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Animal Days Out in Welling proving a hit

PUBLISHED: 17:00 06 December 2012

Mollie the Meerkat with Animal Days Out co-owner Gary McHolland-Pilcher

Mollie the Meerkat with Animal Days Out co-owner Gary McHolland-Pilcher

Archant

Dressed in khaki with Molly the meerkat perched on his shoulder, it’s hard to imagine Gary McHolland-Pilcher sitting at behind aCity desk just three years ago

Gary McHolland Pilcher with Frosties the corn snakeGary McHolland Pilcher with Frosties the corn snake

He and his wife Victoria decided to quit the corporate world to establish Animal Days Out, which they run from their home in Welling.

The company takes exotic creatures to parties and community events and does work with schoolchildren.

“We were fed up of making money for other people and wanted to work on a project we felt passionate about,” explains Gary. “I had grown very tired of the rat race.”

The revenue generated by private parties subsidises Animal Days Out’s community activities, which include trips to schools and youth groups as well as taking the animals to children with learning difficulties – something Gary says he finds very fulfilling.

Gary McHolland Pilcher (centre) with a giant millipede, staff, parents and childrenGary McHolland Pilcher (centre) with a giant millipede, staff, parents and children

“We try to offer something more than the average reptile man. It’s important that the animals are sociable before taking them out.

“The activities are fun and entertaining as well as educational, so we encourage touching and holding, which is something you can’t really do at a zoo. All children seem to enjoy it.”

The company is a real family affair, with the couple’s two children, eight-year-old Kyle, eight, and Ella, six, involved in looking after the animals, along with Gary’s children from his first marriage, Deanna, 17, and 14-year-old Sam.

Volunteers and trained animal handlers make up the rest of the team and they all play an important part.

A giant millipedeA giant millipede

Animal Days Out has a range of creatures, with meerkats in great demand during the past couple of years.

Victoria, 36, says: “When the adverts came out they became so popular, we had to get some. Not everyone can say they keep meerkats in their garden.

“We also have exotic beetles and cockroaches, bearded dragons, five or six different species of snakes, lizards, chinchillas and a raccoon dog, which looks like a cross between a raccoon and a badger. You could say we have all bases covered.”

Most of the animals live in the family’s spacious back garden and house, in controlled environments. Theirs is the only property in Bexley which is officially licensed to keep exotic animals. They are checked by the City of London Vets, who can drop by to inspect the conditions the animals are kept in in at short notice.

Gary says they have plans to expand the business in the next year.

“We need a more permanent base to move forward. We’ve approached Hall Place, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” he says. “Hopefully this would bring in more business, so we can employ people to run events while we concentrate on the finances.

“All in all, this has been a great experience and totally different to what we’ve done for the rest of our lives. The animals work with us and not for us. That’s an important distinction.”

For more information about Animal Days Out, visit www.animaldaysout.com or call 0845 604 4921.


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