Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION
Crazy Spider Lady
On a recent Sunday, Kimberley-Anne Johnson (a.k.a. The Crazy Spider Lady) was standing behind the table of her booth at the Manitoba Reptile Breeders Expo holding out a tarantula that filled the palm of her hand while a five-year-old girl tentatively stroked its furry back. I have to admit it made my skin crawl a little.
There were plenty of geckos and snakes on display, but the non-reptile spiders are what really make me want to run screaming from the room. So, I just had to go and talk to Johnson to find out what it was that made her crazy for spiders.
How did this all start?
"My husband and I walked into River City Reptiles, when they were still up and running. He asked me if I wanted a snake and I said, 'Are you crazy?' So, he said, 'How about a tarantula?' and I said, 'Well, OK.'
I'm an avid animal lover. I wanted a ferret, I wanted a parrot and I had a Rottweiler; I still do. We were driving home and my husband says to me, 'I will make you a deal, as long as you don't have any other pets aside from your dog you can have as many spiders as you want.'
It's eight years later and I have 160. We have found that it's my passion."
If you could give a piece of advice to a large group of people what would it be?
"Live life to the fullest. I've battled cancer three or four times. Most of my insides are gone and I've come to the realization that you have to live each day for its day. You can't worry about tomorrow or you can't worry about yesterday, you have to live in the moment and just grasp life and live it."
What is the best or most amazing feature that people might not know about tarantulas?
"They all have their own personalities. Some are really skittish, some are like rocks, but you have some you take out and you hold them and when you go to put them back, they don't want to go back. They would rather be sitting on you just chilling.
A lot of tarantulas are what you call ‘hair flickers' and they will take their back legs and rub them on their body to send out hairs. If the hairs get in your eyes you could be blinded. If you breath the hairs in you could have respiratory problems for the rest of your life. If you get bit and you are allergic to bees or wasps then have an EpiPen handy....
"Whenever I get a spider I learn as much as I possibly can about it. My husband is always telling me I should go to university... If somebody goes to a pet store and has questions about spiders, they usually send them to me. I have the largest collection in Winnipeg. I have the only true Goliath Bird Eater in Manitoba and I'm not tooting my own horn, I've been told this by everybody, I'm the most knowledgeable person there is to talk to about spiders or tarantulas."
So the hairs can be dangerous. Have you ever had a situation where...
"At the last expo, I was leaning over my Goliath tank to decide whether or not I was going to bring her. She decided that she would send up this big poof of hair that got me all over the bottom of my face. The best way I can describe it feeling like is taking your face and dipping it in pink insulation."
The experience of owning these spiders must have given you an opportunity to meet really interesting people.
"I've met interesting people, but honestly the biggest downside of it is that a lot of people misunderstand tarantulas. A lot of people are scared of them. That's the biggest thing, people are too scared to get over their fear of spiders. When I first got into them, I was petrified of them. I just fed them in their tank and watched them. Then I started to handle them and my fear lessened every day.
"The thing that I like the most about it is when you have families at the expo and you have little two or three year old kids and the kids are willing to hold the spiders. That is so awesome, because then they are not growing up with that fear."
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About Mike Deal
After freelancing for the Winnipeg Free Press for three years, starting in 1997, Mike Deal landed a part-time job as a night photodesk editor.
His first day in the new position was supposed to be September 12, 2001. But when he woke to the news of the two towers on September 11, he automatically headed into the newsroom.
For the next few years, he split his hours at the Winnipeg Free Press between photo editing and photography. In 2008, Mike was hired full-time as a photojournalist.
Mike’s training includes a journalism diploma from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in Calgary. He also spent time at the University of Manitoba, working at the Manitoban and the U of M photo club and taking fine art courses.
Having also just finished shooting a personal project that involved taking 2,013 portraits using just his iPhone in the year 2013, he looks forward to taking the portrait project concept to another level. He will NOT be shooting 2,014 in 2014! Don't be surprised if he stops you in the street and demands a moment of your time. You have been warned!
Another personal passion of his is street photography, capturing the people of Winnipeg amongst the beautiful architecture of its downtown.
In his off-hours Mike enjoys taking photos with his iPhone, walks in Assiniboine Forest, and spending his free time with his partner Ariel and daughter Anna.
"I go to the street for the education of my eye and for the sustenance that the eye needs - the hungry eye, and my eye is hungry." -Walker Evans
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