Elaine Drewery takes you back to the beginning and explains how it all began in this excerpt from her book “Hedgehogs In My Care”.
Three years ago I accidentally disturbed a hedgehog with her babies in the stable. I tried to put things back but found later that she had moved them all out apart from one. His hungry piping was heart rending so I took him in and became addicted. I called him Wilfred Pickles, he stayed over winter and taught me a lot before his release the following May. Because he was my first one I spent hours with him, he used to fall asleep spread-eagled on my chin or snuggled in my polo-necked jumper. Callers were astounded when I explained that my stiff neck was only a hedgehog. He used to snuffle through my hair and several times I needed assistance to disentangle him. He was almost vegetarian accepting only smoked bacon and beetles with his apples, digestive biscuits, raw egg and chocolate. Anything which remotely smelled of burning such as coffee, cigarette ends, ‘Jeyes Fluid’, creosote or ash sent him into raptures whereupon he indulged in the mysterious hedgehog habit of self anointing. He would lick the strong smelling object, foam at the mouth and then flip the bubbles into his prickles. No one understands why. Wilfred was soon joined by others until I had cages piled up forming a high-rise tower in my cluttered kitchen.
Spike was also an abandoned baby found on a neighbouring farm and sadly, not destined to return to the wild. Maybe his mother knew his spine wasn’t sound before Stocks, Cook and Timson, Ms.R.C.V.S, diagnosed it. They treated him and cured the pain he so loudly complained of but Spike was left partially paralysed at the back end – and incontinent. After many enquiries were scorned in my search for a physio-therapist to take him as a patient, I was extremely grateful to a willing local lady called Margaret Nielsen who gave him laser treatment and taught me how to exercise his back legs. Watching me intently he would lie contentedly whilst I worked his limbs to the tune of “The Day We Went to Bangor”. He would kick responsively until tiredness overcame him and he fell fast asleep. We enjoyed a loving relationship of absolute confidence and trust. His walking improved but his incontinence didn’t, so early each morning Spike was plonked in the sink into lukewarm water from which he first took a long drink – before all his under bits were gently washed. I then left him to his own devices, paddling and floating happily until he clutched at the chain with his powerful front legs and pulled out the plug. This was followed by a thorough drying and the appliance of nappy cream and powder. His bed was lined with disposable nappies but, in spite of all my hygiene efforts, he developed cystitis at the age of 17 months and died leaving me devastated but more knowledgeable. Spike had taught me so much about hedgehog communication.
Miss Vincent came in with burns and gangrene in all her feet. I guessed she had escaped a bonfire by running out on something red hot. The vet cured her with antibiotic injections and she was successfully released after nursing.
Hatti, from Trusthorpe, stayed for the winter because, weighing less than one pound, she was too small to survive hibernation. So the register goes on. The kitchen was full so I had to clear out another room and acquire more cages. Those distressed by cage confinement were kept loose in the bathroom. I advertised and television, radio and newspaper people came to look – and more hedgehogs came.
My grown up family are gradually moving out, probably because there are hedgehogs everywhere and not all are friendly. One limping invalid, for no reason, suddenly made a beeline for an unshod foot and took a bite. In spite of cursing and violent shaking of foot, he hung on determinedly as he was swung about. I had to remove the sock with hedgehog still attached and stifled giggles as I administered first aid. This time to a human.
Hedgehogs cast their prickles which consequently lie menacingly in the carpets ready for the unwary bare foot. I admit that it is really painful to tread on one but the resulting energetic leaps and howls of pain never fail to appeal to my sense of humour.
In the chaotic untidiness of my house, an occasional garment dropped carelessly on the floor goes unnoticed until some delighted hedgehog is only too pleased to snuggle into a sleeve for a cosy snooze, proving quite a shock when the owner wants to wear it. And on several occasions there have been angry exclamations on the unpleasant discovery of what a hedgehog will do inside a laid-down wellie.
Nelson came from Firsby, having suffered a badly damaged eye. With daily puffs of antibiotic powder, the eye withered away to leave a clean socket which the vet decided wouldn’t need stitching up. I telephoned Nelson’s people who had requested his return to tell them he was ready for home and, as they were busy with horses, arranged for him to go the following week. Before departure day, I heard agonizing screams from inside his nest early one morning. Thinking something had gone disastrously wrong with his eye, I snatched him up at the very moment “he” gave birth. Trembling with excitement I hastily put “Nellie” back and prayed to god my interference had caused no harm. Disturbed mother hedgehogs often eat their young, so on no account should a nest be touched. A week has passed and I’ve heard squeaks and suckling from within and seen one tiny tot hanging blindly onto mum when she came out to feed. I am as thankful and thrilled as a grandmother for such a privilege, even though I haven’t yet seen the complete family.
I could go on and on with stories of my prickly patients, every one an individual character with a charm of his or her very own. To know hedgehogs is to become besotted!
Many go back to from where they came if people want them back and are prepared to take the trouble to help them revert back to nature. Others are sent to trustworthy outlets, often to where previous patients came from. Obviously I can’t return dog-worried: road casualties: or poisoned ones to their original homes and I don’t provide hedgehogs for gardens that are not already honoured with prickly presence. If the garden is suitable and cat food or meat scraps are put out it would be snuffed out and chosen for inclusion in a regular round. If hedgehogs don’t call there will be a good reason, maybe too tidy, dog patrolled or sterilized by gardeners’ chemicals. Possibly surrounding poisoned, farmland has caused extermination or there is a badgers’ set nearby. I try and ensure a safe release for my second chance hedgehogs. It’s an emotional parting wherever they go, like one of the family leaving, so I want the very best for them.
Just a few become permanent residents and settle into hotel existence. Oliver Brown came in with severe head injuries and amazed everyone with his recovery after days of unconsciousness. However, he suffered brain damage and a consequent personality change. He never rolls up, attacks anything that moves and I’m sure he has vowed revenge on the vehicle that left him for dead in the middle of the road. In fact, the little fellow is a danger to himself but I humour him and pretend to agree with him. He seems quite happy in a violent sort of way.
Lady Rambo has a serious recurring skin complaint and, in spite of several attempts to release her, seems to know that she wouldn’t survive without regular immersions in my bucket of Alugan solution. She is gentle and perfectly mannered and ideal for school visits, “Save the Hedgehog” Campaigning and P.R. exercises.
Colonel lives in the bathroom and uses a piece of newspaper behind the lavatory like a gentleman. Hedgehogs even wipe their bottoms you know! He makes no effort to vacate his apartment though the door is left open. Socks, flannels or towels, or anything else left lying about within his reach will be hurriedly gathered together to supplement his bedding next to the wash basin. He has an ear infection and seems perfectly content to stay for treatment and while he is happy, he is welcome.
Mixed in with the Post Office, dog clipping and portrait painting, I generally have about twelve hedgehogs to look after. It’s ironic that often, on the seven mile trip to the vets, we might pass three squashed ones en route and I have nightmares about the millions that die slowly, uncared for, in the dirt on their own, perhaps because people think no-one can help them. It’s sad to see them come but a joy to mend them. I have no veterinary qualifications but if people will bring them, I’ll do my best, with love.
Hedgehog care now accommodates up to one hundred and forty patients at one time and, thankfully, I am assisted by Nigel Brocklesby, a dedicated full time voluntary worker.
From small beginnings Hedgehog Care continues to flourish after seven years and Nigel is now in partnership. To spread our work load we have encouraged and assisted people to form nursing establishments in other districts. From Authorpe we now undertake four or five local visits, with talks and hedgehogs, every week at schools and clubs, etc. Referrals and advice with problems and enquiries are dealt with by telephone and information leaflets supplied. We have our own ambulance although, due to work pressure, delivery of casualties is appreciated. The Oliver Brown ward is now open above which “Hogsfam” raises funds with clothes. Souvenirs are on sale to callers who come from all over the world to see our humble but famous little hospital.
On behalf of hedgehogs, grateful thanks to the many people who kindly help to support our vital cause.
Now a growing movement assisting many smaller branches throughout the U.K. Each year to share understanding and awareness we give over 160 talks and lectures (with P.R. hedgehogs) at schools, clubs, organisations etc, and leaflets, advice and information are provided on request. At Authorpe we treat approximately 1500 patients annually, returning as many as possible to the wild.
Still not very posh and pushed to the limits, facilities include reception and assessment ward (kitchen), special needs ward (T.V. Room) après op (bathroom) and assorted outside runs. The Oliver Brown Ward (converted stables) is for convalescents.
From all over the world visitors see our “Shadows” nature walk, Garden of Rest, Hogsfam and merchandise on the road show.
Concern for wildlife has at last prompted recent establishment of several lavish hospitals nationally.
Having handled over 17,000 patients, hedgehog care is now able to refer distant casualties to newly opened wildlife hospitals all over the country.
With constant destruction of the habitat the situation for wild life is desperate and sadly hedgehogs are now in decline. In spite of the amended mammal bill offering protection, in reality the law and R.S.P.C.A. does little to minimise abuse.
Although our workload is heavy we pledge our continued dedication to hedgehog welfare and to the miscellany of other wild creatures who arrive at the door in need of care.
Generous donations and help from family and friends have made our new Ninja Wing possible. It will offer more space, better facilities for visitors and outdoor sanctuary for handicapped hedgehogs.
Ken Livingstone M.P. and Dr Nigel Reeve BSc. Hons, Ph.D, P.G.C.E. are our patrons providing valuable support in their respective capacities.
We are indebted to the generous sponsorship by Perkey Pet foods who manufactures and supplies Hedgehog Care with Spikes Dinner and Spike Banquet saving us thousands of pounds.
Nigel Brocklesby left suddenly and consequent lack of transport was replaced by R&S Pet Taxi Service of Louth. On my own I had to re-organize, cutback, and give up outside talks and shows. I now pay approved vets to back up care from several suitable volunteers taking in a percentage of patients. I am struggling during busy times and am grateful for “hands-on-help” which comes “if and when”
Elaine writes a newsletter each year, which you can download.