Markham girl, 10, goes to council to fight bylaw banning pet hedgehogs

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Markham girl, 10, goes to council to fight bylaw banning pet hedgehogs

African pygmy hedgehogs are tiny and cute.

But they're also not allowed in Markham — that is, unless you're granted an exemption by council to own one, like the one 10-year-old girl was awarded Tuesday night.

Ward 5 Coun. Colin Campbell said a young constituent approached him months ago because she wanted to buy a hedgehog for a pet. The issue was that under Markham's animal control bylaws, residents weren't allowed to own the tiny creatures.

The girl started doing research about the animals, looking into reasons why they had been banned, as well as possible solutions. She also found that other municipalities in the area, like Toronto, don't prohibit people from owning hedgehogs.

Campbell introduced the matter at a general committee meeting in February.

Earlier this month, the city's animal care committee threw its support behind a report which recommended council approve an exemption to the animal control bylaw in this case.

Exemptions can be made with approval from council through an application process as well as a $200 fee. Campbell introduced a separate motion Tuesday to waive that fee in the little girl's case.

That motion lost by a tie vote of six to six.

"I'm really disappointed that six of them couldn't see it — to waive the $200 fee — when we've only applied it once in six years," Campbell told CBC Toronto. "That makes no sense to me."

'Trying to do the right thing'

In total, council discussed the hedgehog matter for 28 minutes Tuesday evening.

While introducing the motion, Campbell told council the little girl was just "trying to do the right thing.

"We're trying to build citizens," he said. "It seems around here if you do the honest thing you get kicked to the curb."

Deputy mayor Jack Heath told council he did not approve an exemption to the bylaw, citing health issues raised in the animal care committee's report. The committee found hedgehogs were high maintenance, which resulted in an "extremely high relinquishment rate."

The report stated the animals are susceptible to a neurological disease known as Wobbly Hedgehog Syndrome, and also can be carriers of salmonella.

Ward 1 Coun. Valerie Burke said there were valid reasons why the animal was on the prohibited list.

"The bigger issue is the animal trade of exotic animals," she told council. "The world is a very different place now."

Others, like Ward 6 Coun. Amanda Collucci, supported the exemption, saying pet ownership was an important educational experience for kids.

In the end, council passed the motion to allow the little girl to purchase a hedgehog by a vote of nine to three.

After the decision, Campbell told CBC Toronto the debate was "a waste of time."

"I thought I'd be fighting to get more affordable housing, to get traffic under control, less spending in York Region school board — that's the sort of things I wanted to be concerned with, This should have been a slam dunk. It should have been dealt with months ago," he said.

"We get too involved and that's the problem."