At the 26th Annual Reptile Show at OMSI, Steve Verhines and Michelle Verheyden watched over the handful of volunteers and the large growing crowd of families poring into the hands-on area. They’re happy. “The more you know about these animals, the less you fear them,” says Verhines.
For the past five years, the husband-and-wife team has been supplying the majority of reptiles at the annual show. The hope is that their private collection of snakes, turtles, lizards and more can help shift a large misconception about these creatures. “We are reptile advocates,” states Verheyden. And this is ground zero.
Children pore over the wooden tables with jungle- and snake-themed cloth hoping to get a closer look at cold-blooded reptiles. Volunteers handle the snakes crawling up their wrists and lizards posing like stone, sharing facts and information about their lives. There is a scrawled post-it cheat sheet nearby. Wide-eyed children slanted their heads sideways to meet a Russian tortoise and most extended index fingers to pet the scales of a bull python. “Look at their faces,” Verhines says about the giddy children. “The parents standing back and the kids come forward to pet [the reptiles].” Looking at Verhines, he’s smiling too.