Sunday, June 21, 2015

Father's Day Is For Us Animal Lovers, Too!

Happy happy Father's Day!

Best dad ever!

For my loyal readers, the format for this blog is going to be pretty similar to that of my Mother's Day post.  And for those of you who are just joining us, WELCOME!

So my Mother's Day blog focused mostly on our zoologically-inclined maternal traits and nodded to the fact that most of us in this field are actually female.  Even if you're a dude, you probably share a lot of mommy qualities.  Unsurprisingly, because our field is chock full of amazing and loving people, not a single guy voiced a dissenting opinion on this concept.  To the contrary, some of the manliest men I know in the field embraced their inner Zoo Mom.  Woohoo!

Playing heavily into gender stereotypes, we have to admit that we are also Zoo Dads*, too.  Our job involves a lot of Daddly stuff.  And just as we all share qualities of moms, we share just as many as dads.

Without further ado, let's go through the list of how fatherly we all truly are!

1) We Can Make or Fix Anything Out of PVC, Zip Ties, and Duct Tape

MacGyver was not a "secret agent".  He was actually a zookeeper.

This is especially true for us smaller zoos and aquariums.  I mean, who reading this DOESN'T know how your basic PVC glue works?  And let's face it, zip ties are way better than drilling in most cases. In fact, I'm a little upset that we as a field haven't figured out a contest of Best Thing Built Out of PVC and Zip Ties.  Like, we could probably figure out how to make a beer tap.  Talk about being a Zoo Dad!  I know of at least three places around my place of employment where we could install such a thing.   But seriously, AZA and IMATA, don't you think a great team-builder would be a contest of best THING built out of these objects?? I bet we'd see some incredible things.

Anyways, our abilities to fix things are very real and are absolutely not limited to the male gender.  Us animal caregivers often work on limited budgets, both monetary and time.  That doesn't mean we don't know how to properly construct something, fix a leaking roof, or repair a door hinge.  But often times we simply don't have the money for the resources we need to build something that looks state of the art.  We've built squeeze cages, panels, temporary habitats for smaller animals, injection poles, and enrichment items out of just the above-listed materials.  We are innovative, us Zoo Dads!

2) We Get Really Frustrated Over Projects We Ruin

Don't be upset, Chris!! There, there, come to Cat.

Oh man, if zookeepers and trainers lose their temper, it's over one of three things:

1) Anyone posing danger to the animals in their care
2) Inflammatory statements by misled armchair activists

We never lose our temper at the animals (well, no real animal caretaker at least does), but holy crap just don't even talk to me if I've set PVC wrong and my connections break because I didn't use a LEVEL SURFACE.  Or if I break something, or envision a plan that just totally blows up in my face. The rage that surges out of every pore of my being is tangible and explosive and could probably divert the trajectory of small aircraft up to 15,000 feet.  Like a dad freaking out over a wasted Sunday afternoon building that Awesome Picnic Table He Saw The Template For At Home Depot, us Zoo Dads place a lot of our heart and hope into the projects we do.

The Old Man Parker knew how to swear at his failed home projects!

Let's not even mention how we react when our projects are ruined by things outside of our control, such as Murphy's Law Weather Events.  I think the reason animal caretakers are so chill in their personal lives is because they cathartically release gobs of tension and stress over broken or warped MDF boards.

3) We Can Use Power Tools...And We Drool Over Getting New Equipment

Oh. Ohhhhh.

Break out the tool belt! It looks GOOD on us Zoo Dads!  We know how to use a variety of power tools depending on what our job entails, and we always feel cool doing it.  The extent to which we use these tools depends on our jobs.  Marine mammal trainers don't typically need anything more than a PVC cutter (and usually that's not a power tool), a drill and a compressor (okay I know that's not really a power tool, but let's just count it).  But if you're lucky enough to build elements of your own habitats, you probably rock a jig saw and use Real Lumber.  I suppose Dads fall into these continuum too.  My dad was good with the basic tools, including the power drill and stud finder.  But he wasn't out building tree houses or the massive bird aviary I always wanted as a kid (gee, thanks DAD).  But my father-in-law can fix cars, airplanes, boats, build houses, and basically use every power tool available to mankind.

But one thing we Zoo Dads can ALL agree on is that we covet new equipment.  Our drill bits are old. Or stuck forever in one of our drills.  Our saws-all can cut a loaf of bread in ten minutes and that's if the bread is really old.  We marine mammal trainers dream of the day when we can get the latest and greatest model of underwater scrubber, you know, if we just happen upon $20,000.  Like a dad pouring over the shiny new toys at the local hardware store, we do the same thing.  Admit it.  The last time you went to Lowes you spent more time staring at wet saws because you have the Best Habitat Improvement Idea and it just involves a touch of stonework.

4) We Underestimate Time It Takes To Do Things 

Just need to buff this out.  It'll only take me like 20 minutes.

"I'll be there in five minutes!" you say as you finish cleaning a habitat, or zip tying a torn barrier net.  You think it'll take Just Five Minutes, but you've really got about 20 minutes of solid work ahead of you.  Still, just like any optimistic dad who wants to Help With Everything, you cheerfully lie to yourself and imagine you have some super human power to either pause time or move your limbs and digits in a way that is medically impossible.  

Like so many well-meaning dads I know, this also applies to an uncanny ability for us keepers, trainers, and vets to get side-tracked with projects that pop up last minute (this may or may not be related to what we experience in item #2 as listed above).  You may have only five minutes of work left until you suddenly realize that fence over there looks like it has a loose plank, which will only take you a few seconds to fix, except you can't find the right drill bit because for some reason, there are seven different types of screws holding the fence together and you can't figure out why you never remember to charge the drill battery.  It's a good thing we are all victims of this tendency, because when I hear someone say, "It'll just take me a second!" I know to give that person 10 to 50 times longer than they think it will take.  And my coworkers do the same for me!

5) We Make Our Kids' Toys (and Brag About It)

We're all Geppetto at heart.

This may be a tradition falling out of favor this day in age, but there was a time when dads made toys for their kids.  My husband's paternal grandpa used to make these baller wooden toys.  Not simple things either; this guy really knew how to woodwork.  With the advent of where you can basically find anything you want (and if not, just hop over to Etsy), I don't know how many dads make cool stuff for their kids.  

Wait, I take that back.  One of my coworker's husbands built a balance beam for his kid.  He wins!

Anyways, luckily us Zoo Dads keep the Toy Building Tradition alive by making many (or all) of our animal kids' toys.  Our drive to provide interesting enrichment goes far beyond just ordering boomer balls.  We've made EEDs for animals living in every different kind of habitat imaginable.  

We don't stop there, either.  Like any proud father, we brag incessantly about our projects to other people in the field. This does exactly the same thing it does when a bunch of dads get together to one-up each other on how great of a treehouse they built their kid.  It definitely can provoke a twinge of jealousy (like how I felt when this amazing facility in the Keys built this sort of board with buttons on it, each button when pushed by a dolphin got them a different enrichment so they could basically choose their own toys!!), but for the most part it just inspires you.  And luckily, Zoo Dads are more than willing to share their project outlines and tips.  

6) We Take A Lot of Naps.  Like, A LOT

If only we could have scheduled naps!

Not at work (although good lord, wouldn't that be awesome?  Siesta time?  How about when your animals sleep, you sleep? No wait, that's not very fair for us dolphin trainers....let me work out the kinks on this).  

But when we get home, we power DOWN.  We sprawl out on the couch or pass out on the floor and become dead to the world.  Our bodies and brains are exhausted and of any good Dad Nap Stereotype, I think we're happy to embrace this one.

7) We Love To Play With Our Animal Kids


D'uhhhhh.  When we're done with all the hard work, we are happy to play with the animals.  That obviously looks different depending on the species and type of work you're doing.  How I play with a dolphin is not necessarily the same way I play with an otter, or how someone who works protected contact plays around with a grizzly bear.  

There are some animals that maybe you don't really play with.  For example, anyone working exclusively with venomous snakes probably doesn't bounce anyone on their knee.  So we could just say, where and when appropriate, play is part of the day.  And if not, it's for a very, very good reason.  And chances are, you're doing some kind of enrichment for them, even if it's not you directly interacting with that animal. 

But any good dad knows how to the appropriate way and time to play with his kids (and what that entails).

8) We Stay Calm and Collected in Stressful Situations

Side note: This is the best show on the planet.

The Dad stereotype here involves a stoic, strong, and focused outlook no matter what's going on.  And while we all know that in reality, moms and dads do this regularly, this entire blog post sits cozily atop stereotypes so just roll with it!

There are massively stressful events in the animal caregiving world.  If you work with a lot of geriatric animals, are in rehab, or are in the vet profession, you probably experience these kinds of events more often.  I think the worst event is when an animal is ill, is dying or has died.  Ugh, it makes you feel rotten inside and indescribably sad.  Or when something totally crazy happens, like severe weather damage or if an animal gets out of their habitat. But when that kind of event occurs, you can't let the emotions swirling around you take over and render you useless.  You have to find a way to stay calm and focused so that you make sure everyone is safe, and that the other animals in your care continue to get the same love and attention.  

9) We Protect the Family


Traditionally, dads are the "head" of the family**, the "protector".  And dag nabbit, us Zoo Dads are very protective of our animal family.  How do we act when a guest "accidentally" finds themselves near or in a habitat?  Oh, our Dad Voices come out.  How about when someone throws something into a habitat?  We don't sugar-coat anything, we DadVoice them.  Dad Voice brings immediately and deserved shame and embarrassment, and maybe it'll even Build Character (the sole goal of any father, right?).   We may be the nicest people or have the biggest issue with confrontation with our coworkers or friends and family, but when someone messes around with the safety or happiness of our animals we are ready to go to battle!

Us animal caregivers wear many hats: Mom and Dad hats, to be exact.  We really do look at and treat the animals in our care like members of our family, even if it is only temporarily.  For example, people working in a rehabilitation facility see patients come and go.  While you may think they don't "let" themselves get attached to the animals in their care, they do.  They have great coping mechanisms (remember the Zoo Dad tendency to keep calm under stress?), but they love the animals they care for, no matter how hopeless the case or how quick of a turnaround that animal has back to a healthy life in the wild.  

Being parental figures to our animals is something we should be very proud of, because it makes our jobs a little bit more difficult.  How?  Well, it forces us to experience amazing gains and some really big losses.  Those of us in a training setting, or who are very by-the-book anti-anthropomorphism, you are still a Zoo Parent.  Parents look out for the best interest of their kids without letting their ego get in the way, and they do the best that they can every single day.  Zoo Parents do the same; what you feel is the best possible care for the animals you work with is what you give them without fail.  

Now go enjoy your Father's Day, all ye Zoo Dads!  And make sure you celebrate by taking a nice, long nap.
* You veterinarians, vet techs and assistants, rehabbers, and anyone who raises or cares for animals at home are of course included in this!

** But of course, we know that it's chicks that really rule the roost

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