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Doctor Dolittle

Posted Jan 22 2013 4:23pm

Today was ‘clean the hedgehog cage’ day; it comes around every two to three weeks and it involves emptying the cage out, washing the wheel (where Spike does most of his …business…) and replacing the fleece liner on the floor.  I usually wait until I’ve got everything out, and the wheel cleaned, before I attempt to pick up my prickly grandhog.  He gets moved to a temporary home while I replace his liner and re-stock his cage.

Dave realized what I was doing and excitedly asked if I was going to pick Spike up soon.  “No,” I said, “I usually wait until the very last minute before I do that.”  He seemed disappointed, and I explained that Spike isn’t like our other animals – he really doesn’t appreciate interaction with humans.  (He doesn’t mind his ‘mom’ picking him up, but even Paige mentioned that he takes a lot longer to warm up to her now that she’s away at college and can’t interact with him as much.)

Cleaning progressed, and I bundled Spike into his extra fleece to pick him up and transfer him to his temporary box.  Dave wandered into the room shortly after.  “Oh!  You picked him up already!”

“Well…yeah.  He really doesn’t appreciate his grandma messing with him too much.”

Next thing I knew, Dave was lifting fleece-enrobed Spike from his box, cradling him and crooning to him in the same voice he uses for the cats and, well, any animal he talks to.  I watched as he carried him around the house, introducing him to the sleeping (and very uninterested) cats, carrying on a one-way conversation all the while.  He eventually sat down with him and tried to coax him out of the ball he was curled into.

Spike the Hedgehog

Spike the Hedgehog

This is what I love about Dave.  He can tell all kinds of stories about his rough-and-tumble past, but when it comes to animals, he’s a big softy.  I always felt you could tell a good person by how they treat animals and children.

One of the things I still remember about the first time or two he met the kids was a tender scenario that played out while I watched from inside the house, sick with a horrible cold I’d caught at the last minute.  Dave took Paige outside to burn off some of her 3-1/2 year old energy; she was riding her tricycle up and down the sidewalk in front of the house.  Every now and then, she’d stop and Dave would bend down to the sidewalk in front of her.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on.  After they came in, I asked Dave what he was doing.

“Well, Paige was worried about riding over the worms so I was moving them out of the way for her.”

Sigh.  Yep, he’s a keeper, I thought.

Over the years, we added quite a few animals to our home, thanks to Dave.  He was the one who took Paige to the county animal control (aka the ‘pound’) and found our Cockapoo, Toby, in 2000.  He was also out with Paige when they came across a guinea pig being given away for free at our local pet store…Seymour was presented to me as a birthday gift, the first guinea pig I had ever owned.  That ballooned into a whole thing with a two-story cage made from cubes and coroplast, and research that pointed out that guinea pigs get lonely by themselves…so of course we had to adopt more guinea pigs (from a local rescue organization).

When we discovered feral Maxie and her kittens, Grace and Alice, living in our enclosed deck in 2006, Dave didn’t hesitate when I brought up the possibility of trapping them, getting them spayed/vaccinated, and keeping them.  Our household grew instantly from two to five cats.

When Paige was going into her junior year of high school and desperately wanted a hedgehog, I put my foot down.  “Not until you get a job and can take care of it financially,” I insisted.  They required special food and an exotic animal vet if veterinary care was required…definitely not inexpensive.  Plus the cost of a hedgehog alone was fairly expensive.  One day as we took our morning walk around the neighborhood, Dave talked me into fronting her the money for the hedgehog.  “I think the responsibility of taking care of it will be good for her,” he reasoned.  So it was thanks to Dave that Spike joined our home (and yes, Paige did pay me back for all the money he cost in the beginning).

Then a couple days ago, the weather started turning cold.  Like, bitterly cold, down near zero at night.  We provide a few outdoor cats with food and water, and we were suspecting some of them might be living in our enclosed deck like Maxie was a few years ago.  Originally we weren’t sure if these were feral/stray cats or just pets allowed to roam – they really don’t look thin or rough the way she did when we first trapped her.  But since we’re still seeing them in this really cold weather, I’m starting to think they may not have homes to go back to and I’ve been worrying about them.  When we got advance notice of a wind chill advisory that was going into effect last night, I started doing some reading on stray cats and winter weather.

“I don’t know, hon…this says it’s better for them to have a smaller enclosure because they’ll stay warmer than if it’s a big area.  Our deck is pretty big and I’m not sure how warm they’ll be…maybe we should make something for them,” I worried.  I figured Dave would just nod and murmur reassuring words, since he’s used to me worrying about nearly everything.

I went about my morning, getting some packages ready to ship, and realized I hadn’t seen Dave for a while.  Then I started hearing weird noises from downstairs.  Before long, he came up the stairs and motioned for me.  He had made an outdoor cat enclosure!  I couldn’t believe it – just one chance comment, and he went downstairs without a word and made a perfect outdoor kitty home.

We set it up by our lower deck – we have a smaller, lower deck attached to the larger top deck.  I didn’t even think the cats could get into the lower deck (Maxie was in the larger deck when we found her – it’s easy to get to from under the stairs that go from the top to the lower deck).  We watched yesterday as one of the outside kitties ate lunch, then went down the stairs and jumped up and into our lower deck.  Son of a gun!  So we know they’re using that; hopefully they’ll notice the smaller enclosure nearby as well.

Stay tuned…if we do move and get some land (if we end up living in a more rural area, that is) then Dave insists that he wants some goats.  To be continued…


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