Corpus Christi youngster takes on city hall in pursuit of exotic pet
by Kara Hansen
LAWRENCE — It’s a rare parent who has not been occasionally badgered by a child begging for a pet.
Fortunately, however, most children rarely persevere much beyond the pet shop doors.
No such luck for Rebecca Weeks and Jon King, parishioners of Corpus Christi Parish in Lawrence. Their son, Judson King, just spent the past two years first persuading his parents — and then the city of Lawrence — that he needed a pet.
And not just any pet — a hedgehog.
“When he first came to me and said he wanted to get a hedgehog,” said Weeks, “I said, ‘First you’re going to have to convince me.’”
“I didn’t know anything about them,” she said.
“When I first asked, my mom said, ‘Hedge what?’” laughed Judson, 11. His interest in the animal had been piqued by “Sonic the Hedgehog” video games and author Jan Brett, whose books contain vivid illustrations of hedgehogs.
When it was apparent that Judson was serious, the two spent time researching the animal, which is native mainly to Asia and Africa. Though hedgehogs need a relatively warm climate of 70 degrees, there is little risk of disease and little to prevent them from making good pets.
But Weeks was still not ready for Judson to get a hedgehog just yet.
To demonstrate that he was responsible enough to care for the exotic pet, Judson first had to care for the family’s not-so-exotic hunting dogs. He also had to babysit his younger siblings and help out at the food kitchen.
“We were able to put Jud off for about a year but he was very insistent,” said Weeks. “We were all set to get him one for Christmas when we found out they were illegal in the city of Lawrence.”
For some kids, that would have been the end of it. But not for Judson.
In January 2008, he wrote a letter to the Lawrence City Council, asking for the ordinance to be reconsidered. Changing the law, Judson would soon find, was not a quick or easy process. First, he had to get on the council’s agenda so he could present his case.
In the meantime, the Corpus Christi student continued to research hedgehogs in order to be better prepared to defend his position to the city council. It seemed more than coincidental that his teacher, Sarah Blettner, had previously owned a hedgehog and had a few books on the animals in her classroom library.
“Judson was so bothered by the fact hedgehogs were illegal when he couldn’t find any good reason they should be,” said Blettner, a 6th-grade teacher at Corpus Christi. “This became his side hobby he worked on constantly.”
Blettner said while Judson was working on getting the law on hedgehogs changed, the class was also studying the different branches of government and how legislation is made.
Judson put his classmates to work by circulating a petition to legalize hedgehogs; his classmates, in turn, would ask for “hedgehog updates.”
“Judson put up with his fair share of disappointments throughout the process,” said Blettner. “More than once, he thought he would be presenting to the council and then he would be taken off the agenda due to more pressing issues.
“But he didn’t let that deter him. He would just ask to be put on the next month’s agenda,” she said.
Then, in December of last year, Judson finally got the chance he had been waiting for: to present his case to the city council.
When his turn came to speak, the youngster spoke confidently to Lawrence’s mayor and city commissioners about the merits of hedgehogs. He distributed portfolios he had prepared in advance that included some quick facts about the animal.
And, at the end of the night, Judson scored a major victory: The council declared hedgehogs legal in the city of Lawrence.
“I was really amazed I could get one now, after I had been wanting one for so long,” said Judson.
Judson is now the proud owner of a five month-old hedgehog called Little Luke, named after Judson’s favorite uncle. Judson keeps his pet’s environment regulated, feeds him, bathes him twice a week, and regularly clips Little Luke’s nails and brushes his hair — not the easiest thing to do given the spikes on his back, said Judson.
But the story does not end there. Since December, Judson’s story has appeared on CNN News, then CBS, and Fox and “Friends.” He’s made both television and radio appearances, something the 11-year-old never saw coming.
“Judson’s gotten quite a bit of media attention,” said Judson’s father, “and the best part about it is he hasn’t gotten a big ego from it.
“He’s still just a sixth-grade kid who wanted a pet.”
Those who know Judson best say his persistence in getting a hedgehog — lasting for over two years — really was not that surprising.
“Jud has a very singular track mind which can be very good and helpful in many instances,” said Weeks. “This was something he really wanted, so he kept focused on it and wasn’t dissuaded.”
“I don’t think Jud ever thought this couldn’t happen. That thought just never crossed his mind. Jud expected it would happen if he just took the steps he needed to take to get the law changed,” he said.
And now that Judson has the pet he had wanted for so long, does it live up to his expectations?
“It’s better,” said Judson, grinning. “I had to do lots of research, write letters, prepare a speech and fight for him.
“I think I would still love him even if I had not done all of that, but knowing I did makes it all the more special.”