Kelvin Peña has a gift.
Though come September, the 17-year-old will go off to college to study biology, hoping to one day become a pharmacist, in recent days Peña has displayed a more important set of skills. Since last week, the teen has received an unexpected wave of viral fame as he's showcased a near preternatural ability to commune with the deer of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, feeding and posing with his new friends in a series of widely-shared Snapchat videos.
It all began with Canela, a doe-eyed deer Peña spotted in his cousin's backyard last Wednesday. Later that day, when Peña returned home, he noticed yet another deer meandering around his own property, naming the animal "Money," because, as he puts it, "money makes me happy and he did too."
From that moment on, the Deer Squad was born.
Over the course of the last week, Canela, Money, Bambi, Lola, and Money Jr. have been coming to Peña's house looking for snacks. And the Deer Whisperer, for his part, has been happy to supply his crew with crackers, marshmallows, doughnuts, and fruit. As the friendship has continued to blossom, Peña has even taken Canela out on the basketball court, crossing the deer up and garnering thousands of likes, views, and re-tweets across Snapchat and Twitter.
First We Feast caught up with Peña this week to get an inside look at the life of a viral Deer Whisperer.
Tell me about the first time you laid eyes on Money.
Deer just usually run away so I was expecting him to run away, but he didn't—he was just staring at me.
I got an apple and some bread from inside my house and I took it outside. At first I threw it to him, just to see if he would eat it. He started walking up to me like, “Where's the food at!? I want some more!” Then he started eating out of my hand. I made the first video introducing him to everybody because he and I, we had a connection.
What do you usually feed the deer squad?
In the first video, I gave them Club Crackers and then I was feeding Canela some Pringles. But yeah, I fed them marshmallows once and powdered doughnuts, This was happening so fast, in three days, so I didn't have any groceries or any more fruits. I ran out of apples and I ran out of bread.
What’s Money’s favorite food?
OK, honestly, I feel like they were enjoying those doughnuts the most. They were liking those doughnuts!
And this magical deer paradise is in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania?
Yeah, there's two whole different locations where we do it at, [my cousin’s house and my house], so everybody eats.
Money has his family come through, and Canela be with her girlfriends right around the corner.
Do you see them every day?
I try not to see them too much, because they get used to that. And I'm going to college soon so I don't want them to be dependent on a human source. So, I want them to be good afterwards, you know what I'm saying? I can't be selfish.
So you care very deeply about them.
Yeah, I care about them. I do care about them. My family sees them too. But they're wild animals at the end of the day also, you know what I mean?
I don't want to portray them as my pets. I care about them, I see them when I can. That's why I try to go around the neighborhood, and feed every [other] deer, too. I want to make their day, at least.
Do you feel like you have a special gift for this? Do you self-identify as a “Deer Whisperer”?
I don't know if people see deer or not, but I feel like I just walked up to them. I don't look at them like deer. I just look at them as animals. [Most people] would just be scared. I'm not scared.
They can smell fear.
Yeah, I feel like they can sense that. I don't mean them any harm or nothing.
And you also have some other animals in your life, right?
I mean, I got a bunny, I got a hamster, I got an American bulldog, and a Teacup Yorkie. Um, I have a lizard too. I got a cat. My sister has a cat. I don't even like the cat [laughs]. It's alright, just annoying. All the other animals are real cool in my house.
But this extends past food for the deer. They also play basketball with you.
Yeah, I feel like I do have a connection [with them], because I even got to cross Canela up a little bit.
They’re just chilling.
Yeah, they just be chilling. That's the squad, man.