Posted: January 14, 2013, 4 p.m. EST
© Courtesy Amanda Dunham.
Team Just A Little Nutty is made up of two female hedgehogs, Hazelnut and Nutella. Hazelnut is a running machine, while Nutella is just discovering her wheel.
© Courtesy Larry Thomason
Xavier (shown) heads up an all-male trio named Team Xavier. Xavier is the senior member at age 3; Gambit and Magneto are his teammates.
What goes round and round, and raises money for a good cause? The annual Hedgehog Wheel-A-Thon organized by the Hedgehog Welfare Society. It’s happening on February 2nd, which is Hedgehog Day (the progenitor of Groundhog Day, as noted in National Geographic News).
The Hedgehog Wheel-A-Thon involves hedgehog owners signing up for the event and then getting sponsors. All running in their exercise wheels by the hedgehogs on February 2, 2013, is dedicated to the event. Hedgehogs are nocturnal pets that typically run quite a bit during the night in their exercise wheels.
“Hazelnut averages 6 to 8 miles a night, and Nutella is running 4 to 5 miles,” said Amanda Dunham, who is participating for the first time with her two hedgehogs, which are running under the team name Just A Lil Nutty. So far, Nutella is the youngest participant at 2 months of age.
© Courtesy Linda Woodring
The King's Court Runners — Gromit (inset), Kirby (top) and Dyson — run a few hours every night; Dyson is the star runner,
Larry Thomason, who has three male hedgehogs participating under the name Team Xavier, expects them to log 12 to 14 miles as a group in an 8-hour night. One of the boys, Magneto, is also young, being only 7 months old.
Another hedgehog youngster among the teams is Linda Woodring’s Dyson, who is 7 months old and a member of The King’s Court Runners. The team name stems from the fact that Gromit, a 3-year-old male, is the reigning Hedgehog Monarch of North America (a title conferred by being seniormost Permanent Grand Champion). Kirby, the third member of the team, is a 9-month old male who is the grandson of Woodring’s other Permanent Grand Champion, Kenny, who recently passed.
One of the more senior runners is Pistol Pete, the sole member of team Hedgie House Rescue, cared for by Heather Marshall. “He is a 5-year-old male,” she said. “For an old man, he is quite a runner. He is very sweet and loves to show off. He has made guest appearances at our local library and my son’s school classes for the last four years.”
Twelve teams are currently signed up according to Woodring, who manages the event. She is the only person to participate in all past Wheel-A-Thons, but quite a few other participants are veterans; Aside from first-timer Dunham, Wheel-A-Thon experience ranges from two to seven years. It’s an international event, with participants to date who live in Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.
Hedgehog owners can register until the day of the event by contacting Woodring at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone can sign up, as membership in the Hedgehog Welfare Society is not a requirement to participate.
© Courtesy Deborah Weaver
Millie has a sweeter nature than her teammate, Samantha.
© Courtesy Nancy Denny
Willie (center) will be running enough for his teammates that can't run, Jake (left) and Miki.
Preparing For The Wheel-A-Thon
Does participating in the Hedgehog Wheel-A-Thon take any special preparation? Not necessarily, but some teams have a plan.
“Well, I’ve bought the girls new sneakers,” joked Deborah Weaver, whose two female hedgehogs, Samantha and Millie, are registered to run. Weaver actually seems to be doing most of the preparation. “I’ve emailed five dozen friends about the event in hopes of getting contributions,” she said. “This is the Hedgehog Welfare Society’s biggest fundraiser of the year.”
Laura Dunklee is also focused on networking. “I'm widely posting about the Wheel-A-Thon on Facebook and other social networking sites,” she said. “Not just to drum-up pledges, but to let people know about the HWS and the specialized care that hedgehogs require.” Dunklee cares for Reggie and Miss M, who are on The Quilled Friends team.
Margaret Campbell has two hedgehogs running under the team name The Campbell Kids. “Spartacus is practicing to build up his endurance. Lucy is resting up for the event,” she said. They have a different approach for a reason. “Spartacus will probably run most of the night. Lucy will probably only run for about an hour due to her advanced age.”
Sheila Dempsey’s Team Tru Chance has four members — Ziggy, Luna, Malika and Zadie — but only Ziggy and Zadie still run. To prepare, Dempsey is making sure the exercise wheels are in top condition. “Giving them a good scrubbing, tad of oil on the wheel and a spin for good luck,” she said.
The HedgieDen Hedgehogs are a team of five cared for by Nancy Denny. She explained that Jake and Miki have been sidelined by age and health concerns, while Daisy and Finnegan were never avid wheel enthusiasts. Willie is the running star, typically spinning the wheel from 9 p.m. when the lights go off until sunrise. “Willie will be running enough to make up for those who can’t,” Denny said.
Thomason’s preparations are twofold. “We got all the pedometers hooked up, and lots of gut-loaded mealies to go around.” Mealies refers to the mealworms that hedgehogs eat.
Elaine Becker is a five-time veteran of the Hedgehog Wheel-A-Thon. She said her first hedgehog, Q-ball, was a great ambassador and got lots of sponsors in 2008 and 2009 when he was her only hedgehog. “Last year, I took Davy, a sweet, outgoing elderly hedgie that no longer ran on a wheel, door to door in my neighborhood,” she said. “He did a great job of engaging people and getting them to sponsor the other hedgies who did run.” This year she has Speedy, QE2 and Hedwig running, all male hedgehogs who post under the name Speedy & Co. when they “speak” in a hedgehog Internet group.
© Courtesy Elaine Becker
Speedy (bottom) is 5.5 years old but still runs. His teammates, QE2 (top) and Hedwig, are still in their 2s.
© Courtesy Laura Dunklee
After a previous Wheel-A-Thon, Laura Dunklee's team took this pose with their prize.
Hedgehog Fun With A Purpose
Besides the usual messy wheel (hedgehogs typically answer the call of nature while on the run), what do participants take away from the event?
“One year we won a prize of a ‘Hedgie Hat’ for our participation,” Dunklee said. “I decided to take a photo of the hedgies with their winnings — all three of them dove under the hat and refused to move. It cracked me up!”
Thomason placed second in the 2012 Wheel-A-Thon by raising $518. He thinks the Wheel-A-Thon is great fun. “My favorite memory was of winning the hedgehog quilt and then giving it to a good friend as a surprise.”
Woodring said the fundraising and friendly rivalry really brings people together.
Dempsey appreciates both the serious and fun aspects of the event. “I am just very, very honored to be a part of the fundraiser that offers a lot of monetary support to the HWS in such a fun way,” she said. “I think it offers both an educational look at our hedgehogs, and a look at what fun and kooky people hedgie owners are.”
Dunklee also appreciates that the Wheel-A-Thon supports the Hedgehog Welfare Society. “I think it's very important to support the HWS and all that they do for hedgehogs,” she said, “especially the education and rescue efforts, as well as being a supportive network of people to help new hedgehog owners learn about how to best care for these wonderful critters.”
This marks the 12th year for the Wheel-A-Thon. “Last year I think we raised $2,400, so hopefully we can better that this year,” Woodring said. All money raised supports the mission of the Hedgehog Welfare Society, which protects pet hedgehogs through donating to research, rescuing hedgehogs when needed and educating hedgehog owners. Woodring said that anyone who wants to donate can do so by going to the Hedgehog Welfare Society website. “Either send a check to the snail mail address or donate through the Paypal tab and just mark it Wheel-A-Thon.”
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