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Tara Schneider and Milo the goldendoodle (right) check out Heather Gavin's anteater Samantha at Joe Riley Waterfront Park on Feb. 25, 2019. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Heather and Henry Galvin are not your typical animal lovers. The three elegant greyhounds in their care are just the tip of the iceberg. They have tortoises, rabbits and a rainforest kinkajou. Oh, and two anteaters. And a high electric bill.

They still have Herbie the Chinese box turtle, the first pet they acquired together. That was 25 years ago. Since then the Galvins have been growing their animal family. The kinkajou is called Piggy. “He eats like a pig,” Henry Galvin said, “hence the name.”

He also hates Henry. Give him the chance and Piggy will attack with intent to harm. That’s because of his bonding instinct. And, well, he didn’t bond to Henry.

The anteaters, instead, are chill. The male, Artiglio (Artie for short), is a lazy bum. The female, Samantha, seems always on the move, probably driven by curiosity. Or appetite.

In the wild, the creatures would consume as many as 70,000 ants a day. At the Galvins’ place, they mostly eat pricey insect smoothies.

Henry and Heather walk them on a leash lest they climb a tree and, using their prehensile tail and easy-grip claws, perch up high for hours at a time. Getting them down can be a challenge, especially if they manage to gain some altitude or — and this can be very inconvenient — transfer via limbs and branches from one yard to another.

“They’re tree dwellers,” Heather Galvin noted. “To sunbath in the palm tree is their favorite thing in the world.”

There’s a method to this madness. The Galvins, who live in a comfortable home at the end of a James Island cul-de-sac with plenty of outdoor space and access to protected wetlands, are in the animal fostering business. They are regular retrievers of greyhounds, in particular. About 90 of them have spent at least a short time with the couple over the course of 11 years.

In May, they brought back two from Ireland, intending to find them permanent homes, but the Galvins couldn’t let them go.

“Out of 90, we’ve only kept two, so that’s a very successful adoption rate,” Heather said.

The Galvins also are affiliated with the Turtle Survival Alliance, rescuing and caring for a variety of Testudines until they can distribute them to licensed breeders. They bag oysters for the Department of Natural Resources, keep Folly Beach’s beach clean for the birds and the sea critters and look after creatures in need of help.

Recently, Henry found a baby mud turtle on his property.

“The fact that I found one in the driveway just blows my mind,” he said. “I thought it was an acorn.”

The Chinese box turtles, by the way, can live more than 100 years, which means Herbie likely will outlast its caregivers. They are an endangered species.

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Henry and Heather Galvin watch Samantha and Artie the anteaters climb a wooden fence at their James Island home on Feb. 21, 2019. The Galvins care for several other animals, including tortoises, rabbits, a kinkajou and several dogs. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Caregiving impulses

Henry and Heather both are from Delaware. Henry left at age 4, when his stepfather got a job with DuPont in Orange, Texas. Four years after that, the family was in New Orleans where young Henry enjoyed the cuisine, he said. At 15, they returned to Delaware, where Henry attended high school, met Heather, then spent four years in the Navy.

Heather, too, served in the military, spending two years as an emergency medical technician in the Army, stationed in Texas. They both grew up loving animals. They would discover much in common, including the habit of aiding animals they found along the roadways.

As a kid, Henry gave his parents a hard time, and decided early on that he would never father children of his own. Heather decided she could go along with that. After all, the animals satisfied her caregiving impulses.

“When I have a bad day, I go downstairs and play with the anteaters,” Heather said.

They have come to terms easily with a life enriched by fauna wild and tame.

“My mom has accepted the fact that she has granddogs, and that’s all she’s going to have from us,” Henry said.

Building shelter

They found this lot on James Island, not far from Folly Beach, eight years ago and took an active role in building their two-story home. They hung the cabinets and fixtures and doors themselves, and they even wired the place after the electrician quit and finished up the plumbing to save a little money.

They designed a kitchen that accommodates the needs and desires of two foodies who like to cook and installed four full-size refrigerators, two wine coolers, an industrial stove/oven, a big barbecue and other appliances.

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From left: Kylar Hamilton, 1; Anita Steven; Landon Hamilton, 5; Emberlee Wilson, 2 months; and Brittany Hamilton pet anteaters Samantha and Artie while on a walk with Henry and Heather Galvin on Feb. 25, 2019, at Joe Riley Waterfront Park in Charleston. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

They rejoiced in the casual, beachy vibe; it was like being in another world compared with suburban North Charleston where they lived previously. Six years ago, they made some adjustments to the house and signed up with Airbnb. And in September they were approved to participate in the Airbnb Experience program. They figured they’d get a dozen people each week to swing by the house and interact with the animals. The money would help defray costs that can soar to $2,000 a month for electricity, food and veterinarian services.

Imagine their surprise when, during holiday weeks nearly 200 people came knocking. They average around 100 visitors a week, they said. Most people love the big tortoise and bunnies, but it’s the anteaters that really draw them in.

Managing this new line of business proved too intense for one person, so Henry crunched the numbers, determined there was more income in the tourist trade than in TV tech, and quit his job.

Kona, the golden retriever, likes to have both of them around. So do Callie, Shrek and Molly, the greyhounds. Piggy’d rather not have to deal with Henry, but the 3-year-old African spurred tortoise Winston and his older 80-pound brother Fred don’t mind the manhandling at all. If fact, robust Fred will let Henry sit on him.

Remaining on the grid

Maureen Matthews, who lives next door to the Galvins, likes to look after the animals when her neighbors go on vacation. The dogs move in with her and her cats. The turtles, tortoises, rabbits, kinkajou and anteaters remain in place.

“I love animals,” Matthews said. “I don’t have any of the work, but I get to play with them.”

It’s a happy quid-pro-quo arrangement: The Galvins feed the cats when Matthews is away.

Mostly, it all works out great, though once recently a rabbit got loose and had to be caught with a fishing net. And once, the kinkajou, interested in Matthews’ cats, found a niche in her garage to hide in for a couple of days.

“It’s so nice to have great neighbors, so it’s just a bonus to have animals,” she said. “We’ve got Noah’s Ark all over here.”

None of the animals snap at or bite the Galvin’s guests. All of the animals, except perhaps the dogs, are meant for tropical climates and require heat and humidity in the winters. They couldn’t survive in the Charleston wild; sustained temperatures under 50 degrees could kill them.

The anteaters came along about a year and half ago, when the couple returned for a fourth time to Costa Rica, a favorite vacation spot. They like to visit Playa Samara, a small beach town that includes an animal rescue operation.

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Recently, many people have signed up via Airbnb Experience to visit the home of Henry and Heather Galvin, where they learn about the couple's exotic animals. Andrew J. Whitaker/Staff

Henry and Heather speak gushingly about Costa Rica: its beauty, affordability, cuisine, good health care ...

“This house was part of a 10-year plan,” Henry said, referring to the James Island animal sanctuary. “We were going to ride the real estate wave, sell, and move to Costa Rica and basically fall off the grid. But we didn’t realize how much we’d love James Island and Folly Beach.”

So, for now, they’re sticking around. You might see them downtown or on the beach walking their anteaters.

Contact Adam Parker at aparker@postandcourier.com or 843-937-5902.

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