Cutest hedgehog on the internet goes on epic adventures originally appeared on goodmorningamerica.com
What started with a simple text message is now a hedgehog empire of cuteness.
It all began a few years ago when Talitha Girnus, a 27-year-old living in Wiesbaden, Germany, was missing her then-long-distance boyfriend. He sent her a photo of a hedgehog to cheer her up.
She thought it was so cute and a unique and fun way to cheer each other up so they started sending hedgehog photos back and forth all the time.
She started thinking about getting a hedgehog for herself. So she did some research and realized the rodent would be the perfect fit for her.
"Hedgehogs are not for everyone," she told "GMA."
She said they take a really long time to warm up to people and need specific and expensive care. But Girnus was up for the challenge, and when she saw Mr. Pokee, she knew he was the one. Since that day, "it was me and Mr. Pokee against the world!" she exclaimed.
For years she adored and bonded with Pokee.
Together, they created perhaps the most famous hedgehog account on the internet, which has 1.6 million Instagram followers. Her full-time job became curating content for her Instagram, answering emails and making stickers, calendars and hedgehog merchandise.
Perhaps the cutest thing Girnus is famous for is capturing the hedgehog belly rub. It's a sign of intense trust, she said, and it took about six months of bonding with Pokee to get him comfortable enough to let her do it.
"Hedgehogs have really bad eyes, so they get used to you by your voice and your smell," Girnus explained. "Hedgehogs, when they are afraid of something, or they don't trust you 100%, they roll up in a ball, so you can't really touch their belly."
But the opposite is true if they trust you.
"I turn him onto his back and then place him on something soft, and then slowly start moving my hands on his belly and then he sticks his little arms out, and then legs," she said.
If that isn't adorable enough for you, Girnus took Pokee on many outside adventures and captured his happy face. She carried him along with her and took him out to enjoy the views.
"Since they rely so much on your smell and your voice, they feel safe in new environments because they know you're there," she said.
Sadly, Pokee died in March of this year because of a bacterial infection. Girnus was utterly heartbroken.
She stopped responding to messages and traveled to get her mind off of losing her beloved pet. But she did answer one message from a girl who got a hedgehog and was experiencing severe allergic reactions.
"When she sent me photos, her reaction was so severe that her eye wouldn't open up," she said. According to Girnus' Instagram, "Every time she would handle him, her eyes would get very red and swollen, just like her entire arms. It even got to the point where she wasn’t able to breathe and would have to see a doctor."
She agreed to meet the girl's hedgehog, who was eventually named Herbee by Girnus.
"It was such an emotional meeting and we didn't know each other at all, and then here we are hugging each other and crying," Girnus said.
Girnus took in Herbee and said he "has the purest soul I've ever met." She sings to Herbee to get him to warm up to her and get acquainted to her voice.
"And I have a terrible singing voice!" she confessed.
But soon, after many songs, Herbee allowed belly rubs, too.
Girnus recently got a cat to round out her family, and she was shocked by how well they get along.
"Herbee likes to be comfortable, so he'll get all up in Audree's fur," Girnus noted. The two have since become inseparable.
Even though these may be the cutest little guys on Instagram, hedgehogs are not ideal pets for many people, and there's a lot of research and preparation that needs to be done before owning one.
In many places, including California, New York City, Hawaii and Washington, D.C., it is illegal to own a hedgehog. In many other states, a permit is required.