In our Republic, there is no citizen too small to have a voice and there is no idea too small to have merit. This year, one class of elementary school students taught us in Augusta the truth of this lesson.
There are many bills, both big and small, before us in the Maine Legislature. I have personally brought forward several bills to tackle many of the bigger issues, but it is progress we’ve made on one of the smaller issues — brought to my attention from one of my smaller constituents — for which I am especially proud.
While visiting with a class of sixth graders at Elm Street Elementary School in Mechanic Falls, a student identified a problem — how difficult it is to legally own a hedgehog as a pet in the State of Maine — and suggested legislation to make it easier. Thinking it could be a good opportunity for the entire class to participate in the legislative process, I studied the issue further and realized this student was really onto something: there was a real problem with Maine’s existing hedgehog policy.
Hedgehogs are an increasingly popular pet, both here in Maine and across the country. And it makes sense why hedgehogs are popular. Beyond being undeniably adorable, they are hypoallergenic, low maintenance and emit little odor compared to some other common pets.
One zoologist I spoke with estimated there are 10,000 hedgehogs owned by Mainers here in our state. But because of the complexity of the legal process to own a hedgehog in our state, many of these Maine people were unknowingly breaking the law.
In Maine, the problem was hedgehogs were listed as an “exotic species,” which means you needed two forms of permits — an importation permit and a housing permit — in order to be in legal possession of one of these animals. To put that in perspective, that’s the same level of regulation involved with legally owning a tiger.
Forty-one states allow the unrestricted ownership of hedgehogs. In fact, no other state in New England imposes any restrictions, largely because hedgehogs pose no “invasive species” risk for our region, as they cannot survive on their own outside in the New England climate.
Seeing both the merits of the proposal and the educational opportunity for the students, I put forward for consideration LD 35 — “Resolve, To Allow the Unlicensed Ownership of Hedgehogs as Pets” — which sought to remove hedgehogs from the exotic species list, putting hedgehog ownership on the same legal level as owning a dog, cat, hamster, guinea pig or chinchilla.
The sixth graders who proposed the measure not only followed it very closely, when their bill came up for a public hearing, they took a field trip up to the State House, testifying before the Committee on Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to share their thoughts. It took a lot of courage to stand up and speak their minds in front of legislators, bureaucrats and news cameras in Augusta; but they did it and their initiative produced results.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife took action, adding hedgehogs to the unrestricted animal list. Now permits are no longer required to own a hedgehog as a pet in Maine.
I am proud of these students for bringing forward a good, commonsense proposal. So I would like to thank Elm Street Elementary School’s sixth grade class for getting the conversation started and seeing it through to the end.
Maine now has one less unnecessary restriction on the books because Maine students shared their voice in Augusta.