- Is there fresh food and water in the cage? A place for the hedgehog to hide? A wheel or enough room for ample exercise?
- Does the staff allow customers to handle the hedgehogs? Hopefully, this is done under supervision. Note if the staff uses gloves to pick up the hedgehog (usually not a good sign) and seem comfortable.
- Does the staff seem to know what they are talking about with regard to hedgehog care? proper diet?
- Is the store USDA licensed to sell exotics? Any store that does not have the proper licensure is in violation of federal law.
- Are different sexes of hedgehogs separated? Can the staff tell a male from a female? Many new hedgehog owners have been surprised by an unexpected litter from their female hedgehog after she had been housed with males in a pet store.
- Can the staff tell you how old the hedgehogs are? If they are younger than five weeks, they have been prematurely separated from their mother.
What do you do if, in your quest for a hedgehog, you find a hedgehog or hedgehogs in a pet store that are in poor health, neglected, or otherwise mistreated? Your first instinct might be to purchase the hedgehog and "rescue" him from the situation. This will undoubtedly benefit the hedgehog in the short term but does nothing to deter the pet store from obtaining more hedgehogs and treating them in exactly the same manner.
The Hedgehog Welfare Society exists in part to help educate pet stores about proper hedgehog care and, in some cases, to assist individuals in reporting repeat offenders to the USDA. Pet stores who deal in exotics -- including hedgehogs -- are required by federal law to have a USDA license. Stores that have a license are subject to certain regulations concerning pet care, and those that do not may be subject to fines and other penalties. To find out whether the pet store has a USDA license, check with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which maintains lists of licensed breeders and dealers.
To truly help, try to break the cycle. Speak to the management about proper care. You can find wonderful care sheets about hedgehogs, and other creatures online. Often, this neglect is out of ignorance, not malice. Many pet stores will willingly provide a hiding place, wheel, etc. to a hedgehog once they know what its needs are. If you find the store unwilling to change, offer to purchase the hedgehog at a reduced price or take him off their hands for free. Failing that, report the store to your local SPCA or Humane Society and also to the regional USDA office. At that time, offer to rescue the hedgehogs if they are confiscated.
Not all pet stores are bad. Many are run by caring, animal-loving people who want to place animals into good homes. But the famous statement applies -- "Buyer Beware!" Know who you are purchasing from. This applies to private breeders as well as pet stores, naturally.
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