Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why I Love To Work Holidays: Thanksgiving Edition

Knowing that Thanksgiving is in a mere four days, I felt inspired to share one of the best days ever to be a marine mammal trainer.

Thanksgiving! It comes before Christmas!  (But not, this year, before Hannukah)

Don't get me wrong, I know lots of people work on Thanksgiving.   I'm continually surprised at the sheer number of people who DON'T realize people have to go to work on such a big holiday.   The lack of logic is astonishing.  I'm compelled to ask these people a series of questions in the form of a Working During A Major Holiday Quiz:

1) How do animals in zoos, aquariums, shelters, pet stores, veterinary hospitals, or ranches eat, receive husbandry care/habitat cleaning on Thanksgiving?
    a) Their caretakers come in on Thanksgiving and care for them
    b) The animals order Chinese food, because everything else is closed
    c) The animals with any dexterity (this can apply to birds with capable beaks) adeptly let
        themselves and the rest of the lot out of their enclosures.  And in Toy Story fashion,
         have a running-with-scissors type day eating all the food and partying, making sure to
         clean up after themselves and  return to where you think you left them

I'll have the capelin casserole!

2) Where would you go on Thanksgiving if you received a critical injury, such as: severed limbs, myocardial infarction, donut overdose, and/or car accident?
     a) The ER
     b) A witch doctor
     c) CVS for some band-aids

Band-aids.  For those life-threatening holiday emergencies.

3) Follow up to question number 2.  Of the aforementioned places, how many of them require actual human beings to work in order to provide appropriate care?
    a) 0.  Robots are the new thang
    b) 3.  D'uh.
    c) 1.  Witch doctors don't care about Thanksgiving

"WTF is Thanksgiving?"

4) Your car runs out of gas next Thursday.  What do you do?
    a) Go to the gas station, like usual.  Because you know, people are working.  On
    b) Pump your own gas and leave an IOU
    c) Siphon gas out of someone else's car, then say you're grateful.

Give the kid a break.  Where else was he supposed to get gas on a holiday no one works on?

Let's also not forget the poor souls who have to work at Our Favorite Giant Stores so we don't miss a nanosecond of Black Friday.  While we are stuffing our faces (and subsequently resting our faces in a face-down position due to Food Coma), a whole lot of people are hard at work making sure you have the best Black Friday experience, because we can't possibly just enjoy a holiday without showing your gratitude for life by buying a TV for 92% off at 3am.  But I digress.

Unless they're lining up for free pumpkin pie, count me out.

Those of us in the animal care field must work on all holidays, because the animals still need to eat.  Beyond that, they need their habitats cleaned, training goals still need to be met, and you know what?  You're supposed to spend holidays like Thanksgiving with your close family and friends, so it is very fitting you spend several hours with the animals you adore.

Now, I'm sure everyone has their own unique experience with working Thanksgiving at their facility.  It just so happens that this year I have Thanksgiving off, so I'll work on Christmas.  But I'm going to share my favorite things about working Thanksgiving and holidays.  

For most of my career, the facilities I've worked at close for Thanksgiving.  Side note: No one shows up at the places I've worked at during times we've been open on the holiday.  They're too busy waiting in line for their discount sock warmer at Large Department Store.

Top Ten Things I Love About Working Thanksgiving As A Marine Mammal Trainer

1) Traffic is NONEXISTANT.  Zip, zap, zam, you're at work in no time.  You still, to some extent, get to sleep in on the holiday.  Even if your shift is at 6am, you know you've got the road to yourself so just enjoy those 15 extra minutes of sleep.

No school busses! No slow drivers! 

2) Everyone is in a great mood.  Really.  No weepy, pissed off trainers to be seen here.  Not that I've worked with many people who are wired like that, but everyone is excited because it's Thanksgiving, we're closed, we get to play with animals and go home and eat until our stomachs rupture and we end up in the ER (where hopefully, someone is working).

Hopefully, he's working.

3) No shows, no programs.  As much as I love to share my knowledge and passion for the animals with guests (because that's why zoos and aquariums exist), it's really nice to have one day where you have nothing but fun with the animals.  I don't have to worry about little things such as: accidentally eating garlic humus for lunch right before a dolphin interaction (wherein I try not to breathe anywhere near my helpless guest), my out-of-control saltwater hair, does my uniform match.

I can just play!

4) Wearing whatever you want.  As long it's animal safe.  If it's warm, I don't have to cover up my tattoo sleeve.  You can run around in a  crazy bathing suit.  Or comfortable sweat pants.  Or an ugly sweater.

Sean Connery? Or marine mammal trainer on Thanksgiving?

5) You typically don't work a full day.  Everything that needs to get done gets thoroughly accomplished in 3/4 of the time, because there aren't programs or shows.   

Couldn't find a relevant image for #5, so here's a picture of stuffing.

6) The animals are almost always super attentive.  I don't know why exactly, but it is likely to do with the fact that it's such a variable day.  Everyone is laid back.  They're getting massive amounts of food in a session for just playing with a football.  

Throw me the ball! I'm open!

7) …. and there's always that one animal who doesn't get into it.   They don't want to eat a lot.  They'd rather go back to the same daily schedule.  You might have 99% of your animals fed out by noon, but there's always one who's the limiting reagent (LR).  So what do you do with an LR animal? Well, you respect what they want.  Maybe you don't get out as early as you would had every animal been on board with the plan, but you're not going to deny an animal food because you want to get home to your green bean casserole.

I'd prefer to savor my meal today, thank you.

8) You do special little things when you're not feeding animals.  At one facility I worked at, one of my bosses put on the Macy's Day Parade in a conference room on a big screen TV.  In between sessions and after all the buckets were cleaned, we'd watch the parade for 30 minutes, then go back out and do another round of sessions.  

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, you should make this a tradition at your facility, too!

9) We can play whatever music we want over the sound system.  No more Elevator Music! No more Public Domain Banality!  Want an hour of gangster rap? Sure!  Feeling like some Lo-Fi? Go for it.  Want to have a football game on over the speakers?  Just make sure no one on your staff hates your team, or you're getting pushed in a pool for sure.

For your Thanksgiving nostalgia, enjoy the calming sounds of this gentlemen quartet

10) I've already said this, but it's so important to me that it's worth saying again.  The best thing about working Thanksgiving is I get to spend it with some of the most important beings in my life.   I get to wake up, play with all the animals I love and people I adore, and then I come home and eat a lot of stuffing, and mac n' cheese, and bread, and fruit salad, and pumpkin pie, and…

Oh hurry up, Thanksgiving.


So yeah, we're working hard while a lot of people are relaxing and enjoying their day off.  But we love every minute of it.  It's a special experience that not many people get.   

Wait, before I let you go, let me admit that, like anything in life, there are some down-sides to working Thanksgiving.  

The Cons To Working on Thanksgiving As A Marine Mammal Trainer

1) You don't consistently get to spend the holidays with your family

2) You don't usually get the entire Thanksgiving weekend off, even if you're off for the holiday 

3) Trainers can't even afford Black Friday prices

and the last con to working Thanksgiving as a marine mammal trainer:

4) Black Friday for trainers is actually the massively depressing process by which you attempt to squeeze back into your wetsuit Friday morning after eating 3,349 metric tons of stuffing.


Now, fellow animal caregivers: share your favorite parts about working holidays! I'd love to hear it!


  1. When I worked holidays as an animal caretaker, it usually meant I was alone. This meant no confusion over what needed to happen and who was going to do it, and no fights over the radio station in the prep lab!

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