Sunday, March 9, 2014

In memoriam - Mr. Tanglefoot

Those who know me well are aware that one of my cardinal traits is my cute little pygmy hedgehog, Mr. Tanglefoot (or Tangle, among friends)

He died last Thursday. And in the time that passed, I have realized I need to put a few words on this, for anyone who'll be willing to listen. Pet-owners who've been through the sad process of loss will likely identify, but even if you don't, that's entirely okay. I need to vent some words.

I bought Tangle from a breeder back in late October, 2011, and brought him home through almost four hours of driving. He was nothing but a strange little creature with spikes at the time; one that I was honestly kindof disappointed with, seeing how hard it was for him to accept me. After all, an animal that rolls up in pointy bits by the mere sight of you is not entirely flattering.

 I had the idea for a hedgehog in a friend's 4th edition D&D Campaign, in which my ranger chose him as an animal companion. I even made up the name by then, and quickly realized how much appeal such a creature had. I'll honestly say; finding a proper breeder in Denmark wasn't easy, but I'm glad my persistance brought me that far, to the night when I got home and unboxed him for the first time.

Hedgehogs are strange little creatures. They've always reminded me so much about...myself. Nocturnal to the core; more cute than pretty, solitary with no direct need for company and quite bright and loyal. They bite you when they love you, they shit way more than the laws of physics would lead you to believe, and their best form of entertainment is sticking their head into an old toiletpaper roll and go crazy for hours. Maybe it was this appeal that made me so insistant to bond with Tangle in the first place; spending hours sitting with him at night, gaming with the little curled up ball on my knee, watching movies (we watched a lot of star wars together) and just about everything I could think of. Suffice to say, Tangle was my pet right from the very start. With the exception of my closest family, not a whole lot of people saw the appeal in him; which I can't honestly blame them for. He was pointy and never really wanted that petting thing; so why bother?

But hedgies are fiercely loyal creatures once they bond with you. Tangle would spend a tremendous amount of energy trying to get out of his cage whenever I got home, just because he wanted to get out and play in my lap. The small black beaty eyes would almost beg to be let out, even when I was tired and could barely manage to lift him out.

It's important to know that Tangle arrived at a time in my life when I needed him the most. It's no mere joke that people have called him my familiar (and in D&D, hedgie-familiars give +2 will saves, kind of true, I suppose). It was  time when I felt alone, was going through a challenging relationship, with some very demanding surroundings and all too little understanding about a lot of things. You don't need to have been a pet owner for long to know how valuable an animal's love is in this situation.

I could go on and on about how many cuddly situations I've had with my hedgie; but I'll say he was my best friend; more than I ever knew, for a long periode of my life. I was impressed at how sturdy he was and how he always seemed to toughen through various falls and situations that left me shocked that he was injured. He lived through a devastating walk in a box in a snowstorm and all the times he knocked over his bowl of water, resulting dry times when I was gone for two days. So perhaps I made the folly of overestimating him.

Either way, two weeks ago, I noticed he was kind of lazy with his eyes slightly closed. Thinking he could be groggy, I didn't make a huge fuss of it and left him to sleep. When it got worse over the weekend I thought of eye infection or mites, and immediately set out to treat both. I've dealt with them before, so I thought this should be no different; but when nothing helped and I went to the vet the following day, it was evident that he suffered from a bacterial infection. And it was serious.
Tangle spent four days in the hospital with professional help, before they decided to go for euthanasia. He was suffering and could only drink and sleep; medicine wasn't helping. There was nothing more for them to do.

I'll honestly say I was shocked at how this crushed me. How I went home from work to my girlfriend (who was luckily around at the time) and cried like I haven't cried in years. There were feelings in me I thought would never surface; only to realize that I've never been this attached to a pet before. I was devastated, and yet surprised; because - aren't such feelings reserved only for the loss of a human being?

The thing is, the heart doesn't qualify love according to species. And I've never been good at dealing with death, even though it has taken up quite a significant amount of my life, and still does every day. Working with survivors with PTSD is a life with stories of death and misery on a daily basis; one I've been able to shut down and live through with my head up. But when death comes close, I shatter on the inside. Not because I know someone I love is gone, but because I know they are never coming back. There is a subtle, yet imperative, difference.

 I want to write this in memory of the best pet I've ever had. The little guy I learned to love and hate the nights when he kept me up with his playing around. The noises I'd wish so much to be annoyed by, in this moment of writing. How everything is silent in the apartment now and I still haven't brought myself to throw out his old cage. How conflicted I am that part of me grieves and yet another part of me wants, some day, to take another little hedgie home and provide him with a good home.
I know he'll never be Tangle, but hopefully he can be another very great friend.

So, rest in peace, little buddy. I love you. I'm so sorry I couldn't do more for you, but thank you for everything you gave me. I hope you'll wait for me on the other side, and I'll promise to bring all the meal worms you could possibly wish for.

Hug your pet today. And remember: better go that one day too early than too late to the vet. It could make all the difference in the world.