Our friends at Roaming Reptiles would like nothing more than to help everyone in their pursuit of “Shedding the fear of…reptiles.” In this guest article, Brandon Fowler, Owner of Roaming Reptiles located in my former home state of California, is always helping others shed their fear. Here’s Brandon with his story and insights.
Most people fear something, whether it be the dark, clowns, heights or confined spaces. The two most feared things I see during our shows here at Roaming Reptiles are snakes and spiders. A lot of times I hear stories about why they have such fear(s). Some are prompted by frightening childhood experiences. I had a young woman tell me, when she was a kid, her older brother threw a snake on her and ever since then, snakes have terrified her. I’ve also spoken with a boy who had a tarantula put in his bed by his dad because he thought it would be funny. Both of these actions are appalling and contribute to the fear(s) we as educators, work so hard to remove.
“Here are two things we do to help us introduce snakes and spiders to those who fear them.”
First: It’s all about the name of the animal. We all know someone who bought a snake and the first thing they wanted to do was give it a scary name. If you try and talk to people who have a fear of snakes or spiders and the animal has a scary name, you could be increasing their fear. We have a Burmese Python named Sally and a Rose Hair Tarantula named Rosie. Why do we have such sweet names?
‘It’s easy; we want to personalize our animals with whoever they come into contact with. When people with a fear of these animals hear that they have a name that is sweet and charming, you have started the process of tearing down the wall of fear.’
Second: Go slow. Don’t be in a rush to have them hold an animal. Be patient, it’ll pay off in the end. There have been times when it’s taken an hour or more before someone was ready to take the next step.
‘When they’re ready, we don’t reach for the biggest snake or scariest looking spider we have. Starting small is always best.’
Here is how we handled the young man when he was introduced to our Rose Hair tarantula: After talking to him for a while, I pulled out the container that Rosie is in during the shows. I placed her container on the table and just let him look at her. After a few minutes of looking, I took the second step. I took the lid off her container. This does two things: One, he could get a better look at her, and two, it showed him that she is not just hanging out waiting for that opportunity to scare him. After several minutes of this young man studying the tarantula, I asked if he would like for me to take Rosie out and hold her in my hand. Still nervous but curious, he shook his head “yes.” Reaching down, I put my hand in front of Rosie and with a little nudge she started to walk onto my hand. I could see a nervous smile come across the boy’s face as he watched every step Rosie took. As he looked on, I could tell that he was starting to relax and soon would be ready to hold her. Asking him if he would like Rosie to walk across his hand and back onto mine he smiled and said “Yes.” In doing that, his fear that he had experienced previously had disappeared as fast as it appeared.
That is a success for our hobby! This young man may never own a spider as a pet and that’s fine. The point is, he overcame a fear that would have hung around his neck for his entire life. When dealing with snakes, I do the same thing. I let people just look for a while and show them the beauty of these animals. After a few minutes, most are ready to at least touch one. Nine times out of ten they end up holding one and enjoying the experience. Just like the young man with Rosie, this woman may never own a snake as a pet, but she has overcome her fear. When we help people overcome fears like these, we are slowly ”chipping away at that wall.”
Make no mistake, that wall is huge! But if we work together and stay patient, we will knock that wall off its foundation.