stores then- Scarola remembers playing with them at shops in The Dalles. But by the time her parents agreed she could have one, the regulations on exotic pets had tightened, and many stores no longer carried them. Undaunted, Scarola eventually got a hedgehog of her own. Then another. Then a couple more. She began corresponding with a breeder in Spokane, who became her mentor on the subject. After a rigorous screening process of vet inspections and surprise visits from the USDA, Scarola became a licensed breeder . She started small, but now keeps a steady stock of 25-30 adult hedgehogs (the number of babies varies). She sells anywhere from 80 to 100 hedgehogs per year . Scarola enjoys the research aspect of breeding- tracking lineages, comparing notes with other breeders, coming up with theories about specific traits. "Once you get into pedigrees and research, it becomes a serious hobby . Time-consuming but fun." She also warns budding enthusiasts to take caution from her own example. "They're like potato chips-you can't just have one."

Hedgehog history

Hedgehogs have captivated people's imaginations since antiquity . In the first century, Pliny the Elder claimed they rolled on fallen apples, spearing them with their quills and carrying them off. That misconception persisted well into the late 1800s. Fast forward to the 1980s. Domesticated hedgehogs became popular as pets in the United States, which saw a spike of importation during the late 80s and early 90s. Then the USDA cracked down on exotic animal traffic. The result, Scarola says, is an isolated population with a relatively small gene pool. That lack of variety is a recipe for congenital disease. It's a cruel irony that for

hedgehogs, even the names of fatal degenerative conditions are cute: "Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome," similar to multiple sclerosis in humans, affects close to 10 percent of domesticated hedgehogs. Stopping the spread of genetic illness requires careful, well-documented breeding. Scarola won't sell to pet stores, animal brokers or mass quantity breeders, because they aren't diligent enough in connecting the dots between health issues and bloodlines. "They don't know what names to pull out of the gene pool, and you need to know what those names are. I keep very thorough records and pedigrees. A lot of my animals have pedigrees that go back 20 generations."

Prickly personalities

The brevity of modern domestication also means a shared unfamiliarity: for the most part, hedgehogs aren't used to people, and we aren't used to them. Unlike dogs and cats, they are prey animals, ever wary of becoming someone's lunch. Their quills aren't just for show-when startled, hedgehogs will curl into a spiky ball, flexing their back muscles to make the quills stand erect. Scarola says hedgehog owners can expect to get poked. Successful handling is largely a matter of handler's own demeanor. "[Tension] tells the

hedgehog there is something wrong here." Staying relaxed helps the hedgehog relax, too. Like its cousin, the shrew , the hedgehog is a burrowing animal. It will instinctively push its head into small openings, with either cute or tragic results. In the late 2000s, McDonald's redesigned its McFlurry container because wild hedgehogs were getting

Rebekah Scarola

CALL OF THE HEDGEHOG: One of her charges notices it's lunch time.

their heads stuck in the lids and starving to death. Scarola advises hedgehog owners to use cages with smooth sides-wire cages allow the animals to climb and, if they stick their heads through the gaps, potentially hang themselves. On a more cheerful note, owners can turn this tendency to their entertainment by providing paper-towel tubes cut lengthwise. The cut allows the hedge

hog to escape, if and when it wants to. According to Scarola, that may take a while. "They love to just walk around with it on their head. You feel bad for them and pop them out- they'll go right back and do it again." Obviously , Scarola is a fan. But she doesn't take ownership lightly . Before she sells to anyone, she vets the potential buyer . "What are you going to feed

them? What are you going to use for a cage? What temperature are you going to keep them? Do you know what a hedgehog is?" She wants to make sure the new owner is acting on real interest, not a whim. You can contact Briarpatch Hedgehogs through their Facebook page, or by emailing briarpatchhedgehogs@yahoo.c om.


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