hedgehog

A hedgehog.

Pennsylvania residents won’t be able to keep hedgehogs and sugar gliders as pets after all.

The state House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 120-71 to reject a bill — proposed by state Rep. David Zimmerman, a Republican representing portions of eastern Lancaster County — that would have legalized the exotic pets.

The effort to legalize “pocket pets,” as they were described in House Bill 1273, was offered as an amendment to the state’s definition of “exotic wildlife.” The same law prohibits ownership of tigers, jaguars and wolves, among other animals.

Pennsylvania is one of four states — along with Washington, D.C., and parts of New York City — that outlaw the ownership of hedgehogs and other nonnative species, with arguments focusing on the idea they could disrupt the local ecosystem if they get loose.

Zimmerman argued that hedgehogs and sugar gliders wouldn’t survive for long in the wild in Pennsylvania, so they aren’t likely to become a nuisance.

“I’m certainly supportive of individuals interested in animals like this and the only reason I am is because I don't see them as a threat,” he said earlier this week.

“I think for some people, just owning something kind of exotic is of interest,” he said.

At least three previous attempts to legalize ownership of exotic pets also failed in Pennsylvania. The most recent was in 2012.

Humane Society cheers vote

Wednesday’s vote was good news to Kristen Tullo, state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

“Individuals who lack the expertise and resources to provide proper care often buy exotic pets on a whim,” she said. “Traveling vendors typically sell these animals at malls, festivals, conventions and fairs — venues that foster impulse purchases.”

Furthermore, she said, there are no regulations dictating how the animals are bred or trapped for the pet trade, and there’s no recourse for owners who purchase sick or disabled animals.

Hedgehogs and sugar gliders are “long-lived animals with specialized needs,” Tullo said. “They are high-maintenance and can exhibit traits that new owners will quickly find undesirable, such as being noisy, smelly, destructive and aggressive.

“Once the novelty wears off, owners often abandon exotic pets at shelters, turn them loose where they will either perish or threaten native ecosystems, or lock them away in a cage where they suffer from neglect,” she added. “These species can also pose public health risks.”