PETER BARRON meets a mum-of-three who's devoting her life to caring for injured hedgehogs

NOW Christmas is behind us, I’m guessing it’s a relief to have the house to yourself again after having to entertain all those guests?

Well, spare a thought for Bernie Carré because she’s still got a house-full – with 60 hedgehogs, two dogs two ferrets, two bearded dragons a gecko (and a husband) living in her semi-detached house in a quiet Durham cul-de-sac.

It’s become a way of life for 52-year-old animal-lover Bernie.

As a representative of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, Bernie has become the go-to person in Durham if anyone finds an injured hedgehog, and there’s been a rush of “in-patients” in recent months.

Take Blaze, for example. Blaze was found hobbling along a street in Sunderland by a little boy. The young hedgehog was found to have only three legs and it remains a mystery how he lost his fourth. When he was brought to Bernie, he weighed just 80 grams and was so weak he faced a death sentence.

But Bernie refused to give up on him and, today, Blaze is a healthy specimen, albeit he still struggles to walk properly and will never be able to return to the wild.

“He’ll be staying with me for the rest of his days,” says Bernie, surrounded by hedgehogs in cages in a converted upstairs room in Newton Hall, where even the wall-clock is hedgehog-shaped.

Husband James was about to take Blaze to the vet for the final time but Bernie pleaded for a reprieve and carried on hand-feeding him dried puppy milk and cat food. He now weighs in at 586 grams and happily shares a cage with best friends Sugar and Harry.

James is Bernie’s second husband. Her first wouldn’t have pets in the house but James shares his wife’s passion for animals, which is just as well.

Bernie, a mother of three grown-ups, spent nearly 30 years working as a cook. Her last job was at Durham Prison but she swapped one set of prickly characters for another when she retired from work due to ill-health two years ago.

Registered as disabled, with chronic arthritis, diabetes and fibromyalgia, she battles through everyday pain to care for her beloved animals.

“I’ve always loved hedgehogs, they’re just so cute, and they all have their individual characters. A family friend, who’s a veterinary nurse, suggested that I should start fostering them and, after starting with a couple, it’s just kept growing,” she explains.

“I often can’t sleep so the fact that hedgehogs are nocturnal works out really well and I sit with them through the night.”

As well as Blaze, Sugar and Harry, other hedgehog guests include Limpy, who suffers from bad joints, and Wonderful, a baby brought in at Christmas and named after Bernie’s favourite festive film, It’s A Wonderful Life. There’s also the obligatory Sonic and Spike, and the aim is to return them all to the wild once they’ve fully recovered.

“People don’t realise that they’re an endangered species,” she says. “More and more people are using pesticides on their gardens and that’s killing the beatles and woodlouse that hedgehogs eat.

"The past year has been especially bad – the phone’s hardly stopped.  People are also still giving hedgehogs milk and they don’t realise that kills them.”

Luckily, for the injured hedgehogs of Durham, help is at hand, with Bernie Carré always ready to find space for one more prickly friend at the mini-zoo she calls home.

  • To keep her rescue operation going, Bernie needs donations towards vets’ bills, as well as dried dog food and cat food (not fish-based), plus newspapers for bedding. To find out more, search Facebook for “Bernie’s Hedgehog Rescue Durham”.