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

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Front Page -

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

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