By Jim Davis The Herald Business Journal
EVERETT — Oliver is a friendly little ball of spiky joy.
The hedgehog is one of about a dozen in the living room of Krissy Brouner’s Everett home.
“You just have to scoop them up,” Brouner says. “They always do better in your hands.”
Most of the hedgehogs remain inside brightly colored carrying cases spread on a table each with a name tag and identifying information. Oliver and several others are outside burrowing into the cushions of her couch.
Brouner, 28, is a research specialist at the Allen Institute for Brain Research in Seattle. She also is the proprietor of Hedgehogs Northwest, a small business that raises and sells hedgehogs, their food and gear including wheels, cages and, oddly, hedgehog sleeping bags.
Brouner sold about 90 hedgehogs last year. Her price is $180 for a hedgehog and some food. Or $300 for a hedgehog and “everything you need for them.”
Many of her pet items she buys at wholesalers and resells to her previous customers. The hedgehog food is mink food she buys in bulk and sells in hedgehog-sized packages.
She makes the sleeping bags, which come in bright patterns and are flannel on the outside and fleece on the inside. They cost $9 for one or $15 for two.
Hedgehogs are novelty pets that become trendy at times and less so at others. The mammal with spiny quills and a cute as a button snout are indigenous in Europe, Africa and Asia. They’re only imported here as pets.
In Washington, hedgehogs are legal but some states ban them, said Alicia McLaughlin, a veterinarian at the Center for Bird &Exotic Animal Medicine in Bothell. Almost all of the hedgehogs in the United States are African pygmy hedgehogs that grow to be about 6 inches long and live about six to eight years, McLaughlin said. The ones in Europe can grow to about the size of a house cat. Hedgehogs come in dozens of colors.
“When people get hooked on hedgehogs they usually stay with them for the rest of their lives,” McLaughlin said.
Brouner got into hedgehogs in 1996 when she was about 10. Her older sister, Amy Dreyer, fell in love with a pair.
“She just walked into a pet store and thought they were the cutest animals ever,” Brouner said.
They named them Spike and Thistle.
“They lived long, happy hedgehog lives,” Brouner said.
When she went to college at the University of Washington, Brouner moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, Amy and Tim Dreyer, in Arlington. They decided they needed hedgehogs again.
By then, most pet stores didn’t carry them.
The sisters bought George and Sophie on the Internet. Then they decided that there was an under-served market. So they started raising little hedgehogs and selling them online. Hedgehogs Northwest proved popular.
“Every time we got a litter, we’d put something on Craigslist and we would get a 100 responses in a day.” Brouner said.
In 2009, Brouner moved into her own house in Everett. She looked for a home with a back building that could be converted to raise hedgehogs. She keeps wall-to-wall cages. The back building has a heater with the temperature cranked to 75, because the animals need a warm environment.
As a breeder, Brouner gets her property inspected once a year by a veterinary medical specialist from the United State Department of Agriculture.
She was keeping about 60 hedgehogs in March along with her Pomeranian named Teddy. “He keeps his distance, because they’re poke-y,” Brouner said.
She advises people with young children to pass on hedgehogs, because the quills can be sharp. But she says they’re great pets for teenagers and college students. Hedgehogs don’t need a lot of attention.
“If you have enough time to feed them, give them water and play with them some, they’re great,” she said.
For Brouner, it’s definitely a side business. Even so, her coworkers at the Allen Institute know she raises hedgehogs.
“They think that I’m just a crazy hedgehog lady,” Brouner said.