Hedgehogs flourish with love they find at Janesville home
When Kristen Zorbini Bongard first met her husband Mike Bongard, she told him that she and her hedgehogs were a package deal. He couldn't have one without the other.
Now, several years—and several hedgehogs—later Kristen, Mike, Harriet and Fiona live happily together on Janesville's northeast side.
Kristen is an attorney, Mike is a plasma physicist and Harriet and Fiona are two unbearably cute hedgehogs.
Recently, Harriet became briefly famous for being featured in a National Public Radio piece on health insurance for pets—and for being the first hedgehog ever to take anti-psychotics. It's a long story, but Harriet was ripping out the sutures after she had cancer surgery—yes, cancer surgery—and the drugs kept the sutures safe.
Putting one of those giant cones around her neck would have been problematic.
"Hedgehogs don't really have necks," Mike said.
On Sunday, Harriet was napping inside a blue towel on Mike's lap and declined interview requests with a huff.
Actually, it was several huffs, and that's what hedgehogs do when they first wake up.
But tiny Fiona was ready. Her pencil-eraser-sized nose curiously prodded the air, and her tiny brown eyes took in the newcomer with friendly interest.
Fiona is the first hedgehog Kristen actually bought.
She's rescued eight that have become her personal pets and has rescued and helped find new homes for between 25 and 30.
Um, so why hedgehogs?
"When I graduated from college I decided that I was a grown-up and could have a pet," said Kristen, who later attended law school at UW-Madison. "But I have a lot of allergies—cats, hamsters, rats, horses—really to a lot of animals."
Now, more than five years later, Kristen is a Hedgehog Welfare Society board member.
Her first hedgehog, Sophie, was a frightened rescue who spent most of her time rolled up into a tight ball.
Kristen went online and found the Hedgehog Welfare Society and started asking questions.
Hedgehogs, it seems, need lots of love and attention to flourish. Benign neglect leaves them frightened, wary and sick. Abuse does all of the above, and then some.
But the couple are patient owners.
For Kristen, watching an animal's transformation is part of the joy of ownership.
"I like gaining their trust," Kristen said. "When they first come to me they're crabby little balls of quills."
Like cats and dogs, hedgehogs have distinctive personalities.
Lola the hedgehog had a thing for the little charm on Kristen's cell phone and would drag both the charm and the phone under the futon couch.
"The phone would ring, and it would be under the couch," Kristen said.
Lola also liked her "stuff." She would drag assorted items such as scarves or shiny wrappers into her corner, chew on them a bit, and then "anoint" her quills with the resulting spit. Scientists aren't sure what the behavior means.
If you disturbed Lola's piles, you'd get the hedgehog version of the evil eye.
Yoda on the other hand was a "Zen-like" hedgehog. He'd lay on his back, and when you rubbed his shoulders—or where you imagined his shoulders would be—he would make happy noises.
Bianca was a sweetie, and Kristen took her to Dane County Humane Society events to show her to kids.
How about Fiona?
"She's still young," Kristen said. "I'm wondering who she'll be."
Well, Harriet had some issues.
"When she first met Mike, she bit him," Kristen said.
Seems like that would be a relationship killer, but Harriet and Mike have since made up their differences.