Holiday Letting Scams: 9 Steps to Check if a Holiday let is Genuine Before Booking

 

It’s something you always hear about in the papers, but you tell yourself it’s never going to happen to you. In this case, I am of course talking about holiday letting scams.

The sad fact of the matter is that every year, families fall victim to fraudulent holiday listings that see them lose out on thousands of pounds.

But don’t let that put you off booking a holiday let – after all, most self catering holiday lets provide a genuine, affordable way to make memories you’ll treasure forever.

In the past, even I’ve had guests who have contacted me to confirm the existence of my holiday lets, because they had fallen victim to scams before.

That’s why I thought I’d provide the following tips on how you can avoid holiday letting scams, and go on to have a lovely self-catering holiday.

1. Look at how long the listing has been up

Not all listings will have this, but usually if you’re booking via one of the big rental sites such as holidaylettings.co.uk, the listing should tell you near the bottom how long the property has been published on the site. As a rule of thumb, the longer the owner has been featured, the better.

2. Check the availability calendar

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A screenshot of a calendar that is up-to-date

Has the holiday let been booked up, or are all the dates currently available? A calendar which shows no bookings could potentially be a red flag, as scammers often try to sell the same peak weeks to multiple customers for the most profit.

3. Talk to the owner

Linda Maclaughlan

Here at Lowland Lettings we are always delighted to speak to guests.

It’s all very well having an impressive website, but scammers use so much smoke and mirrors these days that it can sometimes be hard to tell who is genuine. Being able to pick up the phone and actually speak with the owner should go a long way to setting your mind at ease.

Ask them questions about the local area, as well as the holiday let itself. Judge whether they are comfortable talking to you and are able to demonstrate local knowledge of the area, without evading your questions.

4. Look for verified reviews, and seek out past guests

Not everything you read online can be trusted, especially when it comes to reviews. However, if you’re on larger holiday rentals sites, you should be able to see verified reviews. Still, it’s a good idea to find out if you can contact past guests so you can hear about their stay from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

5. Get the owner’s full contact details

You should try and get as many contact details for the owner as possible, including their personal address and landline number, as well as the address of the holiday let itself. Most owners won’t share these personal details on their website, but by the time you get to the booking contract stage, they should be happy to give you these. If you are still concerned, try asking for a utility bill as proof.

6. Do your research

Now that you have the owner’s details, it’s time to take to the internet and find out all you can about the owner and property. See if you can look up the property on Google street view – is it identical to the one in the pictures provided?

If the owner has a website, try a whois lookup to see who owns the website’s domain. Check it matches the details the owner provided, and how long it has been registered for.

7. Check you will receive a booking contract

You should expect a booking contract outlining all the terms and conditions of your holiday let before booking. Once your holiday has been booked, you should then be issued with the booking contract.

8. Don’t pay the full amount upfront

It’s common for holiday lets to take a non refundable 25 per cent deposit upfront, and then the balance payment around six to eight weeks before you arrive. If you are asked to pay the full amount upfront, you have every right to be wary – unless you are booking a last minute holiday.

9. Ensure you have payment protection

Always use a payment method that offers payment protection, such as a credit card or PayPal. Some smaller holiday lets may not have credit card payments as an option due to high costs, although this method offers the highest form of protection.

Stay away from untraceable methods such as wire transfer. If the owner would prefer electronic bank transfer or a cheque, always opt for the latter, but be sure to follow all the steps above first, and ensure the cheque goes to an address, rather than a PO box.

Conclusion

Holiday letting scams have been featured prominently in the press recently. You should always do your best to check if a holiday let is legit before handing over your money. Follow the above tips and make sure you talk to the owner and previous guests before booking.

A background check can help reassure you that the owner is who he/she says they are, and that the property is as pictured. Always ask for a booking contract, don’t pay upfront unless its last minute, and always make sure you are financially protected from fraud when possible.

brFinally, have a fantastic holiday!

Top 6 East Lothian Beaches for a Family Day Out

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Ice cream, sandcastles, salty sea air, fish and chips… Oh I do love to be beside the seaside. Especially when I want to make the most of the Scottish summer weather!

A trip to the beach can be the perfect family day out, and if you’re going to be in East Lothian, there are some gorgeous ones to choose from – in fact, most of them are award-winning and have their own special areas of interest.

To make it even easier, I’ve put together my top six beaches for families to visit in East Lothian – so you can pick your favourite:

1. Gullane Bents

With its golden sands and gradual slope that’s perfect for paddling, Gullane Bents is a classic for family outings to remember. Located within the Forth Estuary, the water stays quite calm, and you can easily take shelter by the sand dunes when it’s time for a picnic. I love a visit to Gullane, just a short walk away, with its charming coffee shops and eateries galore.

Find out more via Visit Scotland.

2. Belhaven Bay

If you love picnics and a relaxing walk across the sand, Belhaven Bay is a great choice. You’ll find this stunning, generously-sized beach located within the John Muir Country Park. It actually stretches from Belhaven all the way to the north of the River Tyne! I love Belhaven Bay mainly because of the lovely views across the Forth Estuary, but there are many who come here just to surf or take part in lessons at the conveniently located surf school. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could even explore the cliff top walk by Dunbar, which takes you to a ruined castle.

Belhaven Bay has free parking, toilets and spaces available for motorhomes and high-sided vehicles. It’s also very close to Foxlake Adventures and East Links Family Park.

Find more information here.

3. Seacliff Beach

The £2 entry fee can be enough to put some families off, but I can guarantee the price is well worth it for such a beautiful, sheltered private beach that is very often deserted. A whole beach to yourself for just £2? Yes please! You’ll see stunning views of the Bass Rock, and even atmospheric Tantallon Castle (featured in one of my previous blogs) when the tide is out. It’s also ideal if you have very young children, as it’s a very short distance from the car park.

Oh, and toilet facilities are provided, but I’d recommend taking your own toilet roll – just in case! For more information, check out Seacliff Beach here.

4. North Berwick

North Berwick Beach

There are two main beaches to mention here in North Berwick; West Beach and Milsey Bay. The latter is very close to the Seabird Centre, and it’s particularly nice for families with young children as there is a safe water pool built into the rocks. Children are able to safely paddle and play there whilst parents look on. There’s even the opportunity to get an ice cream from the Luca’s van nearby. West Beach is a lovely, sandy beach that’s perfect for relaxing, sunbathing and building sandcastles.

For more information on North Berwick, check out this link.

5. Yellowcraig Beach

Just a quick 30-minute drive from Edinburgh, Yellowcraig beach is home to a beautiful stretch of sand. With rock pools galore and a great view of Fidra (mentioned in my ‘picnic with puffins’ blog post!) and the old lighthouse, there’s plenty to keep the whole family occupied. For slightly older children (over 3s) there’s an adventure play park with a range of fun equipment to try out.

It’s also important to note that Yellowcraig is a designated local nature reserve, as well as being a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Yellowcraig hosts free parking, and there are very well thought-out information boards that provide clear and detailed information about the various areas of interest, along with water quality, tide information, and the local wildlife.

More information on Yellowcraig can be found here.

6. Aberlady Bay

If you’re after something a bit different, you’re sure to find it at Aberlady Bay. I love it because of the old XT-craft submarine wrecks you can spot when the tide is right. Kids with imaginations will love it! Aberlady is also a local nature reserve, just teaming with wildlife (note that dogs aren’t permitted here), including lots of interesting birds and plants.

For more information on Aberlady Bay, check out the Undiscovered Scotland page.

Conclusion

There you have it – my top six East Lothian beaches for a family day out! Choose from beauties such as Gullane and Belhaven Bay, as well as spot of scientific interest like Yellowcraig. And don’t forget the amazing and historic Aberlady Bay! Whether you’re into nature, sunbathing, rockpools or old submarine wrecks, there’s something to suit just about everyone. All you need now is your bathing suit!

4 Melrose Sevens restaurants to tantalise your tastebuds

Leaderfoot Bridge

Leaderfoot Bridge near Melrose 

 

If you’ve ever been in town for Melrose Sevens, you’ll know that supporting your favourite rugby team all day can really work up an appetite. It’s just as well there are plenty of fabulous restaurants and eateries to choose from in the area, with cuisines designed to cater to most tastes.

Below I’ve put together four of the best Melrose 7s eateries, all of which are within walking distance of the Greenyards.

I’ve picked the following restaurants not just because of their locations, but also because they all pride themselves on using fresh, quality local produce.

Monte Cassino 

If you’re looking for award-winning Italian cuisine, Monte Cassino is the place to be. You’ll find this charming family-owned traditional restaurant at the Old Railway Station in Melrose.

You’ll find the menu is quite varied, with regularly updated daily specials using only the finest ingredients. My personal favourites are the amazing ravioli and the traditional Italian pizza.

The ‘open view’ kitchen means you can watch your meal being cooked in an authentic Italian style, which is always a nice touch as you can see everything is made fresh.

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Some very relaxed and happy customers at Monte Cassino recently!

Antonio and his team of friendly staff get lots of local support, and always endeavour to cater to your needs and make your dining experience one to remember.

Russell’s restaurant 

Owned and run by an award-winning husband and wife team, Russell’s has a great reputation for deli-style delights along freshly baked cakes and scones.

This eatery also caters to specific dietary requirements (such as vegan, gluten-free etc.) so you’ll be sure to find a treat you can enjoy along with your fine tea or coffee.

You can also choose from a selection of locally-sourced home cooked meats, fresh and smoked salmon along with daily Chef’s Specials.

The Bistro Bar at Burt’s Hotel 

Just a few minutes’ walk from Greenyards, Burt’s Hotel is a family-owned business that has been running for over 40 years, and its restaurant The Bistro Bar is a firm favourite for locals.

The Bistro Bar offers excellent cuisine to suit just about every taste, including a mouth-watering butternut and pomegranate soup, but I just can’t pass on the delicious haddock and chips – the fish is caught locally at Eyemouth.

You’ll also find a wide selection of cask-conditioned ales and a wide array of different wines available to order by the glass.

For more information, check out their restaurant menu. I can also personally vouch for the receptionist!

The Town House

And last but not least, the Town House in Melrose is one of the most warm and friendliest places to dine, from the same owners of Burt’s Hotel; the Henderson family.

You’ll find the Town House directly opposite Burt’s, and prides itself on being a hotel with ‘a bit of a twist’. Relax in the ambient colour scheme and stylish surroundings with a glass of wine or wee dram.

The food itself is excellent, and just like Burt’s, caters to almost every taste using fresh, locally-sourced produce whenever possible. For more information on exactly what’s on offer, take a look at the online menu.

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A mouthwatering trio of Border Lamb on the menu at The Town House Melrose!

 

Conclusion

Whether you’re here for the Melrose Sevens or just a relaxing weekend away from all your stresses, you’ll be spoilt for choice with so many examples of sumptuous cuisines to choose from.

It doesn’t matter if your tastebuds crave traditional Scottish fare, award-winning Italian cooking, or fabulous deli-style delights, you’ll be sure to find it all here in Melrose. Enjoy!

 

Visit Scotland & find 4 Captivating Castles for the perfect proposal

valentineblogLooking for the perfect proposal spot can be a surprising source of pain for many loved-up couples – however, when only the best will do, nothing else says romance quite like a captivating Scottish castle.

Steeped in history, and often surrounded by beautiful rolling landscapes, what better place to pop the question and declare your undying love?

The good news is, Scotland itself isn’t lacking in historical beauties, and you can pretty much take your pick. However, to give you a helping hand, I’ve put together four of my favourite romantic Scottish castles, with a bit of a twist, that I think would make the perfect spot for that special moment.

Hume Castle (near Kelso, Scottish Borders) 

 If you want to visit a castle with a difference, Hume Castle (three miles south of Greenlaw) is a good bet. In terms of location, it’s absolutely ideal, with all the signs of a traditional Borders castle set-up.

However, as you get closer to Hume, you’ll notice its looks set it apart from your average Scottish castle. In fact, as it says on the website, it’d probably look a lot more at home surrounded by a few camels and sand dunes.

Hume is actually a medieval castle in its own right, however its fragmentary ruins were later overlaid with a folly dating back to before 1789, which explains its unique characteristics.

Stone steps lead up towards the top of the castle ruins, where you can take in some great views and examine the stonework up close.

Fatlips Castle (near Denholm,Scottish Borders)

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A new dawn at Fatlips Castle

 

Full of character, Fatlips Castle is beloved by locals, and was recently rescued from complete collapse by locals, who along with Historic Scotland and the Scottish Borders council, managed to secure funding for a new weather-proof roof.

 

You’ll find this charming wee tower sitting high atop a rocky hill called Minto Crags, and I can tell you now it’s quite a climb to get there – but totally worth it in my opinion.

 

Over the years, this castle has been given various different names, including Minto Castle, Catslick Castle, Mantoncrake Castle and of course, the one that’s perhaps stuck the most; Fatlips Castle.

Once a Turnbull Clan stronghold, it now belongs to descendants of the Elliot family of which I am one!

 

Hailes Castle (East Lothian) 

 The gorgeous ruins of Hailes Castle are set in an idyllic location in the Valley of the River Tyne. One of Scotland’s oldest stone castles, it dates back to the early 1200s, and contains two vaulted pit-prisons.

The tower house is particularly fun to look at, and can really spark your imagination, as one half of it still stands complete, all the way from basement to battlements.

Hailes Castle has a special meaning to my family. My mother-in-law was born at the cottage just opposite the castle back in 1924, as her father was a local gamekeeper there.

Tantallon Castle (East Lothian) 

 Out of all of the castles on this list, Tantallon Castle is by far my favourite in terms of its striking looks – in fact, it’s easy to see why it was chosen to feature in the recent Scarlett Johansson sci-fi thriller ‘Under the Skin’.

Set atop cliffs overlooking the Firth of Forth, the dramatic Tantallon Castle was once home to the Douglas Earls of Angus; one of the most powerful Scottish baronial families. The castle was used as a noble fortification for over three centuries, during which time it endured a total of three sieges.

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The hauntingly beautiful Tantallon Castle in East Lothian

 

Tantallon is particularly beautiful if you visit during the wild flower season, but it’s also just lots of fun to explore the ruins and even touch the replica cannon. You can also enjoy a tea or coffee and various other refreshments at the visitor centre.

Conclusion

Although there’s no shortage of castles to visit in Scotland, these four particularly stand out to me, as they’re just so striking and different – the perfect spots to have a little romantic break and even pop the question.

Although undoubtedly each has its own character, Tantallon Castle is my absolute personal favourite, with dramatic looks and plenty of nooks and crannies to explore. Which one will you visit first?

Visit East Lothian & find 3 Islands where you can picnic with puffins

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The Bass Rock visible from North Berwick Beach in East Lothian

 

If you’re anything like my family, you’ll know that a summer day trip out just isn’t complete without a picnic (weather permitting!) – and what better way to do it than surrounded by puffins.

That’s why I’ve put together three of the best Scottish islands for picnics and puffin-watching, so you’ll be sure to have a great family day out.

You can reach all of the islands below via the Scottish Seabird Centre in North Berwick – however, I recommend you book in advance during the busy summer months. [Read more…]

3 Fantastic Family-sized Holiday Lets for Melrose Sevens

It’s that time of year again to start preparing for Melrose Sevens, where thousands of rugby fans flock to the Borders to watch their favourite teams battle it out.

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Image credit thanks to Daniel

This April 11th will mark the 125th playing of Melrose Sevens, so what better way to celebrate than to spend a long weekend soaking up the atmosphere in Melrose with friends or family?

There’s plenty of things to do whilst you’re here, and for a couple of ideas check out my other blogs: ‘Some great suggestions for both walking and cycling in the Scottish Borders’ and ‘Four Melrose 7’s Eateries to Tantalise your Tastebuds’.

If you’re looking for accommodation close to all the action at Greenyards for your group or family get-together, there are various charming holiday lets in the area to choose from, and I’m going to detail three of my favourites below. [Read more…]

4 Scottish Borders Walks You Would be Mad to Miss

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I recently had the pleasure of sitting down over a coffee with Hazel Hall, an exceptional lady who along with her husband John has just bagged her last of 282 Munro’s (Scottish Peaks over 3000ft) by reaching the summit of Ben More.

This love affair with Scottish mountain’s started in 1995 when her and John climbed Ben Nevis, they then set themselves the task of climbing all 282 Munro’s, taking them 10 years to achieve. This feat is in itself exceptional enough but the thing I really love about Hazel is her infectious enthusiasm for Scotland and walking. Not only has she achieved something amazing in her own right but she has inspired countless others including myself (via our various impromptu chats) and two further generations of her own family. [Read more…]

10 Ways to Help Ensure your Holiday Let Guests are Safe from the Risk of Fire

holiday cottageIn this guide I will introduce you to one of the main areas of health and safety for holiday let properties in Scotland – fire safety.

Much of this is covered by legislation that you must comply with.

I will also give you some common sense ideas to help ensure your property is safe. In my next guide I will discuss Gas and Electricity legislation.

If keeping your guests safe is not top of your priority list then it should be! So before you pick the fabric for the duvets or the pillows for the beds think safety first then everyone will be able to sleep well at night.

It is suggested that the risk of injury increases when people are in a property that they are unfamiliar with. You may know every nook, cranny and trip hazard in your house but that doesn’t mean that your guests will.

As a holiday let owner you are ultimately responsible for your guest’s safety and that your property complies with all safety legislation relating to the letting of self-catering accommodation.

Even if no specific legislation exists owners have a duty of care to guests and should adopt a common sense approach to eliminating potential safety hazards.

In conjunction with a sensible approach to risk assessment this should minimise the potential for any accidents or injury.

 Fire Safety

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Source: The Scottish government

Although the number of fires in Scotland is at a 10 year low, potentially 46 people lost their lives and 1311 were injured due to fire. (2012-2013) In order to minimise this risk at your property and avoid adding to these statistics you must comply with the following. 

Fire Risk Assessment

As the owner no one knows the property better than you and that is why it is your responsibility to carry out a fire risk assessment.

The fire risk assessment  is essentially a common sense review of the property you are responsible for, identifying any potential fire hazards and allowing you to decide whether you have taken adequate precautions to minimise this risk or whether there is more you can do.

The fire risk assessment should be displayed in the property perhaps with the welcome and property information pack that you should provide. If you do not feel confident to carry out the fire risk assessment yourself, you can employ a Fire Safety Consultant to do this on your behalf.

Furniture and Furnishings 

Enforced by the Trading Standards Department, The Furniture and Furnishings (Fire Safety) Regulations 1988/1989, 1993 and 2010  are designed to set levels of fire resistance for domestic upholstered furniture, furnishings and other products containing upholstery.  All furniture (new and second hand) that is affected by the regulations in your property must comply.

Open fires and log burners 

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Log burners and open fires are a particular attraction of holiday cottages. The majority of guests will not have one of these at home and whilst this adds to the romance and cosiness of your cottage it also increases the risk of injury from fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.

If an open fire or log burner is provided for guests then the chimney must be swept at least annually. In addition to this a fire guard of appropriate size with mess that little fingers cannot poke through should be provided.

It is not only the fire that poses a risk, many people do not realise the danger of hot ashes. Ashes can and often are still hot enough the following day to cause a fire. The ashes should be disposed of in a metal bin kept outside the property.

Lowland Lettings properties have a minimum of one carbon monoxide alarm in each property. The alarm is relatively low cost (around £20) but could be a life saver.

Please do not make the mistake of installing alarm and forgetting about it. The alarm should be tested weekly and as most are battery operated the batteries should be regularly replaced.

You should ensure that any log burners or stoves are fitted by a qualified HETAS engineer.

Smoke alarms and heat detectors

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New building standard guidance published in October 2013 states that there should be

  1. One functioning smoke alarm in every room which is frequently used by the occupants for general daytime activities
  2. One functioning smoke alarm in every circulation space, such as hallways and  landings
  3. One heat alarm in every kitchen
  4. All alarms should be interlinked.

Whilst this is not yet compulsory in holiday let accommodation this is the standard that Lowland Lettings are planning as part of our ongoing maintenance and refurbishment of all of our properties.

As with all aspects of fire safety it is the owner’s responsibility to protect the people using your premises from the risk of fire.

Please note that this also applies to staff members using the property i.e. cleaners etc.  Current benchmarks should be used to reduce the risk of fire in your holiday let property.

When fire strikes there is clear evidence that early warning is a key factor to whether or not people escape unhurt. The vast majority of accidental house fires start in the kitchen.

That is why Lowland Lettings think that it is advisable to have a heat detector fitted in the kitchen. You must also have a wall mounted fire blanket readily accessible, situated between the cooker and an exit from the room.

Again please do not forget about the maintenance of the detectors, these should be tested on a weekly basis and a log kept. This can quite easily be adhered to as normally there is a cleaner in the property at least once a week.

The detectors should also be vacuumed at least every 6 months to remove any dust from the sensors.

Other common sense things to consider:

  1. All doors should be easy to open from the inside and should never be obstructed
  2. All tumble dryers should be regularly cleaned to ensure filter is lint free. Failure to do this can lead to the appliance overheating
  3. Fire retardant waste bins should be provided in the living room and the bedrooms
  4. A torch should be provided to aid evacuation in the event of a fire
  5. Emergency contact numbers and instructions on what to do in the event of a fire should be provided in the welcome and property information pack
  6. Provide Fire extinguishers. Guidance suggests a suitable fire extinguisher at least every 25 metres within the property

Key take aways

In order to reduce the risk of injury or death from fire in your holiday let property you need to do at least these 10 things:

  1. Carry out a Fire Risk Assessment
  2. Ensure all Furniture and Furnishings comply with regulations
  3. Adhere to regulations on log burners and open fires
  4. Fit and maintain adequate smoke and heat detectors
  5. All doors should be easy to open from the inside and should never be obstructed
  6. Fire extinguishers are also advisable. Guidance suggests a suitable fire extinguisher at least every 25 metres within the property
  7. All tumble dryers should be regularly cleaned to ensure filter is lint free. Failure to do this can lead to the appliance overheating
  8. Fire retardant waste bins should be provided in the living room and the bedrooms
  9. A torch should be provided to aid evacuation in the event of a fire
  10. Emergency contact numbers and instructions on what to do in the event of a fire should be provided in the welcome and property information pack.

It is generally acknowledged that relative to other ‘sleeping risk’ premises, the risk from fire to persons in well managed small B&B and self-catering premises is likely to be relatively low. Hopefully this guide will help you to understand your obligations and ensure that this is the case for your properties.

Now it’s your turn

Let us know what steps you take to ensure that your property is safe or any problems you have experienced.

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Why a Poor Night’s Sleep Could Make Your Guests Fat

Adventures of A&WMan - Chap 1Research shows that 25% of us have some sort of sleep problem and that people who sleep for less than seven hours per night are more likely to be overweight or obese.

Now I’m not suggesting that a 7 night stay in your holiday cottage is going to put the pounds on your guests but getting a good night’s sleep is vitally important generally so why should it be any different when you are on holiday?

Hotels are vying to get you into their beds and some like Premier Inn base their whole advertising campaign on a good night’s sleep even offering a good night guarantee. [Read more…]

Holiday Letting Advice: Are You Barking Mad to Accept Pets?

37-52 the seventh nap of the day is the most important one
Deliberating whether to allow pets in your self catering holiday cottage? Can’t decide which way to go? Well I’m here to tell you that you can profit from either option.

Why would guests want to bring their pets on holiday?

A new poll conducted by Travel Supermarket revealed that two of 5 in the UK now take their pets on holiday. The survey of 2010 pet owners also showed that 13% would rather go on holiday with their animal than their partner!

To me guest’s holiday with their pets for two reasons:

Avoidance of separation anxiety for both parties. Our relationship with pets can be quite extreme and sometimes just plain weird. We buy them gifts not just restricted to birthdays and Christmas.

We talk to them in a baby voice referring to ourselves as ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’. They sleep in our beds. We tell them our deepest secrets. [Read more…]