|Are we really THAT crazy?|
Animal caretakers, especially ones in a setting where they are caring for the same individual animals on a daily basis, really become immersed in the Animal Lover Lifestyle. Speaking for myself, I am surrounded with people who dedicate their lives to caring for, understanding, and sharing information about our non-human friends. When I step out of that sphere, it's always at least a little disorienting.
Now, I realize there are far more Animal Lovers than animal trainers/caretakers. As I've said, I feel there are many sub-categories (and you can belong to more than one of them):
- Vet techs/assistants
- Animal rescue staff and volunteers
- Animal trainers of all taxa
- Pet owners
- Wildlife rehabbers
- Wildlife lovers
- Etc. etc. etc.!
|You said it best, Yule Brenner!|
While all of those people are True Animal Lovers, they all experience this world in a slightly different way (although the main points are the same). So this blog is from the perspective of my branch of this greater concept, which is of course the marine mammal training field.
When you first realize that you want to work with marine mammals, there is an initial acceptance of this idea, even from people who do not define themselves as Animal Lovers. I think this is because marine mammals are pretty popular critters. Also, most of us are like 7 years old when we decide we want to be trainers. At this age, you can basically say you want to be anything and receive full support from adult influence because you Showed Early Career Initiative So You Are Probably A Child Genius.
|Me, a clear example of prodigy.|
At some point though, once your adult influences realize that you're actually serious about working for $8.00 an hour after spending tens of thousands of dollars on a college education, the naysaying commences. And that is when you really feel the difference between You and Them. I won't go into this struggle too much (since that's another blog topic for another time), but I'm sure many of you zoo animal trainers can relate. You've known since you were a little kid that you wanted to do something to help animals. Many of you see something beyond just an organism who poops, breeds, and eats; you see an individual. You see a reason to conserve and care. And I'm willing to bet that for many of you, your opinion was not the prevailing one among your social circles when you were growing up*.
The moment you start your internship, it's like you've entered another universe. Yeah yeah, internships are scary and intimidating. But the fact that you're completely surrounded by Like Minded People, people who regularly dedicate their lives to animals, who (seemingly) effortlessly live this lifestyle you've wanted since you were a little kid...it's intoxicating. You don't have to defend something that is so core to who you are as a person. You see and experience firsthand the type of job that makes a positive difference in animals' lives. It's validating and overwhelmingly wonderful.
So fast forward to being a marine mammal trainer for several years. You know a number of animals very well. You've established strong relationships with them; some of them know you better than others. You've seen some really wonderful moments, and you've probably experienced some hard ones. The nature of the job (including its low pay) basically guarantees that you spend more time with your human and non-human coworkers than it does with family members and outside-of-work friends. It isn't easy to go out, or take trips back home. You are now fully engaged in your Animal Lover lifestyle.
|I don't mind living alongside this amazing dolphin, that's for sure!|
When an animal you know and love passes away, it's a horrible time. No true Animal Lover, no matter how you define it, can deny that. In fact, for Animal Lovers, death is death: it doesn't necessarily feel "less" or "more" painful depending on the species. True Animal Lovers know that each life is sacred and unique. The loss is always profound.
But Animal Lovers, you know what I'm about to say next don't you? How many people in your life who are NOT into animals understand how you deal with loss when it isn't a human being? Not a whole lot. That's a challenge, isn't it? Because not only do you grieve for the animal's death, you have to defend WHY you're grieving.
"Oh. Sorry to hear about that. Was the rest of your day good?"
"Why are you so upset? It was just a cat/penguin/marmoset."
"You can always get another dog."
"It's not like your [insert relative here] died. Get over it!"
Those are things people have actually said to me or my friends and coworkers who have lost an animal (including pets). I understand that some people just don't understand that non-human animals are not mindless machines, but they do care about how their friends and family members feel and may be sympathetic to them when a pet or an animal they care for passes away. So this is not a criticism of people who are not Animal Lovers; it's just illustrating the point that well, there are a lot of people out there who don't care all that much or at all about animal welfare.
Animal trainers get so wrapped up in their Animal Lover world that it typically goes beyond that of someone who is a mom or dad to a companion animal. Your best friends, coworkers, your bosses, subordinates, and in many cases your significant other are all just as passionate about animal welfare as you are. It's such an amazing feeling to have network of people who understand and live your ethical principles and deep interests....especially considering the amount of flak we all took for wanting to get into this field. It's like, "Finally!!! People who understand!"
|One question: Why can't striped pants be part of my uniform?|
And that is why it is extremely jarring once you enter the non-animal lover realm. And let me tell you, there are a lot of people out there who don't care about (or...don't even LIKE) animals**!!!
Sometimes I find it hard to relate to people who aren't into animals. I get along better with people who are totally against having animals in human care than I do with people who just don't really like animals. Does anyone else have this issue? I mean, I'm not a total jerk or anything to the Non Animal Lovers, I just sometimes don't know what to talk about sometimes because my whole life is animals. At some point, I want to talk about something Animaly.
Like, I don't even know socially how to handle myself in some of the more Intensely Non Animal conversations. I can talk about world events, music, funny stories. But I'm talking about those times when it's inevitable that something about your job or your life with animals comes up and it's met with a: blank stare, a confused question, or even a hostile and/or passive aggressive remark.
Here are a couple of examples of my ineptitude:
Person A: So, want to hang out tomorrow night?
Me: I'd love to, but I'm busy tomorrow.
Person A: Oh yeah? What are you doing?
Me: Uh, a penguin transport.
Person A: Why would you transport a penguin?
Me: *Goes into explanation*
Person A: So...
Person A: Have you seen Blackfish?
Person B: You're so lucky you don't have a real job.
Me: Oh, ha ha! Yeah, it's a great job.
Person B: No seriously, you don't actually impact anyone in a positive way.
Me: Uh, should we change the topic?
Person B: Sure, I mean, no offense or whatever, but it's not a real job.
Me: LET'S TALK ABOUT SOMETHING MORE COMFORTABLE SUCH AS POLITICS,
RELIGION, OR BEING NAKED
Person C: I think animals are here for our use.
Me: Um. I think I have diarrhea. Bye.
|Bring up poop, conversation OVER. (This is sea lion poop by the way, not mine)|
Most of the time, and maybe this is just one of my character flaws, I have a hard time being rude to people even though I think sometimes that's the correct response. If I'm standing up for someone, or speaking up for an animal in need, that's different. But to have someone tell me about why they think animals are "here" for "our" use, and what I want to say (involves lots of these kinds of symbols: *#%&(*#&%Q@) is not what I end up saying (usually something diplomatic and/or change-the-subjectish).
Non Animal Lovers abound, and it's not like they are bad people, they just don't understand. It's weird interfacing with them at this point in my life, especially because so many of them seem to have a weird and dissenting opinion about animals in general. I'm not talking about people who aren't for animals in zoos, because those people are Animal Lovers too. I'm talking about people who think zoos are about as exciting as lima beans, or who are disgusted by animals. I'm a complete social moron around those people!
Surely I'm not alone in my problem, right? What about you guys, do you have trouble dealing with the Non Animal Lovers? Is it harder now than it was before you became a zookeeper/animal trainer/veterinarian?
* If it was, lucky you! Go high-five and THANK your family and friends
** I know, right?!?!?!