HAVE PET, CAN SELL?
We love our animals and go to extraordinary legends to house them. But they can cause big problems when it comes to moving. Safah Lonsdale examines a baestly business
Like all parents of newborn babies, Fred and Sheila Eatwell have to rise at dawn for the start of the gruelling, two-to-three hourly feeding regime that lasts all day until they finally come to rest at 11pm. A few hours of sleep later, they are up again at 5am with their feeding spoons and pipettes to satisfy the seemingly insatiable demands of their young.
While two or three babies at a time is common, the most they have had to deal with was 15, abandoned by parents unable to cope – a burden that Fred describes as “horrendous”. But these demanding foundlings are not the cuddly human variety who at least reward their carers with deliciously chubby limbs and cheeks to kiss, or dribbly, toothless smiles to croon over. No, these are parrots – bald, blind and, with the best will in the world, possibly among the least attractive young creatures that nature has ever produced.
But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Fred and Sheila talk about these infants with a startling degree of affection. A young parrot that particularly engaged them was a blue and gold macaw called Max that had been reduced to eating peat at the bottom of his cage and would have died had Fred and Sheila not rescued him and lovingly tended him back to health. They speak of how they nursed him with a special yogurt mixture as if he were a muchloved child.
“Gorgeous, they are,” says Fred fondly, as he talks about all the animals in their menagerie. At present, due to the fact that they are moving house, their ark is somewhat reduced in size and now they are only caring for 170 budgies, 17 rabbits, “about” 15 guinea pigs (it’s hard to keep count as they keep breeding), a
The Eatwells, who haven’t taken a holiday in years, have built a large aviary in the one-acre garden of their Wiltshire bungalow to house their birds and the shed is full of small mammals; the house is full of dog and cat baskets. Despite the clutter and chaos, Fred and Sheila both find their animals completely absorbing and rewarding.
Certainly, a visit to the aviary, even in its downsized state of a mere 170 budgies, is an awe-inspiring experience: the noise of the twittering and beating of wings is overwhelming and the tiny, jewel-coloured birds in shades of green, blue, silver and yellow flash about over the roosts, creating the effect of watching a moving impressionist masterpiece. The rewards are the countless prizes the Eatwells have won for their budgies and their name is renowned in the budgie breeding world. But the Eatwells have such a love for their pets that winning prizes is not the point: they are devoted to all their 200 creatures, despite the “budgie dust” the birds produce, a fine white powder that coats every surface of the aviary, and which can cause breathing problems in the asthmatic.
Equally dotty about their pets are Richard and Pamela Kassabian and their two sons, who keep a bearded dragon – a large, Australian reptile, along with a cat, a dog, a cockerel, two chickens and a goldfish. Although Noah the dragon does not compete with the Eatwells’ pets in numbers, the sheer demands of his physical welfare make one wonder at the Kassabians’ devotion to a coldblooded, scaly vestige from the Jurassic era.
Noah lives in a 6ft-long vivarium – a glass tank, which is kept at light and temperature levels to simulate the environment of an Australian desert. He is fed on live bait – locusts, crickets and waxworms that, says Richard, “really need to be looked after like pets as well, so they are nice and plump and juicy for Noah to feed on”.
Noah is a rescue pet, acquired by the Kassabians six years ago when he was one and a half. “We already had a Madagascan gecko, so when we heard from the pet shop that this bearded dragon needed a home, we felt it would not be too hard to adjust to one more reptile. Although he looks fierce, with spikes and scales, he is really very friendly, rather like a dog. When you come into the room he looks like he would wag his tail if he could.”
The Kassabians are selling their four-bedroom house in Dartington, Devon, and Richard says viewers aren’t at all confounded by the sight of the brown, 2ft-long lizard. “Quite a lot of people want to know if he comes with the house. He’s really good company and likes to perch on the children’s shoulder while they are watching television.”
While Noah and his striking beard may delight potential buyers, vendors need to be careful that their beloved pets don’t put viewers off. Despite the fact that more than half of all households in Britain have pets, surveys among buyers say pet smells and hairs are the second most offputting feature after stale cigarette smoke when viewing houses. (Oddly, the third highest ranking negative feature, according to a Nationwide survey of 1,000 purchasers, is a mirrored ceiling in the bedroom, a bigger turn-off than shabby bathroom suites and polystyrene ceiling tiles, proving that we Brits really are as buttonedup as our international caricature suggests.)
Without question, the animalloving British are opting for increasingly pampered and demanding pets, sometimes even dedicating entire rooms full of specialist equipment, and keeping dedicated freezers full of meat to feed carnivorous mammals, exotic reptiles and birds of prey. According to Focas (Federation of Companion Animal Societies), the most rapidly growing pet sector is reptiles and amphibians, with one million households owning five million snakes, lizards and others, while dog ownership is steadily declining.
Fred and Sheila Eatwell’s son, Kevin, who runs Birch Heath Veterinary Clinic in Cheshire, says his practice deals with many exotic animals needing increasingly high levels of veterinary care. “It used to be the case that pets other than cats and dogs were confined to hutches at the bottom of the garden. Now, we have
snakes, lizards and increasingly exotic bird species that owners treat as well as, if not better, than the beloved family dog. Owners can have a sentimental attachment to, say, a boa constrictor, that is so intense that they will dedicate an entire room to him, and keep dead rodents and chicks for him to eat.”
All of which items, when it comes to selling the home, may well put prospective purchasers off.
‘The British may be a nation of animal lovers, but big, aggressive dogs, or rats whirling madly in a wheel in the corner are bound to put viewers off,” says Mark Rimell, head of Strutt & Parker’s country house division.
“Pet owners need to remember that it is the house, not the animal, the viewers have come to see. Try to confine pets to sheds or paddocks when you have a viewing and make sure you have fed that hungry reptile well before the viewing time – I can’t imagine there being a much more off-putting sight than a large gecko devouring a live locust while you are admiring the fitted kitchen.”
The Eatwells are selling their three- bedroom bungalow with an acre of land, near Wootton Bassett, in Wiltshire, through agents Woolley and Wallis, at a guide price of £440,000. For more information, telephone 01672 515252.
The Kassabians are selling their four-bedroom house with large garden in Dartington, Devon, through agents Marchand Petit, at a guide price of £475,000. For more information, telephone 01803 847979.
Information on and support for pets: Federation of Companion Animal Societies: www.focas-uk.info
Best friends: above, Richard Kassabian and Noah, his bearded dragon, at the home they share in Devon; right, Fred Eatwell, with one of the 170 budgies in his care and, below, one of his resident geese