Dave DiNaso is not trying to convince you to like snakes and other slithering creatures. But he'd like you to check out his 15-foot python and 6-foot alligator just to see if maybe reptiles aren't that awful after all.
DiNaso, owner of Dave's Traveling World of Reptiles, chose some creatures most people would rather not encounter for his show, which combines education with a bit of humor.
"People don't think twice about using a shovel to get rid of the snake in their backyard," he says. "I felt the need to spread the word that even though they can be venomous and they're not cute, they're incredibly important to people."
DiNaso started his reptile show after graduating from college in 1993. He did 41 shows his first year. Now he books about 1,000 a year and turns away almost as much business as he takes.
When he first got his business off the ground, DiNaso tried quietly keeping the animals in his apartment until his shows took off. His current animal home in New Lenox boasts about 200 animals in enclosures DiNaso designed and built himself. He breeds the majority of the animals, so they are immediately acclimated to being around people-essential if you're going to take snakes, lizards and alligators into schools and children's birthday parties.
"In the 18 years we've been performing, we've never had anybody injured or bitten," DiNaso says. "All of my employees have been working with animals their entire lives … so we all have a lot of knowledge and training."
DiNaso and his co-workers also spend plenty of time out in the wild, observing and photographing animals.
"I'll often pack up and go to the Outback in Australia or the Great Barrier Reef. That's another wonderful thing; we have knowledge because of our experience in the rainforest," DiNaso says.
And his experience extends beyond reptiles.
"I've photographed Great White Sharks and elephants in Africa. But I do the reptile shows because those are the ones people don't like.
"I never teach people to like the animals; I want them to respect them," he says. "You're never going to persuade everyone when you do a show. Someone will still walk away not liking snakes. My goal is to reach anyone you can and if you do, you're successful."
Liz DeCarlo is the senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.