Brian Gill says he has long been known as "the guy with the reptiles." Looking around the basement of his Finneytown home, it's easy to see why: shelves hold about a dozen cages with snakes and various lizards"”crested and spotted, brown and green. In a large glass case sprawls a Burmese python, wh'™s only seven feet long instead of the standard 14 because his previous owner underfed him. ("He'll never be full size," Gill says. "But he's healthy. That's most important.")

Other cages contain more snakes, along with a crested gecko Gill has just picked up. There's also a small pond in this unusual cellar"”and it's home to five young alligators and a turtle.

Gill has always liked reptiles, but they were out of bounds as pets when he was a child. "Mom and Dad said, 'I don't think s'™." About 10 years ago he finally got his first pet reptiles, taking them to his son's preschool class to educate the kids. When he started giving presentations to church groups and scout troops, people began telling him about other exotic animals that needed homes. "When you become known as the guy with reptiles, then you start to get calls."

Gill didn't plan on turning his love of lizards and snakes into a business. But as he put on more and more presentations he realized, "Oh, it's expensive to feed these guys."

Enter the formation of Cool Critters Outreach, which he launched in March. It's not a full-time gig. Gill says that more than anything else, it's a way to keep the animals fed and their cages clean. He says he'd like to do more shows in the future if he can afford the time. Currently, the business isn't generating windfall profits, but that's not the point anyway.

"As much as the kids enjoy it, the adults get a real kick out of it." He points out that a lot of people are wary at first, but most of them warm up to the animals, showing "a lot of fascination with colors, patterns, size, what they are, what they eat."

Gill, who worked with the nocturnal animals exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo for two years, dispels prevailing reptile myths during his shows. That's something pet stores can't usually offer, he notes, adding that many stores don't even know the ages of the animals for sale. He often explains to audiences that despite popular belief, people cannot cage an alligator in a cage to keep its size in check. He likens that to caging a growing child in a crib for years and years.

Gill's daughter, Mackenzie, accompanies him to most of his animal shows. Any wariness audience members might have usually vanishes when they see her calmly holding the scary-looking critters. "That calms some fears, when they see a 9-year old handling the animals," he says.

He hopes to foster the same interest and acceptance in other people. Many audience members have never been close to alligators, pythons and animals from other countries.

Those experiences create some of Gill's most memorable moments, such as the time, during a church festival in Reading, when a blind man described what it felt like as he touched a snake for the first time. Gill also recalls an occasion whenhe put on a show for children that happened to be scheduled in a nursing home. The 70- and 80-year-olds were "just as excited as the kids."

Alhough Gill also works full-time for Hamilton County Job and Family Services, and volunteers for Arrowhead Reptile Rescue in West Chester, he finds Cool Critters Outreach is a great outlet for community education. Talking to people is the best part of the job, he says, especially when children "finally get respect for the animals and they realize they're not out to hurt you."