From the Houston
Chronicle's This Week Section
Jan. 5, 2006, 1:35PM
Spring Branch man uses snakes to educate youths
Cold-blooded, scaly critters help pupils understand the environment
By KIM HUGHES
MORE than 1,000 pupils at Salyers Elementary School, 25705 Hardy St. in Spring, had the chance to learn about snakes ‹ on an up close and personal level.
Spring Branch resident Clint "The Snake Man" Pustejovsky has been offering "Mr. Clint's Educational Snake Show" at Houston area schools for about five years through his educational outreach program, Texas Snakes & More.
The program, which features a variety of different species of non-venomous snakes children may view and touch, has been taught at numerous Spring Branch and Memorial area schools, including Revere Middle School and The Village School.
"If I looked at my mission statement for my business, it would be the same thing as my purpose: To teach people not to kill snakes," Pustejovsky, 46, said.
"That's been my purpose since I was 12 years old."
Pustejovsky said children as young as pre-kindergarten can be taught snake safety and snake love.
During his demonstrations, Pustejovsky shows docile snakes ranging from the itty-bitty to the long and rangy.
Depending on their age, children are invited to pet, stroke or even hold a snake.
"Often the kids yell out, 'it's not slimy!'" Pustejovsky said.
Sarah Brzowski, a 10-year-old pupil at Salyers, said the snake she held was "really soft and heavy."
She had an Albino Burmese Python named Hurricane Joe draped over her shoulders like a feather boa.
Hurricane Joe, at 7 feet long and weighing close to 20 pounds, got his name because he was rescued from Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina roared through earlier this year.
"He was covered with black stuff, probably pieces of tar and oil," Pustejovsky said.
"He had been out in the mess just like all the other critters. A national guardsman found him and the Best Friends Animal Society of Mississippi brought Hurricane Joe to me in October.
"He's a gorgeous snake that was most likely someone's pet. I would still like to find the owner."
Blaze, a red and orange Albino Motley Corn Snake, is another one of Pustejovsky's snakes who makes repeat appearances at schools.
Treymon Ray, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at Salyers, got to hold the little guy.
Salyers' principal Leticia Grounds didn't get a chance to play with Blaze this year, but fondly remembers his visit last year.
"(The snake) crawled right up my arm, into my hair," Grounds said.
"He wanted to nest in my hair. He wrapped around my glasses, too.
"It took three people to get him off me," Grounds said.
But she enjoyed every minute of it and said Pustejovsky is a huge hit at the school.
"He talks to these kids about everything scientific," Grounds said. "The kids are fascinated and learn so much."
For safety reasons, Pustejovsky never brings venomous snakes to schools, but he does teach the pupils about Texas's four main venomous ones: Rattlesnake, water moccasin, copperhead and coral snakes.
"Those are the four venomous snakes of all of the United States," Pustejovsky said.
"We live in Texas, and those are the four venomous snakes of Texas."
Pustejovsky also does snake removal and identification, which makes up about 25 percent of his business.
It's through this service that he came upon Lucky, a Ball Python who is now one of his favorites.
"He was a rescue about three or four years ago," Pustejovsky said.
"I got a phone call on a freezing cold winter night from a man who found the snake in his garage. The poor snake was so cold. I slowly warmed him up. He didn't eat for 12 months.
"He finally started feeling better with the help of my reptile veterinarian. Now he's doing great. He's a happy snake. He's 'Lucky' a man cared enough to call a snake expert to come out and get him."
Lucky lives with 30 other snakes in a special room at Pustejovsky's house in Spring Branch.
"I have a little snake room with air conditioning and heating," Pustejovsky said. "You don't need permits to do so as long as the snakes are certain sizes and non-venomous."
In addition to his reptilian children, Pustejovsky and his wife Michelle have a 13-year-old son named Chas and a 2-year-old daughter named Rebecca.
Michelle Pustejovsky said she doesn't mind having snakes around, and has grown to love them.
"What it really has to do with is not so much my love of snakes or reptiles, but it's the passion I see in Clint," Michelle said. "I see this passion, and he's a really good public speaker, so I encouraged him to put his knowledge out there."
In addition to school programs, snake identification, removal and consultations, Pustejovsky attends an average of 200 birthday parties a year.