CINCINNATI — While many people are quarantined with their families during the coronavirus pandemic, Brian Gill is spending his time with a family of a different kind.
“We’ve got snakes, we’ve got lizards and geckos and birds and cats and dogs and frogs,” Gill said.
He runs Cool Critters Outreach, an organization that takes exotic animals all over the Tri-State to do in-person presentations.
“We call it education and rescue work,” Gill said. “We have a bunch of animals that live in the house with us and they are all pets in the Tri-State that were unwanted for one reason or another. Whether the animal got too big or they were bored of having it.”
Of course everything changed for Cool Critters Outreach when the pandemic hit. In order to keep his animal rescue organization afloat, Gill shifted to virtual presentations.
“The only difference is that you can't physically touch the animals,” Gill said. “That is really it, other than that you’re going to get to see and learn and ask all your questions.”
For Seven Hills Middle School teacher Jennifer Licata, this online presentation format fit the bill for her sixth-grade students who have been learning from home for weeks. She already knew Gill and had been inviting him into her classroom for several years. Licata had previously planned to have Gill come in to talk about Global Education Day and explain how animals play a role in the environment.
“The kids were really really fascinated,” Licata said. “The nice thing about the virtual program is there are animals that Brian can’t bring out to real programs, so it allowed us to see some animals that we wouldn’t normally get to see in the classroom.”
Licata scheduled the presentation for after-school hours so kids could have something to do while they’re quarantined with a lack of other structured activities.
“I wasn’t sure how it would go with viewing the animals through a screen, but I think the kids are so used to being on screens all the time on YouTube and everything, that's how they entertain themselves,” Licata said.
To keep up with the rescue part of his organization, Gill has also created a virtual adoption program for the exotic animals.
The animals stay in Gill’s home, but for a $25 fee, “foster” parents get a certificate, the backstory about the animal and some pictures. The money from the virtual adoptions helps with food, medical care, electricity and everything Gill said it takes to care for the animals.
“We're trying to do anything we can just to bring in the minimum we need to make sure these animals all stay healthy and happy, and they are doing great with the few virtual adoptions that we’ve done already,” Gill said.
The online outreach extends beyond the classroom. Every Wednesday Cool Critter Outreach does a Facebook live lunch program with a different animal each week.
The animals are the stars of the show, but Licata said Gill himself brings a lot of personality to the presentations as well.
“He knows how to connect with whatever age group he’s talking to and even the adults in the room can enjoy it because he has a sense of humor that kind of suits everyone,” she said.