Harry the Princely Hedgehog by Susan Mellsopp
The lettuce seedlings were being chewed. Two had disappeared completely, eaten right down to the roots. Spinach, which I had planted in the next pot, was already providing me with copious amounts to eat and plenty to share. It was untouched. The disappearing lettuce was a huge mystery.
Opening the ranch slider to let the dogs out for their ablutions late one evening, the lettuce thief was revealed. A hedgehog hurried past the curious canines and scuttled under the outside dog bed. Sending the frenzied sniffing and over excited dogs on their way to the lawn, I lifted the dog bed and examined the prickly creature. He was huge, one of the biggest hedgehogs I had ever seen. Rare now, particularly in the city, he soon waddled into the garden and disappeared under the hydrangea, rose bushes, overgrown violets and forget-me-nots.
Harry, not the reluctant prince, has been the source of much hunting for Maya and Jay. They have explored almost every corner of my blooming spring garden checking to see if Harry is ready for a game with them. Diving into a large plot of day lilies, Maya managed to scratch herself just where her harness is clipped on. Thankfully it healed quickly due to few lockdown outings and therefore no need to wear her harness. Jay’s explorations are a little more dignified and subtle as he prefers to sit and wait hoping Harry will magically appear. I don’t have the heart to tell him that hedgehogs are nocturnal creatures.
Every time I open the door Maya rushes out at high speed. Sniffing for hedgehog trails, she shoves her nose into the nearest shrub then sits in anticipation of a game of prickly ball. I have not explained to her that Harry will be fast asleep in the one corner of the garden she cannot access.
Other animals have been made most unwelcome here, particularly by Jay who hates cats. He once tipped me into a flax bush at the Chartwell Library after a cat leapt out and scarpered. He seemed unaware the target of his interest was long gone and there were no kittens to maul. Cats sunning themselves quietly on their own property have proved fair game when he and I are out walking. I have often trespassed trying to hold onto a large golden retriever who can only see a feline game, or perhaps a quick meal.
Neighbourhood cats have quickly learnt to avoid my garden. Stalking up and down the drive, sitting on fences, moving surreptitiously from one house to the next, they are completely aware my dogs have their beady eyes on every move they make. At the slightest hint one might try to enter their domain, loud barking ensues. Whichever cat has invaded their territory is sent on their terrified way.
The few cats who do trespass leave at such high speed it always astounds me. Now and then they are so confused they forget which way is out and at breakneck speed rush from side to side of the lawn looking for a way to escape the bared teeth and barking canines. Few ever return.
Visiting a home with a resident cat always fills me with dread. The more precious pampered ones run for their lives, hiding in an obscure room in their beloved owner’s home. Others stand their ground, spitting and snarling in disbelief that this weird dog with a harness is allowed into their private domain. As I apologise profusely, Maya sits quietly surveying the cat whose territory she has invaded, the smug look on her face often brings forth gales of laughter.
Other dogs, particularly the untrained, are seldom welcome at their home as far as Jay and Maya are concerned. This is their safe place and they resist being good hosts. Sharing their water bowls is seen as sinful, and any visiting pet is often pushed to one side by Maya if I deign to pat them. Human visitors are always welcome though. They receive licks, sniffs, eyes pleading for attention, and feel quite rejected if the visitor is a non-doggy person.
A recent influx of blackbirds nesting in my camellias has seen a row of avians of varying genus perching on the fence eyeing up the two dogs who return the favour, a game of who can blink first. Flying rapidly over the house then circling around their precious family resident in a nest, the dogs have quickly learnt to stay well away for fear of being dive bombed. The sparrows seem to be guardians for their larger bird friends and contentedly scour the lawn looking for grubs and worms.
Jay and Maya’s search for Harry continues daily. Each evening I step gingerly onto the patio to make sure I am not about to land on his prickly self. I suspect he has quickly learnt to wait until his tormentors have gone to bed and then he waddles up to feast on lettuce. He does not seem enamoured with parsley, thyme or basil. The dog bowls of water are needing frequent filling, so I suspect he might be taking his daily ablutions in these. Thankfully I don’t have to protect him from the marauding canines, he has his own armour. I hope he will stay around, although I wish he would eat a spinach leaf or two, I can’t keep up.