Sunday, May 26, 2013

Special Guest Author Post: The Hedgehog, or How a “Spiky Tribble” Really Isn’t a Tribble

Today's Middle Flipper post is written by SCetaceans!

“Love it with all your heart. Be calm (and sometimes, dominant) around it. Handle it every day. Feed it its favorite food. Put your scent by it so it can associate you with being safe and comfortable.” These are just a few things any animal keeper learns when trying to “tame down” an unruly animal. The few simple tips above, when given to a trained animal handler (aka, “don’t try this at home”), tend to make even the most aggressive animal tame (if not handleable enough for basic husbandry sessions).

Take my pal Terrico, for example. Terrico was a rescue that came into my life about six or so months ago. The university lab that I work for had room for a couple of “class pets”, so when a student’s full-grown male ball python needed a home, the biology department opened up our facility (and our hearts) to welcome this little guy into our lives.

Terrico, on the third day in our lab. Notice the “strike” position he’s in.

Terrico did not like people. At all. Even though we gave him a hide and wrapped one side of his tank up with paper, he would still strike at the glass if he saw anybody walk by. A big “DO NOT TOUCH” sign was put on his tank, and, it seemed, that was the end of it - we would have a grouchy snake that struck at everyone for the rest of his snakey-poo life.

Not on my watch. I’ve been working with snakes for as long as I can remember, and I know how easy it is to tame a ball python down - in fact, I’ve never met a genuinely nasty ball python in my entire life. I handled Terrico every other day during my work shift, and, after a while, he calmed down - he’s now a very handleable boy and only hisses if he’s woken up.

Or wedged inside the lab protocol manual

However, I’m not here to bore you with my stories of successful animal handling; I’m sure you could get those anywhere. What I am here to tell you about is my Demon Tribble, otherwise known as an African Pygmy Hedgehog.

This is NOT, I repeat, NOT a Tribble.

Tribbles. You all know them, you all love them (especially if you’re Uhura): the soft, purring, Klingon-hating animals that reproduce at unchecked rates if taken off their home planet. This is not the reason I decided to purchase a hedgehog.

Rather, it was because of this (yes, this is probably the worst reason to get a pet, but hey - I needed a pet):

I see no difference

The Hobbit with a hedgehog? Okay, it’s a meme that was going around for a while last year, shortly after the second season of BBC’s Sherlock had its season finale (Benedict Cumberbatch is an otter... don’t ask). After being persuaded by a friend who recently purchased a hedgehog and doing a bit of research (and generally nosing about under the #hedgehog tag on Tumblr), I decided that owning a h-hog of my very own wouldn’t be that much work. They looked like sweet, social, easy-to-manage animals that could be readily incorporated into my busy college schedule.

See what I mean? How adorable is that - a hedgehog in a tutu dancing, and not a grump in sight!

But the internet is a liar.

Meet my girl, appropriately named Freeman, due to her uncanny resemblance to a certain British actor who shall not be named. I picked her up on the 6th of June last year at the local reptile show as an early birthday present to me. I wasn’t expecting a reptile show of all places to have a hedgehog for sale, but there she was, her and a boy hog, out on display in the front of the vendors’ gallery. I bought her on impulse (well, I knew I had permission to get a hedgehog from my mother and all, but still), and two-hundred-dollars later (approximately the cost of food, supplies, and Freeman), I had a little Atelerix albiventris of my very own.

I mean look at her, isn’t she adorable? She even has blue eyes!

Everything I’ve read on hedgehogs say that they rarely ever bite, can easily be tamed down, and, after a while of socializing, tend to be very affectionate, cuddly members of the family. Apparently Freeman didn’t get the memo, and from the very start of our relationship, she hissed, jumped, and curled up nonstop. This was to be expected, as she was new to my home and new to my presence, so I relied on my animal handler training to calm her down:

Step 1: Give Animal its Favorite Food (this works especially well if the animal is hand-fed)

Yeah, right. Freeman would take food from my hand and run underneath her blanket. As you can see from the photo above, the little brat is all stretched out, ready to take her turkey-treat and head for the hills. Hedgehogs are related to shrews, so this means that they have a LOT of energy, eat a LOT for their small stature, and require a LOT of protein in their diet. While I feed her the recommended kibble and treat supplements (fresh fruits, veggies, meats, and insects), I soon found out she would not and probably could not be food-motivated like most large carnivores (and piscivores) are. Step One got chucked out the window.

Step Two: Associate your scent with things that are “good” and “safe”.

Well, Freeman obviously thinks she’s safe if she’s anointing herself with the scent of my hand-soap. Note my exasperated mug.

This step normally works, especially with big cat cubs. Wear a shirt around the house for a couple of days so it gets your scent, and then put it in the animal’s sleeping quarters. The animal associates your scent with feeling safe and protected, and therefore begins to like you when you pick it up and handle it.

      Like I said, simple: feed them, clean them, love them, and you’ll have a sweet baby tiger in no time flat.

Not the Demon Tribble. I’d take her out every day and let her run around my room while I lay on the floor with her. While I’d be busy studying for school, she’d scamper all about, sniffing and trying to wiggle into every nook and cranny she could find until, after a while, she would come up to me and begin to burrow into my clothes and go to sleep. Apparently she felt safe enough to slumber in my pajama pants’ leg; however if I made the slightest movement at all she’d puff up her quills, hiss, and jump - adorning my thigh with multiple prick marks. In one occasion, I had to remove my pajamas to get her out, lest be continually (and painfully) poked by needle-sharp quills. Hasta la vista, Step Two.

Step Three: Be gentle, loving, and kind to your daily-held animal: Yeah, that worked out real well.

Step Four: Give up and realize that nothing is going to work, no matter how hard you try.

You win this round, you spiky little rat.

I guess, at the end of the day, you’re going to love your child (whether it be furry, scaly, feathery, or Homo sapien) no matter what they do. Despite Freeman constantly keeping me up at night (she has a knack at knowing exactly when my school exams are and making sure I get no sleep the night before), continually poking me with her quills, and giving me the occasional bite, I still love her, and I still have to take care of her - that’s a promise all animal keepers have to make to their wards, even if they like the animal or not (or vice versa - you can’t be friends with every animal you meet, sadly enough). In the end, Freeman (who is more often called Satan now-a-days) is actually quite cuddly when she wants to be, much like a cat. I often take her out when I’m doing quiet activities that I know she’ll tolerate, such as reading. She tends to rest on my chest or - even still - in my pajama bottoms, curl up, and go to sleep while I learn how to fight off zombies (as per the current book I’m reading). She really is a good pet, and I can’t imagine not having her in my life.

...Although I’d really like her to stop biting me, even though she doesn’t break the skin.

You can follow Sara on Tumblr:

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Middle Flipper is....(Part 6)

...a dolphin who wants nothing on the menu.

I just want a football.

One of the greatest misconceptions about animal training is that the only motivator worth its salt is food.  Lots of food.  Some extremely misguided people assume this means that starvation and food deprivation are involved, because then how else would an animal do what's asked of him or her?  

Before I delve too deeply into my story, I would like to point out that there are animals who are into the I-jump-you-feed mentality.  They are the businessmen and women of the animal training realm.  Transactions must occur predictably and reliably for them to extend the same reliability towards you.

However, the vast majority of animals with whom I've worked are not simply garbage disposals with bottomless stomachs.  In fact, even the business-minded animals can get bored with the same old reward.  

This point's been made abundantly clear to me through several charming experiences I've had.  But not as poignant as the lesson taught to me by a little female dolphin we'll just call "Princess".


While she wasn't the first calf I'd worked with, this little lady's birth was the first I'd ever seen in person.  And my boss assigned me and a select few others to begin to train her when she started showing interest in us.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Princess' primary interest in humans was her ability to teach them to give her ice.  Let me specify: ice chips.  Not legit cubes, not crushed ice, not the cylindrical ones with the holes in the middle....the flat, once inch chips.  She went nuts for this stuff.  

The stuff of 's dreams

Princess learned tens of behaviors on zero fish.  All of her body presents, bubbles, vocals, mimics, toy retrieval, sink, her bow, and interaction behaviors were fueled by her endless desire for ice, toys, and lots of rubs.  At the point at which her two half-brothers (born a couple of weeks apart from her) were chowing down on fish, Princess not-so-politely refused any food offered from a human being.

The first few times you give a fish to a dolphin calf, you assume they are going to play with it.  That's what they do whether a human or a dolphin introduces them to fish.  Eventually, one of three things happens:

1) Like any toddler, the dolphin tot decides swallowing something is the next best thing to playing with it

2) The calf sees mom eating fish, and mom is pretty cool, so they decide to copy her

3) The kid likes the taste of fish....the end

At least, that's what we read in books.  The weaning process for bottlenose dolphins (both common and Indo-pacific) is not clearcut; the time at which it takes for a calf to be fully weaned is variable and depends on a lot of different factors affecting the calf and the mother.   Nonetheless, typically dolphin calves are eating fish routinely while nursing a little on average from 6 to 12 months of age (sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less).  They are usually fully weaned by 18 to 20 months.

Now, there is a fourth scenario I purposely left out.  I wasn't even aware that this scenario existed until this special dolphin came into my life.  

4) The dolphin goes all vegetarian on you

When we started introducing fish to Princess, she did not spit it out, or play with it.  She threw a temper tantrum.   She made crazy angry-dolphin noises and spit the fish out.  She did some splashing and some speed-swimming, sometimes breaching or lob tailing.   

We tried reasoning with her.

Me: This is what dolphins eat.  Fish.  You can't drink milk and eat ice forever.

Princess: YES I CAN.
Me: Here, trust me, why don't you try it? Just a little taste? 

"This is what I think of your FISH"

We tried reinforcing her for simply being calm in the presence of fish.

Me: Look, don't freak out.  But I have a fish here.  You don't have to do anything with it.  Just look at it.  And chillax.

Princess: Lady, I better be getting a brand new football or some ice chips of the specifications I like for this crap.

Princess eventually became calm when she saw us offer fish, but she still would not swallow it.   We resorted to different measures.  We had her mother sit next to her and eat fish, hoping Princess would mimic her.  We only let her play with her football if she mouthed her fish.  When this didn't work, we started making tiny fish sandwiches with some filleted fish chunks in between ice chips.  We had some initial success, but she quickly started spitting out the fish and swallowing the ice.   

Like any desperate parent, we looked for another solution to get this kid to eat her fish.  Not because she was in any imminent danger, but because she was approaching a year old.  She should at least be starting to show interest in fish, not a strong aversion to it.  

So we started putting frozen fish into the ice cubes themselves, figuring she swallows ice so well that she'd potentially start swallowing the fish cubes the same way.  This wasn't as easy as simply dropping fish into water and freezing it.  We had to create the ice cubes in an ice cube tray, placing frozen fish chunks in very cold water and directly into the freezer so the fish remained frozen the entire time and did not thaw and refreeze.   Needless to say, this process took a long time.  We were excited to offer Princess this exciting new version of the Ice Cube.

Me: Look!!! Look what we have! Ice!  With a surprise inside!


Me: Here, just try it.


Princess would not just eat any ice.  She'd only eat the ice our fish house ice machine made.  And after the Surprise Ice attempts, she regressed back into Toddler Temper Tantrum mode anytime a fish in any form was offered to her.

This entire time, I lamented the fact that as dolphin trainers, we really had no recourse compared to the arsenal of tricks human mothers use to get their kids to eat their vegetables, or anything else the kid refuses to eat (but needs).  

Here is how my parents would've solved the problem if Princess were a human child:

Parents: Princess, eat your capelin.

Princess: No.

Parents: Princess, eat your capelin or you won't grow big and strong.

Princess:  Rolls eyes

Parents: Okay, if you don't eat your capelin, you'll go to your room.

Princess: Yeah well, I LIKE my room.  

Parents: Puts Cheez-Whiz on everything

Princess:  Alright!!!!!!!

Hey, it got my sister eating broccoli!

Since there is no Cheez-Whiz for dolphins, here's how we solved the problem:


Eventually, Princess started eating fish with wild abandon after about a year and a half of her milk-and-ice diet.  Upon further research, I found that a wild Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin nursed from his mom for 11 years*, like some kind of Buster Bluth of dolphins.   That is the rare exception. Most dolphins (in human care or in the wild) at least start eating some fish by the time they're a year old.

This picture is too perfect for words

The verve with which Princess refused fish and all other forms of ice sort of draws a parallel with how we as humans learn to eat food.  Some of our aversion/interest may be hard-wired (I will always hate mushrooms), and others may be cultural:  It doesn't matter how nutritious they are, I'm not going to serve myself a bowl of grubs for a delicious snack.  Maybe if I were raised in a culture that ate grubs, I'd have the same aversion to a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch**.

So what was going on on Princess' noggin?  I have no idea.  A baby dolphin with a belly full of milk and an interest in people, plus no survival pressures meant that Princess had the luxury of a not-so-swift weaning process.  And she became a very interactive, fun animal who looked to us not out of necessity.   Like so many animals, she is motivated by lots of things that have little to do with her hunger drive.   She just fell on the opposite end of the spectrum; we had to teach her to eat her fish.   Nonetheless, we were careful to maintain her interest in her toys, ice chips, and tactile reinforcement.  Your animal training program might be good if you use just food as the reward, but it will be great if you incorporate and can rely on other forms of reinforcement.  It just took a stubborn dolphin calf to teach me that lesson! 

One of the best dolphins ever


* He also lived in his mother's basement into his 40s

** Someone end my life if this ever happens

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Awesome Mom Deserves Her On Middle Flipper Post!

My parents had a lot to do with my career choices in some pretty significant ways.  Since it's Mother's Day, let's focus on the maternal aspect of said vocational support.

My insanely intelligent, successful, hilarious, gorgeous mom!
First of all, let me talk about who my mother is as a person, because that's really important to this Middle Flipper tribute.  My mom is some kind of managerial/business genius.  She grew up in an era where the common notions were, "Girls are inherently bad at math"*, "Women can't be in high-level business positions because like, uh....because."

My mom, as she does with all of life challenges, threw up her own two middle flippers and went on to become a Senior Vice President of JP Morgan Chase (after surviving and thriving two major bank mergers) in addition to establishing the a role as Head of Diversity in the corporation.  Her work as the latter position was so impressive to JP Morgan Chase, they asked her to create the position at their Manhattan branch.  She eventually went into early retirement, but then got bored and now is an executive coach.  She's a BAMF for sure.

What else does my mom enjoy other than kicking ass in the business realm? She speaks fluent French and likes to take classes to keep it up, she goes to a zillion plays in NYC, she works out and does yoga, she is a die-hard football fan, and she bakes some pretty darn good cookies and brownies.  

Reread that last paragraph.  Make sure you fully absorbed all that was there so you can easily identify what is missing: My mom is not an animal nut.  In fact, here is her kryptonite (MOM, IF YOU'RE READING THIS, LOOK AWAY):

Snakes.  Why'd it have to be snakes?
Don't get me wrong.  It's not that my mom doesn't like animals (except she hates snakes, even the mention of them).  It's just that when I was a kid, she wasn't really that into them.  She had a lot of other interests and an important job, and it was important to her that her daughters grew up with a good head on their shoulders and pursued whatever life's purpose they wanted, no matter how challenging it was.  And I don't know what my mom thought my sister and I would do when we were really tiny kids.  Did she think we'd be lawyers? Business executives? Famous authors? Brain surgeons?

My mom with her genetic future

By the time I was 4 or 5, it was clear I wasn't going to be a brain surgeon.  In fact, it was clearer that I'd likely need a good brain surgeon**.  My interest in animals became a passion that enveloped my entire life.  As I've mentioned  here, my childhood was spent trying to convince my parents to let me have a pet(s).  My mom was not as into this for completely understandable reasons such as: She'd probably have to take care of it. what my mom had to work with.

After an agreement about me being allowed to keep whatever pets I could catch backfired (thanks to the wild rabbit I almost caught), my mom taught me my first lesson in operant conditioning when I learned how I could earn myself a chance to have a pet cat.

I wasn't very good in church.  I was raised Catholic, and I wasn't necessarily the ideal churchgoing child/adult.  I didn't scream, or yell, or cry, or disobey my parents.  I drew bizarre things in my bibles:

Dead animals who became angels (who said animals don't have souls?!)

Gost Animals (1991) pen and ink.  $45,000

I even drew religiously-relevant images to try to show that no, I don't need to pay attention in church, but yes, I do care about my spiritual development.  I made this handy drawing to assist myself in knowing the sign of the cross (complete with the Holy Spirit in the center, in the form of a Demonic Hahn's Macaw of some sort):

I like the jack-o-lantern angel at the bottom left

Eventually, I'd get bored of the religious stuff and just start drawing things that I thought were cool.

Can't go wrong with a tiger shark playing basketball, drawn right inside your very own Bible!

Eventually, I got in trouble enough times for drawing in my bibles and on church bulletins while I was supposed to be paying attention that I resorted to simple labels:

Simple, elegant.  I should've been a copywriter.
Are you beginning to understand what my mom had to deal with here?  It doesn't stop there.  On top of my artistic odysseys at Holy Cross Catholic Church, I'd go on other adventures that required the use of my little sister.  When I got really bored (usually right around the homily), we'd tell my parents we had to use the restroom.  We'd go together, then start dunking our heads in the sink, putting toilet paper and paper towels in the toilets, and wait for what we thought was Thirty Minutes (but in actual time, was only 4).  Then we'd walk back into church, hoping we'd missed the homily.  When my parents saw us, they'd get really upset.  To this I replied that there was a plumbing problem in the bathroom, but thankfully my sister and I managed to assess the situation and find a temporary solution, would they like to check the bathroom for the Hard Evidence of our hard work?  Surely some wet toilet paper on the floor could convince any jury of my diligent efforts to unclog a toilet and fix a broken sink at 7 years old.

Are these the faces of troublemakers? Are those dresses for real?

Now the stage was set.  My mother discussed allowing me to get a cat under one condition: I had to be good in church for ten (10) weeks straight.  Ten.   I thought I was going to die.  I couldn't remember a time that I'd been proper in church for more than once in a row.  But oh, the promise of a cat.

So, with crafty positive reinforcement, my mother shaped me into a calm, church-going member (who still occasionally drew things).  And I earned my cat, Andi.

Andi Rust.  More on her in another blog!
My mom did other things to help stoke my interest in animals, especially marine mammals.  When I turned 10, she started taking me on an annual birthday weekend trip to SeaWorld Orlando or San Diego.  That was where I first touched a dolphin.  She encouraged me to network and ask questions to park employees about how to get a job in the field.  She also took a lot of embarrassing photos, so she could post them on my Facebook later.

Good lord

Through my high school and college years, my mom was always diligent in supporting my interest in marine mammals.  She generously funded educational trips to Honduras and British Columbia for marine mammalogy classes, helped me refine my interview and resume skills, and taught me how to network.  She still is the first person I call when I need career advice.  She gives relevant, helpful, and sometimes tough advice; the only things she sugar-coats are her cookies.  But that has shaped me into who I am today.  

So what's left to say now?  Well, my mom now is a big animal lover (although she still does not want any pets in her house).  She cashes in on the advantages of having a daughter in the marine mammal field.  And she's got one daughter who thinks the world of her, is so proud of her, and loves her very much!

I love you, mom!

* This has been scientifically studied and amended to: "Cat is inherently bad at math, but all other girls seem to get it just fine."

** Or perhaps, I still do need one

Monday, May 6, 2013

This Ain't No Summer Job, Yo!

I love my job.  I'd say that most people in the zoological industry love their jobs.  We are a passionate group of people who adore animals, and most of us want to share that with the rest of the world so that they too begin to appreciate the natural world, even if it's just a small piece of it.

We trainers know how to party

I created this blog for the following reasons:

  1. To share experiences with others who are interested in the animal care field and/or love animals
  2. To exchange experiences with other animal care professionals
  3. To be obnoxious (see above photo)

So while many posts outlined the less-than-glamorous side of my career, recent events inspired me to discuss a common dissonance that all animal trainers encounter: The Naysayer of Zookeeping Careers.

The Naysayer can be anyone: relatives, friends, strangers, significant others, Darth lords, etc.  These misguided people are under the strict impression that the type of work I do is Not A Real Job and/or A Summer Job.

7/8 of me swimming with dolphins

Why is this?  Well, the most obvious answer is because my job is glamorous (however, I feel as though this should dispel that myth immediately).  I suppose the average Naysayer contends that  I get to flip my blond hair, bat my eyes, and prance about in a wetsuit with Dolphins.  I high-five sea lions, and kiss harbor seals.  I snuggle with otters and run around with penguins.  And I get paid to do it.

But in actuality, my hair is blond from being in the sun all day (plus, it always looks like I've been electrocuted).  You'll never see me batting my eyes because I'm wearing sunglasses to protect them from 9 hours of sun exposure.  I never prance in a wetsuit (one time it gave me an allergic reaction) because I fall down way too much.  I do play with dolphins, and high-five sea lions, and kiss harbor seals, snuggle with otters, and run around with penguins.  For about 10% of my day.  Otherwise I'm cleaning, organizing, managing, sorting fish, or scrubbing a habitat.  And yes, I'm paid to do it, but let's put it this way; my car is 10 years old and has 150,000 miles on it.  

Building a temporary habitat wall. Look at THAT dream job task!

Now before anyone gets uptight about the people at whom this post is directed, I contend that most Naysayers fall into two categories:

1) Concerned Relatives:  their devil's advocate-type comments come from a place of concern and care to ensure the best quality of life for their family member.  Typically, these Naysayers are content once a career in animal training is firmly established and the relative in question is happy and healthy.  My beef is not with this type.

2) People Who Really Hate Their Jobs, So We Should Too.  

But to you, dear Naysayer #2, I submit the following Marine Animal Training Pop Quiz:

1) What do marine animals eat?
     a. Philly cheesesteaks
     b. Nothing, they are animatronic
     c. Fish, mollusks, and/or crustaceans
     d. Cool-Whip

2) How does one prepare the animals' food? (Select all that apply)
    a. Order thousands of pounds every few months; store in walk-in freezer
    b. Following restaurant protocols and U.S. federal law, thaw and individually sort through   
        several hundred pounds of fish, shrimp, and squid
    c. Thoroughly wash and disinfect an entire kitchen without leaving a single fish scale 
    d. Call to order a pizza
    e. Like just like, go out on a boat or whatever, have a few beers, catch some fish, and like
        throw it in the water so the dolphins can like eat it

3) What are the top priorities in any marine animal trainers' day? (Select all that apply)
    a. Playing with dolphins and penguins
    b. Ensuring animal, staff, and guest safety
    c. Getting rid of bad tan lines
    d. Maintaining and training behaviors critical to animal health and guest safety
    e. Selecting the correct waterproof mascara

4) Which of the following statements is false?
    a. Marine animal training is a fun job that requires a lot of physical and mental work
    b. One can develop their career in animal training, animal management, and people 
    c. Many years and good coworkers/bosses are required to become proficient in this job
        to provide the safest, top-quality care to all animals, guests, and subordinate staff
    d. Marine animal trainers live paycheck to paycheck
    e. John Lennon sucks

<3 <3 <3

Now that that's over with, how do you Naysayers feel?

"But Cat," they say.  "The Rule is you can't have fun at your job and it actually be a CAREER."  

"But Cat," they say. "You're not actually DOING anything beneficial.  You're not saving lives like a doctor, or performing a service that is required for comfortable living.  You're not exchanging stock, or developing a product to improve the quality of life for human beings."

Perhaps it's a question of value, and that's a personal opinion.  What I value is life; the lives of animals are not less important.  We all have a right to be where we are.  I think it's important to find something in your own life that inspires passion.  My passion is caring for animals and helping others to care about the natural world and how they impact it.   My career is not just something I do to earn a living, or make enough money to go on really cool vacations.  Every day I wake up, I get to be with a family of people and animals who share some of the most awe-inspiring moments.  I meet amazing guests on a daily basis, who share with me something I didn't know before in the same way I share something special with them.  And I work with a team of people who come into work on every holiday, weekend, bad weather day, for barely any money just because we have a group of animals who rely on us for everything. 

Scrubbing a habitat while my boss, Pebbles, maintains quality control

Me and Nellie.  Nellie isn't 60 years old because us dolphin trainers play fetch with her all day.

Cleaning a North American river otter habitat.  The otter toilet (and evidence of their use of it) is on the left.

Before I power-scrubbed the habitat, we all found a brief moment in time to present a new trainer with her whistle, which she earned after many months of cleaning, fish sorting, taking tests, and observing sessions

Most importantly, those of us who feel like we've found our life's work and are intrinsically rewarded for our jobs (and hey, some people even get paid a lot of money to do their dream job!) don't sit around and judge other people's careers as jokes.*

I'm sure I haven't convinced all Naysayers Type 2 to change their opinion.  Nonetheless, I felt it had to be said (written?) on behalf of all of us who dedicate our lives to something we feel is Greater Than Ourselves.  To something that Makes A Difference.  To something that Makes Us Smell Really Bad All Day But We Love Our Lives Nonetheless!

Working hard and having fun (also, breaking cameras).

* This does not include the late work of M. Night Shyamalan