If Atlanta City Council Member Alex Wan had those cartoon stickers on the back window of his car showing how many parents, kids and animals are in his family, they would look like this: Wan. His fiancé, Joe Bechely. Two dogs. Four chickens. And 20,000 bees.
The couple’s unique pet ownership situation began in 2009, when Wan was reading about colony collapse disorder. Drastic numbers of western honeybee colonies have been disappearing all over North America in recent years, which is important because bees are responsible for pollinating numerous agricultural crops.
“I went to a [beekeeping] class at the Botanical Gardens in January of that year and I decided I’m going to do this,” Wan says.
Unfortunately, owing to the insects’ delicate nature, the couple have only been able to keep the bees through the winter twice in six years. And it’s a sight to behold when they swarm off for good.
“You can hear it because they just start roaring, and then the whole backyard is covered with bees,” Wan says. “I’d see a big clump of them in the neighbor’s tree and at that point they’re gone. There’s nothing you can do to get them back.”
Then it’s back to buying more bees and starting the year’s process over again. But Wan says it’s worth it. Bechely’s parents are coming to town this month to harvest this year’s honey, which will be shared among various friends and family.
Four feathered friends added to the mix
Wan and Bechely added chickens to the family in 2013, but disagreement ensued over what to name them.
Bechely wanting to name them Dorothy, Blanche, Rose and Sophia after “The Golden Girls.” Wan wanted to name them Julia, Suzanne, Mary Jo and Charlene in honor of “Designing Women.” They settled on Will, Grace, Jack and Karen from “Will and Grace.” The unique personalities of each chicken made it a perfect fit.
“When they were chicks, Karen would always go to the water trough so she was always drinking, kind of like Karen,” Wan says. “Jack when he was young he would stretch and pose, just like Jack would. Grace was the timid one, they would always pick on her. And then Will’s always been the smart one.”
As far as upkeep, Wan or Bechely close up the coop at night to keep the chickens safe from predators, then open it back up in the morning. During the day it’s keeping them fed and watered, checking for eggs and of course, cleaning the poop.
All the animals in the Wan-Bechely family have learned their roles and made their spaces, with the dogs scared of the chickens and the chickens scared of the bees.
“So everybody just lives happily together.”