"They're so cute, they're tiny, and they're sweet," the Oconee County youngster, a student at Colham Ferry Elementary School, said in a Monday interview.
There's just one problem, though. After Bella discovered hedgehogs, she learned through further Internet research that Georgia law doesn't allow them to be kept as pets. So she did what any 11-year-old girl would — she asked her mom what to do.
Of course, that came after her telling her mom, Terri, that the family needed to move to Florida, where hedgehogs can be kept as pets. Terri Hayes, though, had a somewhat more reasonable suggestion.
"I told her to get in touch with her state representative," Terri Hayes said. And so, along with creating a Facebook page "Say No to No Hedgehogs in GA" (www.facebook.com/helpthehedgies), where visitors can sign a petition in support of her efforts, Bella got in touch with state Rep. Regina Quick, R-Athens, and has found an ally in her effort to get a pet hedgehog.
Bella first got in touch with Quick during last year's legislative session, too late to get any legislation through the Georgia General Assembly. But in September, Bella met with Quick at her Atlanta legislative office — she also got a tour of the Capitol, sitting in Quick's seat in the House chamber and pushing the button that Quick uses to vote — and presented a convincing argument for her legislative proposal.
According to Bella — and to the state Department of Natural Resources — hedgehogs aren't allowed to be kept as pets in Georgia because of concerns that if the animals escaped captivity, they would overpopulate the outdoors.
Bella, though, begs to differ. According to her, the African pygmy hedgehogs that are the subject of the legislation she's working on with Quick can't survive at temperatures below 72 degrees or above 85 degrees, making life in the outdoors at best a chancy proposition for the tiny mammals. (Interestingly, state law allows the raising of hedgehogs for selling in other states where ownership is legal.)
Quick explained Monday that the state's Office of Legislative Counsel is now working on a proposed bill that would carve out a narrow exception in state law that, if passed, would allow African pygmy hedgehogs to be kept as pets, in line with a similar exception for a particular type of ferret that is already in state law.
As part of getting the bill in order, the Department of Natural Resources will be able to weigh in on it. And at some point, it's probable that Bella will have to testify in front of a House committee to make her case for allowing pet African pygmy hedgehogs in Georgia.
It's not a particularly daunting prospect to Bella, who said that while she might be a little nervous, "once I get in front of people ... I just talk."
Bella thinks it's "pretty cool" that Quick has taken an interest in her efforts to make it legal for her to own a pet hedgehog. And for her part, Quick thinks Bella is "a very impressive young lady."
Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com
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