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Ray Boone, KSL TV

Utah woman says breeding hedgehogs helped her escape domestic violence

By Ray Boone, KSL TV | Posted - Dec. 9, 2019 at 1:15 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman said breeding and selling hedgehogs helped her escape domestic violence after she felt trapped and isolated in a relationship.

Stephanie Keller breeds and raises hedgehogs to sell as part of a pet business she calls “Prickle Farms.” She said the quilled, nocturnal animals grow to be about the size of a guinea pig and are typically kept in small cages with a running wheel for exercise.

Keller also works for University of Utah Health Plans, bringing information to those she believes may need help. She sets up booths at community events to help others learn about different health care options.

At a recent event, Keller gladly showed her support by walking alongside a group of men as they walked through Jordan Park in high heels.

The sight of a group of men shuffling along in heels isn’t exactly a common sight, and although it may seem comical to some, it was done for a good cause — to help raise awareness of domestic violence.

Just like those she tries to help at work, Keller is a survivor of domestic violence.

“One thing that a lot of women go through when they’re getting out of a domestic violence situation is they have no access to finances,” Keller said.

'Hedgehog lady'

Struggling with finances is something Keller can relate to. Before landing this job, she had another way of making money. It’s now something she does on the side and it didn’t come with many benefits.

When Keller came home from the park, she started to go by a different name.

“The crazy hedgehog lady,” she said with a laugh.

While it may seem a bit strange, Keller’s parents had a pet store when she was growing up, which means she’s perfectly comfortable around all sorts of creatures.

Stephanie Keller holds up a baby hedgehog at her home Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. Photo: Ray Boone, KSL TV

“We’ve had like every animal under the sun that you can think of,” she said. “So I got some for my kids, had babies, and it blew up into this whole breeding thing.”

Caring for these creatures became part of her life — and in a way, they helped save it.

“I wasn’t allowed to work,” Keller said. “If I was to leave the house, I had like a time limit on when I had to be back. I mean, I wasn’t allowed to have friends, I didn’t have relationships with family. A lot of abusers really try to isolate their victims.”

Like many women, Keller said she felt trapped.

“Mostly emotional abuse and you’re really trained to think that this treatment is okay, and like, you’re crazy, and you should be grateful that this person’s putting up with you because you’re not worth it,” she said.

Path to escape

With no job and no money, she thought she was stuck. But as strange as it may sound, the money from breeding hedgehogs gave her a path towards escape.

Photo: Ray Boone, KSL TV

“I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years, and these guys really helped me get through everything,” she said. “I moved all the hedgehogs into my mom’s spare bedroom, and then I slept in my car, on friends’ couches, my mom’s couch. I did this, and didn’t have a real job or anything for months.”

Keller also said selling hedgehogs helped her self-confidence.

“I had to start dealing with people and having conversations with people,” she said. “It opened so many doors for me, it’s crazy. The social anxiety that set in with me, during the time that I was in the relationship, I couldn’t have a conversation with somebody without stuttering or tripping over my words.”

So now, she’s setting her own rules — with a job that lets her help others, and even a recent event in her backyard.

Stephanie Keller hands out health care information as part of her job with the University of Utah Health Plans. Photo: KSL TV

“I got married Thursday,” Keller said with a laugh.

All thanks to believing in something better — and, of course, thanks to a handful of hedgehogs.

“There’s so much better out there,” Keller said. “We all deserve a happy, happy life. Happy ending.”

Keller said domestic violence doesn’t always have to be physical, and it’s important women are aware of the warning signs. If you or someone you know is in need of help, the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential 24-hour hotline at 1-800-897-LINK.

Domestic violence resources

Photos

Ray Boone

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