No one knows what his original name might have been. So, after he was handed over to Bath police on Saturday night, officers decided “Mr. Needlemouse” was a better name for the unidentified subject than “John Doe” while he was in her care.
The visitor, later identified as an African pygmy hedgehog, was small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and undeniably cute, but hedgehogs aren’t indigenous to Maine and certainly don’t belong on the sidewalk that runs along High Street, a busy 5-mile stretch that bisects the city from north to south.
That’s where a local woman found the creature around 8 p.m. Saturday, according to animal control officer Jim McKnight. The woman, she said, packed the spiny creature in a pet carrier and turned it over to police.
“It was not a wild animal. She wasn’t sure what it was,” McKnight said.
The department spent a portion of the weekend trying to identify the animal and locate its owner, posting photos on the department’s Facebook page. Nearly 150 people commented on the post, but no one came forward to claim the hedgehog.
McKnight said hedgehogs have a specific diet, and neither the department nor any of the usual animal shelters he works with had the facilities to care for them, so he turned him over to animal expert Drew Desjardins on Sunday.
Desjardins, 54, has worked with exotic animals for the past 30 years and for the last 10 years has run Mr. Drew and His Animals Too, an exotic rescue and education center in Lewiston. He said he normally comes across lizards, turtles and other reptiles, but said someone gave him another hedgehog to take care of last week, and another several months ago.
“We get a lot of creepy crawlies,” Desjardins said. “We don’t have many cute and furry ones, but we do have some.”
It was illegal to keep hedgehogs in Maine without a permit until 2017, when the state Department of Inland Fish and Wildlife added them to its list of unrestricted animals.
Although it is legal to maintain them, they require a lot of work.
Desjardins noted that hedgehogs are not native to Maine and need a diet of small, live prey such as insects and mealworms. They also have other needs, like staying very warm, requirements that are often put off by pet owners who buy the critters on impulse without realizing what they’re getting into.
When asked if such cases of abandonment occur frequently, Desjardins said: “More than it should be.”
Desjardins said he didn’t know and may never know if this hedgehog was abandoned, but noted that they tend to be expensive animals, so when one goes missing, owners usually start asking around in their neighborhoods.
As for “Mr. Needlemouse,” Desjardins said he has already found a home for him, with an Auburn woman who has pet hedgehogs and recently lost one due to old age.
“He goes to the right place. It has to be with someone who has experience,” Desjardins said.
Desjardins added that he had just heard from the hedgehog’s new owner Tuesday morning, who said he is adjusting very well to his new home and has been permanently named “Gomez.”