Hedgehogs, those small and prickly little creatures, are no longer illegal to own in Fairfax County.
On Tuesday, the county’s Board of Supervisors legalized hedgehogs as household pets. It also lifted a rule requiring a permit to keep hermit crabs and chinchillas.
“The board added these three animals to the list of commonly accepted pets,” the county said in a statement. Officials said they can be kept as household pets without special permissions.
Why the change?
County officials said hedgehogs have become increasingly popular, leading to inquiries about whether they were allowed in Virginia’s most populous jurisdiction.
In Northern Virginia, hedgehogs also are allowed as pets in Arlington and Loudoun counties. Maryland allows them, as well. They’re banned in New York City, California, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and in the nation’s capital. Last year, an attempt to make them legal in the District failed after animal rights groups stepped in and expressed concerns.
Those who support hedgehogs as house pets argue that they’re hypoallergenic and don’t require as much maintenance as dogs or other common pets.
Chris Schindler, vice president of field services for the Humane Rescue Alliance, testified Tuesday against allowing hedgehogs in Fairfax homes. He said small, exotic animals often end up at shelters after people realize the effort needed to keep them as pets.
“People get them and then realize there’s more to caring for them,” he said.
Hedgehogs need to forage and dig, Schindler said, and they’re also nocturnal. He noted that they can carry salmonella, possibly making them dangerous for children to handle if hands aren’t washed afterward.
Hedgehogs have been bred in captivity in the United States since the 1990s, after imports of the animal were banned because of the risk from hand-foot-and-mouth disease, animal experts said.
It isn’t the first time officials in the D.C. area have decided on the legality of more exotic or unique animals.
Arlington last year banned the ownership of a variety of wild pets — although existing pets were allowed to stay. The Arlington County Board prohibited ownership of primates, raccoons, wolves, coyotes, squirrels, foxes, leopards, tigers, lions and bears. Also on the no-go list are venomous snakes, certain scorpions, centipedes and spiders.
The hedgehog, though, was allowed.
But before you run out to get one, county officials recommend that talking to a veterinarian or reliable breeder, as hedgehogs require particular environments, food and care.