Reaching out with reptiles
BLACKSBURG — A party isn’t a party without reptiles, according to Danny Sternfeld.
If you don’t agree, the 15-year-old Blacksburg High School student will be more than happy to try to change your mind, as he did Thursday with more than a dozen children.
Sternfeld, owner and operator of Scales, Tails and Claws, entertained a crowd during his “Creature Feature” live-snake program at the National Forest Service’s Eastern Divide Ranger District Office in Blacksburg.
Sternfeld’s business specializes in a variety of reptile-related events, ranging from birthday parties to educational programs.
Though his company began just over a year and a half ago, Sternfeld said the groundwork for his career path began much earlier in life.
“When I was 2-years-old, I would walk around my house with a handful of plastic snakes,” Sternfeld said.
Sternfeld spent his childhood living in North Andover, Mass., where he said a local company called Curious Creatures offered a similar reptile-related birthday party experience. He said the Sternfeld family quickly became loyal customers.
Sternfeld’s family relocated to Blacksburg when he was in the fifth grade, leaving Curious Creatures out of reach.
By seventh grade, he said his mother, Brenda, finally gave in to his requests to have snakes of his own, and he purchased two ball pythons, which he named Fred and Pudding.
Though Brenda Sternfeld was hesitant at first to see her son turn his bedroom into an 80-degree reptile habitat, Danny Sternfeld said taking his passion to the next level was actually her idea.
“My mom told me I should turn my reptiles into a business,” Danny Sternfeld said.
Since he could find no business offering similar services as Curious Creatures did in Massachusetts, Sternfeld soon began marketing himself as the area’s reptile event entertainment, while also adding to his variety of creatures.
His marketing soon drew the attention of Mike Rosenzweig, founding director of SEEDS, a nonprofit group that operates the Blacksburg Nature Center.
Rosenzweig said that about a year ago he saw one of Danny Sternfeld’s flyers in his local veterinarian’s office and called the number out of curiosity. Once he realized Danny Sternfeld’s age, however, he invited the teen and his mom to his office to talk and said he immediately was impressed with Danny.
“His knowledge and his confidence, for a kid his age, was extraordinary,” Rosenzweig said.
Rosenzweig decided to give Danny a chance to do his show for children at the center, which he said quickly proved to be a good decision.
“Seeing him in action just confirmed it. He knows how to adjust his level for the [different] age groups. He’s a natural teacher,” Rosenzweig said.
Rosenzweig wasn’t the only one impressed by Danny Sternfeld’s ability. Wendy Covington caught one of Danny’s shows at the nature center and said she was so impressed, she invited him to perform for the Riner-based Cub Scout Pack 348.
According to Brenda Sternfeld, Covington’s reaction is a pretty common one.
“It’s spooky,” the mother said of her son’s on-stage ability.
“People have gone up to him afterward and asked what year of college he’s in,” she said.
Though his knowledge base is impressive, what might be even more so is the rising high school junior’s ability to stay cool, calm and collected while wrangling some of the most commonly feared creatures around.
For Danny Sternfeld, however, helping others overcome those fears is one of the aspects he said he loves most about his job.
“I’ve gotten people who don’t like spiders to hold my spiders and people who don’t like snakes to hold my snakes. If I can get one person to change their opinion, I feel like I’ve done my work for the day,” Danny Sternfeld said.
Today, Danny Sternfeld estimated he has performed about 10 of his reptile-related shows, while also volunteering for a variety of programs at the nature center.
His program has grown to include more than 20 creatures, including a variety of snakes, lizards and spiders, all of which he said can be custom-ordered for his hour-long programs at parties.
This July, when he turns 16, he said he plans to become an official employee at the nature center, while also continuing his shows.
As for his future plans, Danny Sternfeld admitted the exact details were still a bit fuzzy, but he was sure one element would remain.
“Regardless, reptiles are going to be in my future for a long time,” Danny said.
Scales, Tails and Claws can be reached at 633-2495 or on the Internet at scalestailsandclaws.com.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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