CMU students embrace not-so-average pets

Brooke Mayle/Staff Photographer Iron Mountain Junior Krista Testolin holding her pet hedgehog, Quilly, as he meets the upstairs neighbor Master Shi-Fu, a sugar-glider held by Charlevoix graduate student Ezra Bakker. "The two had never meet before today and I'm not really sure they know how to react to each other," commented Testolin Thursday afternoon in her Mount Pleasant apartment.

Krista Testolin watched as her pet hedgehog poked its head out of its quill-covered body and ate a strawberry placed on her bed.

“He’s a little shy,” the Iron Mountain junior said. “It takes him a while to warm up.”

She was searching Craigslist in August and came across an ad for a pet hedgehog. The next thing she knew, Quilly made himself at home.

“It was really an impulse thing,” she said. “It’s probably not the best idea because this isn’t just a normal pet.”

Quilly’s habitat sits on the floor at the end of her bed with his pink blanket and green wheel he runs on at night. Testolin said he is pretty active at night and sleeps most of the day in his hut. Although Quilly isn’t the liveliest or most vigorous animal, she said she enjoys the short and stout animal's company as he sits on her lap when she studies.

“Sometimes I let him roam free,” she said. “He just trots around my room.”

Although the animal is shy, it thrives on human interaction, which Testolin said she makes sure of every day.

“How could I not?” she said. “We bond. He’s so adorable.”

Testolin said she took a “crash course,” researching the web how to care for the not-so-average pet. She said the biggest challenge is maintaining her room between 72 and 78 degrees at all times to ensure the exotic animal doesn’t go into hibernation.

She had a scare when the temperature decreased at an unsafe level and Quilly wasn’t responding.

“It scared the crap out of me,” she said. “They die if it goes into hibernation.”

She feeds Quilly cat food, meal worms, fruits and vegetables. His favorite treat is strawberries.

“One day, he took the whole bowl of meal worms and ran,” she said.

When he’s nervous, Quilly communicates by vocalizing a hissing noise. His long, snout nose makes him rely on smell. Testolin said he knows her scent as soon as she opens his cage. Although he seems comfortable with Testolin, she said there is room for improvement.

“They live for about 5 to 8 years,” she said. “We have some time.”

Testolin said she doesn’t know where her obsession with hedgehogs came from. For Halloween, she dressed as the exotic animal, quills and all.

“I just love his little face,” she said. “It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Testolin is not the only one in her apartment complex with an unusual pet. Her neighbor, Ezra Bakker, hangs out with his sugar-glider in his pocket.

“I forget he’s there sometimes,” the Charlevoix graduate student said.

Master Shi-Fu got his name from the movie "Kung Fu Panda." The acrobatic animal can do back flips, and is known for gliding across the floor.

After talking about wanting the animal, Bakker’s girlfriend surprised him last Christmas. Master Shi-Fu came from a breeder in Lansing.

The marsupial spends time during the day sleeping in the hanging hammock on his cage or in Bakker’s pocket.

“I’ve gone to the grocery store with him in my pocket before,” he said.

The nocturnal animal goes “crazy” at night and roams around the apartment as he pleases, Bakker said.

“It wouldn’t be hard to lose him,” he said. “I keep close tabs.”

Bakker said the sugar-glider gets an attitude when he wakes up and getting him back into his cage after freedom outside of the habitat can be a difficult process.

Along with watching the animal’s acrobatic tendencies, Bakker plays “dress-up” with Master Shi-Fu. Master Shi-Fu has a cowboy hat and sombrero he wears when eating.

Bakker said his friends will come over just to visit his animal and no one can seem to get over his big, bubbly eyes.

For the first time, Testolin and Bakker brought together their exotic animals to meet. The two didn’t seem to be bothered by each other and went about their business. As Bakker held Master Shi-Fu as he snacked on a strawberry, Testolin held Quilly in her hands.

“Man, I wish everybody thought I was that cute when I was eating,” Bakker said.


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