lundi 21 novembre 2011

The little hedgehog

Unwell


I only have a few moments before we leave for the veterinary clinic. I finally summoned up the courage to call our clinic nearby and confess that I had recovered another animal, a very young hedgehog, probably too young to hibernate successfully, and who seemed sick when I brought him home a week ago last night.

I was on my way home, racing down the road from the ridge to our road in the old Fiat Uno, with the new Marco Simoncelli sticker on the back end, when the high beams caught a small, rounded figure not far from the center of the narrow road. I just had the time and space to slow and swerve left, continued on a bit, and then braked and put the car in reverse. It had to be a hedgehog, and we have all seen what becomes of hedgehogs left to their own devices on the road at night, particularly, it seems, at this time of the year, when the weather turns cold, and the asphalt holds the heat of the day's sunshine, attracting unsuspecting hedgehogs to their death under our wheels. 

I only backed up a short way before it occurred to me that one can as easily run over a hedgehog in reverse as one can in 5th, so, I stopped the car, put the warning lights on and walked back up the road, using my Blackberry for a flashlight. There is was, a little further across the road from where from front wheel had nearly done it in. I picked it up, and it curled into a tight ball around my fingers, spines sticking straight out. We headed back to the car, flashing in the dark, and I opened the rear end  -- and now that I think about it, I remember that it was the other car, or I would never have put it in the back end --, and settled it into a corner for the short trip home. 

The last time I had found a hedgehog in the street, a fall evening out walking Baccarat and Rapide, 4 years ago, I carried it home in my L.L. Bean anorak shell. It was covered in blood-gorged tics and fleas, and we only kept it inside a night before releasing it into the garden, where it promptly disappeared for good; we'd hardly had the time to name him Harry before he was history, and much to my husband's chagrin because he wanted a garden hedgehog in the worst way.

We both think they are adorable, and they eat insects.

Here was my chance to bring home our new garden hedgehog, only it was small and not exactly well. It made rasping sounds when it breathed, and when it pooped in my lap, it was tarry and black. A sign of blood in the feces, or internal bleeding of some sort.

It settled into the space behind the wood stove in the fireplace, and rasped on through the night. I hoped it was nerves that made its breathing so loud. My doctor husband suspected otherwise. I did, too, to be honest. A respiratory infection, and that would need antibiotics, which would require a vet, and I felt a little embarrassed about calling ours for another found creature.

The next morning, I came down to check on it, after awaking from a dream in which my husband had inexplicably cut the piping on the wood stove and disconnected all of the electroménager in the house while I was sleeping. This might have had something to do with the recent failure of our clothes dryer, in addition to the hedgehog's presence behind the wood stove, where it had curled to hide in safety and relative snug warmth. The towel where it had started the night was empty, but I could hear breathing coming from the wood stove. Louder than ever. I put my hand back behind it and felt nothing. I sat back on my heels and thought. This was impossible. It couldn't be in the stove, and it wasn't next to or behind the stove, but I could hear it.

I looked up into the space above, where the chimney tube disappears up through the ceiling the installers put in the chimney to close it off. Ridiculous. They might have claws, but they can't crawl up walls, even when they are made of horizontal rows of very thin brick, and jump across to... what?

Where was the hedgehog? 

I ran my hands along the skirt of the wood stove, around to the back to the middle, and there was a hole. A hole in the skirt. I had never seen the back of the unit, not really, so I didn't know there was a hole into which a hedgehog could crawl. Squeezing as far in alongside the wood stove as I could fit and reaching my hand through the opening as far as I could reach, I could just feel the tips of its spines. It moved further away. I tried not to panic, although I don't know it would have posed such a problem had it decided to stay. It would eventually come out, but I didn't think about that right away. 

I reached for the stick I use to poke the fire, maneuvered it carefully into the hole and alongside what I hoped were the hedgehog's flanks and pushed, hoping it wouldn't figure out a way to escape the stick and nestle further away. I edged it closer to the hole, and , without setting the stick down, I moved my hand down it until I felt the spines. It was right there. I could get my hand alongside and pull it out. 

It didn't look happy. 

I took two good-sized logs and blocked its access to the rear, at the level of the hole, sat it back down, and it crawled up onto the logs and went to sleep for the day. 

That was Monday, a week ago. Since then, we have removed its tics, determined that it is a little girl, listened to her breathing quiet a little, tried to feed her what the excellent British Hedgehog Preservation Society site told me she would like most (the British are phenomenal with everything wildlife, rescue and preservation) and I read up on young hedgehogs, the possibility of taming hedgehogs, when to release them, and at what minimal weigh, and the thing that stood out was that this little girl was too little to survive the winter. She is a what they call an "autumn juvenile", and even when you rescue them crossing a road and they appear in good health, it is best, they say, to take them to a hedgehog care giver because they are just too young to have a good chance of making it to the spring, and if they do, they come out of the winter months weakly, with less of a chance to survive.

And still she rasped on, but she ate a little of the chicken scallop I prepared for her, and the English digestive biscuits I got at the grocery store here near home, in France. And then she started to eat less.

Twice, she bit me. The first time, I got her teeth off before she broke the skin. The second time, I bled fairly freely. My husband thought maybe it was time for our small, prickly, adorable guest to go, as much as he hoped for a garden hedgehog and thought she was precious.

"Mais, je pensais que tu voulais essayer de l'apprivoiser, juste assez pour qu'elle fasse son chez elle dans notre jardin?"

"Oui," he wanted her to be tamed enough to make our garden her home base, "mais, pas si elle t'attaque." But, not if she attacked me.

That made sense. Still, he was the one who wanted a garden hedgehog, and I was not opposed, even if it does mean no snail pellets. And, she is cute.

Only, she is not doing well. I think she is failing, and it turns out that Dr. Zumsteg knows a lot about hedgehogs. I am hoping it's lungworms or a tiny little respiratory infection de rien de tout, and that a little antibiotic and deworming and a solution for the winter months will see her through.

Off we go.
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