Off the scales

Graham Millington meets the Leytonstone man with a healthy obsession for snakes

Terry Hunt with one of his 49 pet snakes

Terry Hunt with one of his 49 pet snakes

I recently discovered on social media that somewhere in the depths of Waltham Forest was a man who kept snakes – and not just a few.

As I learnt more it became clear there was so much more to this story than merely describing someone’s exotic pets. Terry Hunt is 47 years’ old and was born and bred in Leytonstone. As a teenager he was quite introvert, but later he experimented with drugs and began an addiction that lasted many year.

Terry told me: “I just took them, speed mostly because it was cheap, kept on taking them, and then I had to take them.”

He then developed a drinking problem and Terry’s future looked bleak: “I couldn’t keep a job. I lost friends. I woke up every morning with shakes and shivers and spent days just trying to feed my habit.”

The years rolled by and although Terry’s health declined he was just about coping. This changed when his mother died six years ago. Devastated, his addictions worsened. Terry recalled: “The doctors told me that if I didn’t stop I would be dead by Christmas.”

Fortunately, a friend who was going to live in America offered Terry his pet snake to keep. Terry agreed and eventually became so enamoured with the reptile that when he went to the pet shop to collect its food, he bought another. And then another.

Terry developed a real passion for these creatures and because they relied on him, he realised that he would have to make changes to his life.

“When I first got them I had to learn how to look after them properly and accept responsibility. This meant doing something about the drugs.”

Terry is convinced that he gained his strength and purpose to combat his addictions from his pets. “In a way I changed my addiction to drugs into an addiction to snakes.”

Today, he owns 49 snakes and other reptiles. On a visit to his home, I saw how very highly he regards their welfare. He is now quite a celebrity in the ‘snake owning’ community and has even appeared on television.

Terry is often asked to take in abandoned snakes and does so willingly. But what attracts him to these creatures? “I like watching them move. They’re inquisitive, intelligent, and methodical. They calm me down. Experts say snakes don’t have personalities but I don’t agree.

“I have sixteen boa constrictors and I can see differences in the way they behave.”

Conventional pets often enhance people’s lives but for Terry his devotion to animals that are not renowned for their traditional ‘pet-like’ qualities, seems to have turned his life around. As for the future, Terry will just carry on caring for his reptiles.

“After all”, says Terry, “I owe them!”