Teddy is a porcupine. He’s about five years old and came to Earthfire Institute as a private rescue four years ago. About a month after I began working here, Susan suggested I choose some animals for mutual mentoring and my first choice was Teddy. Now, three months later, I spend a part of every workday with him, usually in the morning. Sometimes we just chat about the weather and other times the topics are more complex.
Before my regular visits, Teddy had become withdrawn and his appetite was off; sometimes he stayed in the back of his den and refused to eat. He was very quiet. I didn’t know that porcupines could make any kind of sounds other than the gnawing grind of my pine porch beams, so that didn’t strike me as odd.
Susan suggested that Teddy may enjoy fresh hawthorn branches. Coincidentally, I have several hawthorn trees on my property and was in the middle of a nearly fanatical pruning craze. I brought branches and placed them on his perch. Other than a quick glance in my direction, he feigned disinterest. The next morning, though, the branches were neatly skinned.
One morning, he poked his head out of his den and warbled at me. I was surprised and greeted him in similar fashion. He warbled some more, clicking his teeth periodically. These brief conversations went on for about four more days until I ruined everything by spontaneously tapping his soft nose with my finger. For the next ten days, every time I showed up at his front door, Teddy would turn his back to me and flare out his quills while clicking his teeth. He made it clear that I had been rude. My hawthorn branches remained unchewed.
As peace offerings, I began bringing organic corn on the cob. Although he shunned me, there was always a completely de-kernelled cob on the ground in the morning. Eventually, he began to face me, and after some scolding warbles, he re-friended me.
A few days ago, we had a very long discussion. I couldn’t leave his enclosure because he simply wouldn’t stop his sing-song and I didn’t want to be rude again. Then he stood up on his haunches and spread his front paws wide. He was looking directly into my eyes. He clicked a few times. There was his belly: thickly furred, deep brown sable, his most vulnerable spot. He stood there for about 30 seconds and boy, did I want to pet that tummy. Maybe I should have. Instead, I thanked him and left, feeling quite honored.
Susan has told me that she used to carry a sanctuary porcupine named Shomi all snuggled in her arms, and they would go for walks together. Maybe Teddy and I will reach that level of comfort or maybe not. For now, we’ll continue to build a relationship over coffee (mine), corn, and hawthorn branches.