Sophomore Lisa Venckus conducts animal shows, called Hedgehog Hannah, with her family


Angela Qian

Venckus holds Virginia, an albino Burmese python. She said during shows, the audience is allowed to pet all of the animals including a legless lizard and hissing cockroaches.

Emily Sandy

What is Hedgehog Hannah?

Hedgehog Hannah is my family’s business and we basically bring animals—we have some exotic (and) some just normal—to birthday parties, festivals, schools and whoever wants us to do a show. (My sister Hannah) started it around seven years ago. Since then, it (has been) my dad’s full-time job to take care of the animals and bring them to shows, and it’s my brother and (my) summer job. We do shows together.

What is your inspiration for doing the show?

I’ve always loved animals, so before we had Hedgehog Hannah, my dad started this garden center/petting zoo which me and all of my siblings grew up with. We had a lot of cool animals there like turkeys, goats and wallabies, so we all kind of got used to being around different animals. My dad initially got into animals because he worked at a zoo in college, so all of my siblings grew up being around animals. My family has always loved having animals and dogs, and my sister rescued dogs for a little bit, so I’ve always wanted to be a veterinarian and have wanted to be around animals. This is a super cool experience for me to help take care (of) and learn all about these animals and their personalities.

What is your main goal with the show?

Our main goal is to get kids to learn and meet different animals that they may never have the chance to see. My dad and I will say at shows—especially at bigger camps and stuff—how we see all these animals and they are really cool. Before said show, these kids may have never gotten the chance to pet an alligator or put a tarantula on their head. You have to keep in mind that all of them are wild animals, and they do live in the wild, so we have to take care of the environment because they’re super cute—and especially for smaller kids that we’re doing this for—we’d never want them to get hurt. One of our messages that we like to spread is if you don’t want these animals to be harmed, then you need to take care of the environment that they’re living in.

Angela Qian
Sophomore Lisa Venckus pets Sonic, the hedgehog. She said her family puts the animals into boxes that contain wood chips for transportation.

Would you want to pursue something like this as a career?

I would. One of my big career choices (is) to work with animals, whether that be just being a veterinarian (or something else). I would also love to work with more exotic animals because some people have a hard time getting a scope of their personality when they aren’t around them. I’ve gotten that opportunity, which has been great to see their personalities and see how they’re all different from one another even if they seem like this completely different creature. I have seen their true personalities, so I do want to go into something that works with animals and helps them.

What makes your show different from other shows?

There’s quite a few companies that do this, such as Silly Safaris and Alligator Aaron, and we’re similar to them but we’ve had some, like the Humane Society, we do shows for their camp like weekly every summer, and I think that they used to have Silly Safaris do them, but then they have started to switch over to us, so I think that one way that we like to be different is, first of all, we have different animals—like I don’t think that they have an arctic fox or anything like that. We also don’t want it to be cliché almost? Like when my sister was little, before this business even started, we (had) Silly Safaris come and do a show at her birthday party and one thing that especially bothered my dad was that he acted like it was a safari, and he had this whole get-up and costume and it was just kind of cliché, so we just wanted to connect with the kids in a different way and have them connect with the animals more than they did with this whole get-up. We didn’t want the get-up; we wanted them to connect with the animals and learn about the animals and connect with them in a different way.

Angela Qian
Venckus strokes her alligator, Irwin. She said the name was inspired by Steve Irwin, the famous Australian zookeeper and TV personality dubbed “The Crocodile Hunter.”

What are some obstacles with the show?

The main obstacle is just time—the amount of time that’s invested in it. That would probably be one of the main things. We’ve really enjoyed doing it; my dad loves doing it, he was a teacher before he started this. So, he likes to work with kids, but like he loves Hedgehog Hannah because there is just a different learning experience with it. So the obstacles would just be, he doesn’t get to spend a ton of nights at home because he’s taking care of the animals and just the amount of time that that takes is probably the main thing and just making sure that every animal gets the proper care because obviously that’s first and foremost, and so that would probably just be the main obstacle.

How do you care for your animals?

It is a lot of work. We have a barn that my dad built on this property in the middle of nowhere, Indiana, and it’s his full-time job, so a lot of times he’ll spend the night there. Obviously, (the animals) all have different needs, so a lot of his time is spent feeding them and cleaning their cages, and obviously that is really time consuming and he just keeps track of all of them.

Would you continue Hedgehog Hannah?

I’m not sure if I would, just because it’s been great and a super cool experience and it is definitely something that I will carry with me and we are obviously going to have it for a long time from here on, but with the life that I’m looking for, maybe my sister would want to expand it or my brother, but it’s super time consuming, working and taking care of the animals. My dad, for instance, spends a lot of his time spending the night at the barn instead of at home working with them, which is totally understandable because they need care, but I’m not sure that it would be something that I would do as a career.