The dog was barking. It was an unusual bark – simultaneously excited and frustrated, different in timbre from her usual head-down-a-rabbit-hole bark, or her trying-to-climb-a-tree-after-a-squirrel bark, or her I’m-the-queen-of-the-castle guard-dog bark.
I investigated. She was dancing like a demented show-pony around something she had found. Her prey was immobile, small and circular. It was a baby hedgehog.
It is normally sensible, when finding an animal in the wild, to leave it alone. But the hedgehog, smaller than a tennis ball and, when it finally began to walk, distinctly wobbly on its pins, seemed peculiarly vulnerable.
We checked online and found the Hedgehog Rescue Website. A hedgehog hotline told us that the hoglet (as it now became known) needed care. Its mother had either been killed or it was a runt and had been abandoned.
There was a rescue centre nearby. A mercy dash took our hoglet to join eight other abandoned rescued hedgehogs. All being well, it will be returned to us in September so that it could released back into the wild.
Hedgehogs have great PR, and bring out the best in the British. In the past, I have felt uneasy about the species bias which causes one type of appealing animal to be supported by a network of caring humans and organisations with cuddly names while others are ignored.
This, though, was truly impressive. As a species, hedgehogs are under pressure. The help on offer was straightforward, unsentimental and practical – a model in animal care.
How odd it is that the nation which cares so much about hedgehogs has an increasingly casual attitude towards animals for which humans have more responsibility – dogs. A shocking report by Tom Heap for this week’s Panorama, called Britain’s Unwanted Pets, revealed that the unattractive craze for breeding dogs – particularly attack dogs – has led to a massive increase in the number of abandoned animals over the past two years.
A third of the dogs brought into the Battersea Dogs Home last year had to be put down. Of those 2,815 dogs, the vast majority were healthy. Dog rescue centres across the country are struggling as never before to cope with the influx.
As an RSPCA man put it:
‘There’s more responsibility to owning a television set than there is a living sentient creature. If you don’t like it, if it doesn’t match your furniture any more, then you can kick it out.’
It is better to be a hedgehog in 21st century Britain than a Staffordshire Bull Terrier.
The British Hedgehog Preservation Society is to be found here.
Britain’s Unwanted Pets can be seen here.