Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Trainer's Great Insecurity

I want to admit something to all of you.

I'm a little nervous, though.  I don't want to offend anyone, because you all seem really nice and totally non-judgmental.  But I'm a little worried you're going to judge me.  Especially those of you who are trainers, and experienced ones at that.

But I feel like I need to come clean.  So here it goes, my admission to you before 2016 rolls in, where we turn over a new leaf and try to become a better person and improve the things we feel we fall short in in our lives.  Whew, deep breath...

Okay, I admit it.

I, Cat, feel disbelief that a behavior will ever be completed when I'm training it.  Like, for some period of time, I really don't know if what I'm doing is going to work.


What is so frustrating about this tendency of mine is that I know how critical it is to be confident when you're training something new.  So let me clarify that it's not the process of shaping behavior that makes me question myself: I feel confident in sticking to the rules of operant conditioning.  I feel confident in my relationship with the animal.  What stirs insecurity in me is all the grey-area parts of training.  Like, if moving forward on a step is the right move.  There are so many different paths to training a new behavior, and I almost always have some level of terror that maybe I chose a dead-end one.

When I was a new trainer, I had this feeling all the time.  I remember trying to teach a dolphin a pec applause.  She did not understand pec targets, which was a huge part of my plan to teach her how to move her flippers a lot.  So when she didn't understand WTF I was doing, I felt really worried.  The advice I got from an experienced trainer was to just experiment with methods of trying to get her to understand what I wanted....and I could choose all kinds of methods: teaching pec targets, molding, capturing, model-rival, etc. etc.  And each of those methods could have their own collection of different pathways to the final result.


But there I sat, dutifully getting in my approximations each time I could, each session the same as the last, thinking THIS IS NEVER GOING TO BE TRAINED.  I AM NOT CAPABLE.

And then, one day, she moved her flippers a little.  After getting reinforced for this a couple of times, BOOM. She figured it out, and in no time at all, she learned a beautiful pec applause in spite of my conviction that I was a terrible trainer and would never finish this behavior.

Now let's go do this ten thousand more times.

That kind of feeling is (I think) normal for newer trainers, because you haven't had a lot of experience with the process.  Eventually, you see how step 1s turn into step 2s, and step 28s, etc.  You realize that yes, a strong relationship and a strong understanding of the training game eventually teaches someone something.  So why do I still have this sense of insecurity?

Let me give you a recent example.  We have this adorable 7-month old bottlenose dolphin calf named Kaya at work.  When she was really little, she had zero interest in fish or ice cubes but seemed to like tactile.  We decided to teach her a bridging stimulus using tactile, so we could at least teach her one of the most important elements of training she needs to know.

There she is!

I have worked with many dolphin calves.  I have more experience training calves before they eat fish than I do with ones who do.....meaning my experience has come from babies who learned many behaviors (including a bridge) using ice, toys, and rubs.  I'm sure many of you reading this know what I mean.  But despite my own personal experience with this, seeing how well it works, and knowing that it starts off very slowly, I still second-guessed myself with Kaya.  When she wasn't really sitting up with us, or didn't seem to understand the bridge meant she'd get rubs, my mind started racing.

"What if you're wrong about this one, Cat?"

"What if you're not totally remembering your previous experiences, Cat?"

"You're a dumb-dumb."

A wise man once said...

Those are some of the thoughts the little Gremlin who lives in my head who tells me mean things all the time said to me.

Still, I stayed the course.  And unsurprisingly, Kaya (like all who came before her) figured out what was going on and learned exponentially.

Did I learn my lesson?  Did I regain my confidence?  Nope, not really.  Because then there was this other behavior I wanted to teach her, so that I could use her favorite toys as reinforcement.  

I wanted to teach her a retrieval behavior, which made it a zillion times easier to control where the toys in her habitat were.  Otherwise, when we wanted to reinforce her with a ball or whatever, we'd throw it out and she'd take it off into the sunset having the time of her life.  This caused even more problems because my dear friend Chopper (you know, the one who stuffs toys under the docks) started leaving his trainer to steal toys from Kaya.  It was a mess.  One that could be cleaned up if only Kaya knew to bring her toy back to her trainer.

Chopper, the reigning Finders Keepers champion

I don't know why, but with all of the calves I've been a primary trainer on, I wind up with the retrieval behavior.  I've trained it more or less the same way with all calves, including teaching them to bat it towards me over a very, very small distance (like, two inches), then eventually increasing the distance between me and the ball.  However, at some point, you have to take a leap of faith and toss the ball out.  Normally, at least in my experience, what happens is the baby takes off, plays with the ball, then leaves it out in the middle of the habitat and returns.  But you keep at it, you reinforce the easier approximations of them pushing it towards you, and try to bridge them on the long distance approximations when they hit/push it in your general direction.  Eventually, they figure it out.

It can take a while, though.  The method I've used involves scanning for some semblance of the desired behavior, and usually I wind up taking every toy I can find with me to each session so I can do several approximations.  It's worked every time.

BUT.  Each time, I basically am in disbelief that this technique worked.  Each time the calf zooms off with a toy and shows they have zero clue what I'm trying to teach them, I feel embarrassed.  I feel like maybe, my method is stupid.  My method is confusing.  My method will never really work.


I thought that about Kaya, recently.  She did exactly what other calves have done.  Especially as a supervisor, I wondered if the staff thought I was a moron.  And then, just last week, Kaya started hitting the ball back purposely towards us.  She had her a-ha moment, and now each session is getting much better at directing the toy back to us.  In fact, she understands the behavior so well, she knows sometimes the toy is taken out of the habitat and she's given a piece of fish or an ice cube or rub.  So, in the times she'd rather have the toy, she tries to stuff it under the docks when we give the retrieval SD.

And I sit there on the docks, watching her bring her toy back to me and think, "OMG! It worked!"

Why do I have this insecurity, this disbelief in my own ability?  Yeah, I second-guess myself just like anyone else.  But beyond that, I think it's for two main reasons:  1) I want to do the best job I can for the animals, and 2) I'd rather give myself a hard time than giving myself a break.

Well played, Dwight.  Well played.

On point number 1, it's obvious to any trainer why we want to do the best we can in our practices, especially when it comes to training.  If we are not very good trainers, we run the risk of frustrating the animals.  We run the risk of damaging our relationships.  If we are not very good trainers, then what have we worked for SO hard for most of our lives?  We live, breathe, and sleep animal care.  We want to be perfect at it, because we know animals thrive when we give 110%.

So point number 1 can explain point number 2; we don't want to settle for our own mediocrity.  We worry, we criticize ourselves and others, and I'm not talking about constructive feedback.  We self deprecate because we don't want to mess up for all the reasons I listed above.  And I realize how hypocritical this is of me to say, considering this entire blog is about my own insecurity, but the more punishingly critical we are of ourselves, doesn't that impede our journey to be the best for the animals?

The fact is, it's okay if we choose a "wrong" or "inefficient" path in training.  It's okay if we don't know if our tried-and-true methods will work with each animal, because each animal is different.  It's okay to look at our decisions and decide that we made a great call.  Or, that we could do better.  What matters is the animals understand what to expect from us, and that we are all having fun.  If you learn that you can do better next time, then focus on the next time.

*warm and fuzzies*

We should extend this courtesy to other trainers, too.  It's so important to get constructive feedback so you can grow and learn from mistakes.  But it's unnecessary to relentlessly criticize people for making normal mistakes.  Do they learn from them?  Are they simply choosing different methods that will result in the same goal?  Can you guys learn from each other?  It's all an adventure, with no real end in sight.  As long as the animals are happy and healthy, that's all that matters.

So if you are nodding your head in agreement with this blog, and you're a trainer who just can't believe you are able to train a behavior each time you do, let's all take a really deep, collective breath.  We are doing our best.  We will always do our best.  And let's start believing in our abilities.  Let's give ourselves a break, and really enjoy what we get to do every day.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Professional Failures: New Trainer Edition

Here we go again, another journey down memory lane towards that oft-visited town I like to call FAILURE.  It's a bustling metropolitan area that lures me back on a relatively routine basis.  It's one of those places that always sounds really good in theory (you know, the whole "Oh, learn from your mistakes makes you a better person" thing), but when you get there it usually feels rotten.  Occasionally, like any good city experience, it makes you laugh.  Usually both.

Should we laugh or cry? Great.  Now I'm just hungry.

A while ago, I told you about my failures as an aspiring trainer. I mentioned in that blog that I still make mistakes, so here is further proof.

When I finally got my first paid job as an apprentice trainer, I thought I Made It.  I was 22 and figured I'd have a lot to learn, but I really thought This Was It in my career: I'd made so many mistakes in my internships and applying for jobs, I'd surely be impervious to any further blunders worse than tiny little oopsies.

I'll give you a moment to re-collect yourselves, because I'm assuming you're either rolling your eyes at me, or laughing. 

Even though I thought I went into my brand new job with an open mind and the ability to handle mistakes, I still stupidly thought that it wasn't going to be stressful.  This was the absolute best way to set myself up for MORE failure, which quickly became apparent.


For those of you who don't know (YET!) what it's like in your first weeks as a zookeeper/trainer, it's basically like being tasked with presenting a topic on a subject you know a little something about in a language you barely understand to a room full of strangers who know everything you're talking about and will absolutely comment on your mistakes afterwards in a public forum.  It feels like everyone is watching your every move (they are), that they all know everything each other is saying (and you don't), and the entire time you think, "I'm never going to understand what the heck is going on."  Let's not even mention what it's like to find your away around the place.

"A DRI is...."

I'm not saying that to scare you, I'm just saying that's how it is.  Anyone can see that the aforementioned scenario is awash with potential fails, just waiting for you to experience them.

But I didn't know that, or realize it, or admit it to myself (hindsight always clouds my perception of this).  So when I invariably DID make a mistake, it really terrified me.  And the mistakes I made at first were really, really trivial.  For example, during one of my first weeks, I switched which show coolers were in which dock box during my show set up.  After the show, I approached the senior trainer and apologized for my mistake.  Profusely.  Because I thought, "OH MY GOD I JUST MADE A MISTAKE THEY WILL NEVER PROMOTE ME IN FACT I WILL PROBABLY BE FIRED WHICH MAKES SENSE BECAUSE NO ONE SHOULD ENTRUST THE CARE OF ANY LIVING CREATURE TO ME IF I MESS UP THEIR COOLERS OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD."

I've only felt this way 10,459 times.

The senior trainer said, "No big deal.  Just learn for next time.  And if that's the worst mistake you make while you work here, you're doing pretty good."

Even though what she said was nice, I still freaked out.  It shook my confidence to its core, because I really thought I knew enough to avoid making mistakes like that.  In fact, when I screwed up and took way too long in fish prep one morning, I was so distraught that I psyched myself out and had two weeks of horrible fish prep, frustrating my bosses because I kept making the same mistakes.  It wasn't until I accepted that I screwed up, and needed to focus on IMPROVEMENT and give myself a BREAK, that I started actually improving.

But see, we all make little mistakes.  And then, we make some big ones.  What were my big mistakes?  Ugh, don't judge me too harshly, but here are just a few examples.  

Be gentle.

One time, I was finishing checking an area for the evening.  This area had a number of habitats in it, including one with a brand new Pacific white-sided dolphin calf.  The entire facility and all staffs were not allowed to put our hands in the water, much less really approach the habitat closely unless we were going to do a session.  At the time, I was not one of those authorized people.  I know how serious it was to break that rule, not just for your own skin, but because the rule was there for the safety of the animals.  We also had a very, very strict no-jewelry rule there.

So when a group of very formally-clad middle-aged people came lumbering into the area, walked over to the baby dolphin habitat and stuck their bejeweled hands in, I freaked out.


"Yes I can," a man replied.  "We all can.  Because we are board members of this place."

Oh god, I thought.  I'm done.  I just yelled at the people who essentially are responsible for my employment here.  After getting my wrist slapped a little more by the board members for how gruffly I approached them, they left me alone.  I saw them a few more times after that incident, but took more of the Dive Into The Nearest Bush approach versus saying hi, or whatever.

But I just have to remember we all mess up

Another time, while still learning to work with the dolphins in my department, after taking multiple safety and behavior tests, I broke a cardinal rule. I got so focused on the two dolphins in front of me that I ended my session....while the trainer was still in the water.  That's a huge safety error.  Luckily, the same senior trainer I mentioned earlier was there, who quickly got the dolphins' attention, reinforced them for coming over to her and the trainer in the water got out just fine.  I had a stern talking-to (d'uh), and didn't make that mistake again.  But that was definitely one of those times I thought my career was over...because who makes errors like that?!  Do good trainers?  I thought not. 

Maybe I should just work with banana slugs.  They have a lot less safety rules.

I had a lot of bad bridges.  It took my twice as long as the other trainers at my level to get cleared on doing basic layouts with dolphins, because my hand signals were so bad. I dropped the hydraulic scrubber head while it was STILL ON into a habitat full of dolphins (it immediately sucked itself to the wall).  I dove into said habitat to recover the scrubber, because I thought it was the End Of The World sort of mistake....and in doing so, broke ANOTHER rule because I was not allowed to get in the water with dolphins yet.  

I was only there a year and a half, and I made a lot of slip-ups.  Each time, especially after the really critical ones, I thought that meant I was an awful trainer.  I thought it meant that I was doing a disservice to the animals, because I couldn't keep my act together.  It took a lot of outside support from colleagues, trusted mentors, and certain friends/family to remind me, each time, that the only important thing was to move forward.  To learn from those mistakes.  It sounds so cliche, so easy.  But we all know it's almost impossible, because we care so much about doing the best for the animals.  If we screw up, it might mean something real bad for the animals or the people on our we NEVER want to screw up.  Except we do.  

But it doesn't have to be this way!

But you know what?  It's those who do not learn from mistakes: who shift blame, who ignore, who are apathetic, those are the ones at risk for really doing damage.  Those of us who accept our blunder and the embarrassment that comes with it, and kick our own butts to Do Better, we are the ones who constantly strive to become the best caregivers we can (knowing full well we will never be perfect, but it's worth it to try)!

Some random dude I met on an airplane last week asked me if I had one super power, what would it be?  Time Travel is the only obvious answer.  But I say that not because I'd go back in time to change mistakes (because really, they DID make me a better animal caretaker and person).  I say that because I'd love to see dinosaurs in person but then real quick time hop again so I don't get eaten. Also, meet John Lennon.

So don't lose your mind if you screw up, especially if this is your first job.  Accept, wallow (briefly, in your apartment, not at work), and move forward.  That's it.  You'll be okay.  In fact, you'll be great!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Question To Ponder

The other day, the senior trainer on our team asked me a question as we filled out our records after the final session.

"If you could have a drink with one of the animals here, who would it be?" she asked.  

The creator of said question

What a fantastic question, right?  Don't you ever wonder that about the animals you know?  What would they say if you were granted Doolittle amnesty and you could just chillax with a frosty beverage and wax poetic with another species of animal?  

"Take your time," the senior trainer added.   She knew how serious of a question this was.

So I walked around our main dolphin habitat, checking the area for the night to make sure everything looked good.  As I peered into the underwater viewing windows, I saw the dolphins playing*.  I heard their seemingly endless whistles.  So many people wonder what dolphins would say if they could talk, including this gal.

What do you think, Pooh?

But to narrow it down to ONE animal, that's basically impossible.  I basically had a panic attack thinking about it.  Because I want to talk to THEM ALL.

So I decided in my own head to come up with one ambassador from many of the animal groups I take care of at my current job**, and what drink I would enjoy with them.  As an aside, you should know that while I'm not a teetotaler (not that there is anything wrong with that choice), I don't really drink alcohol unless it falls under the following categories:

1. Tastes like fruit juice
2. Tastes like pumpkin pie
3. Has an ice cream component
4. Has a copious amount of spaghetti accompanying it

A Golden Cadillac.  The best alcoholic ice cream drink ever

I already talk way too much in my almost-eternal sobriety, so it's not a jolly time around me when I imbibe.  Plus, because I like all things sugary, I pretty much want to rip out my own intestines if I have too many blueberry beers.   So don't take the following drinks as a judgment against people who enjoy the nectar of fermented sugar. 



Mmmm, this whistle is delicious

Animal: Kaya
Explanation: Because she's a calf, and hasn't had enough time to be corrupted by the adults
Beverage of choice: Chocolate milk (because she's seven months old, for cryin' out loud)

Sample of conversation:

Me: So what do you think of us humans?
Kaya: Your flippers are big
Me: No like, on a philosophical level.  Do you think we're smart? Fun? Do you like me?  Do you think I'm smart?
Kaya: Your head is hairy

Sea Lions


Animal: Tina
Explanation: Because she's insanely smart and has crazy eyes
Beverage of choice: Screwdriver (I'd just have the OJ)

Sample of conversation:

Me: I just want you to know that I acknowledge your genius.  I'm honored to know you
Tina: Look, I admit that humans seem pretty sharp.  But it's nice to hear that you guys know the truth about my superior intelligence.
Me: But what is your obsession with ice cubes about?
Tina: *shifts crazy eyes nervously, slams back the drink* I'm not able to disclose that information at this time


She has a sixth sense

Animal: Augustina
Explanation: She spooks at things unseen
Beverage of choice: Diet Coke

Sample of conversation:

Me: What???? WHAT!!! WHAT DO YOU SEE?!

African Penguins

Cranberry is the best

Animal: Cranberry
Explanation: The sweetest penguin in all the land
Beverage of choice: Juice

Sample of conversation: 

Me: I just love you, Cranberry
Cranberry: I love everybody! And rainbows! And sparkles!
Me: I love it when you sit in my lap and snuggle!
Cranberry: I also love to imagine faraway lands! And bubbles! And smiles! And...

Asian Small-Clawed Otters


Animal: Luna
Explanation: She's unpredictable and loves her snacks, just like me
Beverage of choice: Vanilla milkshake (with fries)

Sample of conversation:

Me: Can you at least give us a little hint before you lose your temper? Like just the teensiest little precursor?
Luna: No.  Are there any more fries?

Let's face it, if I had the ability to understand non-human animals on a verbal level, I'd try to chat with every single one of them.  That's another reason not to choose alcoholic beverages, I suppose, because I think my liver would probably just drop the mic and walk out after a while.  But I digress.  We as trainers spend so much time establishing two-way communication with our animal pals, and it is an awesome thing.  But all of us want to know the thoughts going on in the animals' minds, and I'm sure they want to know ours (okay, okay, I actually think some of the animals I know DO read my mind, and it freaks me out).  

But now I pose this impossible question to you: who among YOUR animal family (at work or at home) would you have a drink with?  

* Or engaging in adult activities

** I didn't leave out the parrots because they aren't amazing.  I left them out because I seriously cannot choose which parrot to talk to.  

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Middle Flipper Is...(Part 15)

...a penguin who plays your emotions like a glorious fiddle.

Meet Missy.

Hi, Missy (and awesome photo, Meleah!)

Missy is an African penguin who was hatched at my place of employment.  You might look at her and think about how cute she is.  You might look at her and think she looks like an ordinary penguin who launches poo out of her body at speeds only documented in outer space.  But there is nothing ordinary about this bird.  

Missy was hand-raised by humans. So the first faces Missy ever saw were that of us, the great naked apes.  And while I've read only one paper discussing African penguin chick imprinting before fledgling, Missy had a very unusual "hatch" story. 

Basically, Missy is a miracle bird.  When trainers went to candle the egg she was in to see if it was viable, they found nothing.   Always the eternal optimists, they placed the egg back and figured they'd check on it later, knowing that they'd find out it was a dud.

But on Thanksgiving day that year, a trainer heard the egg chirping.  That night, it was really cold (too cold for African penguins), so all the birds had to be moved inside, which meant the parents couldn't sit on the egg.  The trainers got a brooder from a local zoo, took the brooder and baby Egg-Missy home, and hatched early the next morning.   Panicked, because they figured the egg was a blank and now here was an adorable chick, the trainers contacted the Audobon Zoo who gave them daily support and advice on how to hand-feed her.  So Missy had a lot of exposure to humans.

The little egg that could.

However, it is pretty common practice in both zoological and rescue scenarios to hand-raise African penguin chicks, and they wind up becoming perfectly acceptable members of penguin society later in life.

Missy, however, wants to be where the people are.

She has all the right feathers in all the right places.  She has webbed feet that go fwap-fwap-fwap when she walks.  She makes the donkey braying sound and has those crazy weird bird eyes.  But she doesn't want a thing to do with other penguins.  


We as animal caretakers always talk about how important our relationships with our animal partners are, and they are incredibly profound.  Missy is very close to a couple of the trainers (who also happened to know her as a chick).  That in and of itself is not unusual for any animal, including an African penguin.  Plenty of penguin caregivers can show you hundreds of photos of them snuggling with their BFF penguinos.  

But even when none of the trainers are around, Missy stands in "her" spot in the habitat, which happens to be the spot where guests can be the closest to the birds.  She stands there and gets as close as penguinly possible to the species with whom she feels she rightly belongs.  And this is where she begins to differ from all others.

Missy is happiest between a pair of human feet.

See, I am convinced that Missy is well aware of her affect on human behavior.  She demands loads of attention from us and knows that she is in charge.  What looks like a sweet, innocent little penguin is actually a crafty mastermind who could easily take over the world or at least the U.S. presidency but has chosen to sit this one out this year because the Oval Office chair is still too high for her to get into (and apparently they won't even consider building a ramp for any penguin-elects).

She is so cute, and is so good at luring humans over to her side.  She really does want to be among us, and can draw you in like an alien spaceship tractor beam.  It's even WORSE when you see her with her Favorite Trainers, because she waddles over to them immediately and snuggles.  She remains glued to their legs as they walk around the exhibit in a way it usually takes years to train.  But she wants to be as close as possible to her if she could atomically fuse with them, she would (standby for updates on this).

So someone like me, who only got to know Missy three years ago, sees this and thinks, "OH MY GOD.  LOOK AT THAT CUDDLY PENGUIN!"  And then I try to build a relationship with her.  And then....

....I enter a complicated relationship filled with the gamut of emotions.

And Missy is likely to blame

When I first met Missy, she wasn't into me*.  No big deal, I thought.  Because I knew how birds could be, I figured I'd just have to slowly build my relationship, really watch how her Favorites were with her and take their tips, and I'd have a good rapport in no time.  But no, each time I stepped into her habitat, even when I was interacting with other penguins, she'd run over and um, share her beak with my leg.

For over a year, this was my fate: enter penguin habitat, get bit by Missy, feed the penguins, get bit by Missy, watch her snuggle with other trainers later.  And then one day, completely randomly, she decided to follow me around.  Just like one of her Favorites.  She happened to be in our locker room at the time for enrichment reasons, and she followed me into the bathroom at one point when I went to wash my hands.  She let me pet her head, and snuggle with her, and talk to her, and it was really going great.  She had my heart in her delicate little wings.  AND THEN SHE SQUASHED IT LIKE A MEANINGLESS INSECT.

*evil laugh*

As quickly as the love came, she took it away.  As I was walking around with her following, she started biting my leg.  I tried to pick her up, and she continued the assault.  My heart broke.  I was confused.  What had happened?

After similar situations happened between she and I, I realized that this was a pattern.  She would get me into a sense of complacency, which I happily accepted as This Time It's Real Love, and then BAM, at a random interval, she hated me again.

I'm not the only person she's done this to.  She even does this to guests.

"Come over to me," her cute face and body language says. "Come over to me, and illegally reach into/enter my habitat and pet my cute, fuzzy head."

We've found guests halfway climbing over walls to touch her.  A couple of times, they've actually gotten into the habitat.  And just when they think they've secured a free penguin interaction, Missy "interacts" with them, sending them into the same emotional throes of confusion I experience on a routine basis with her.  

We've tried our best to get her to pair up with another penguin mate.  We have a few penguins who are super affectionate towards humans, but act like real penguins and pair up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.  We tried putting Missy and a boyfriend in their own private honeymoon suite for months.  She didn't want a thing to do with him.  We tried sending Missy and a different boyfriend on a vacation to another zoo for several months.  They became roommates, but he never got out of the Friend Zone.  

Missy is masterful at maintaining the Friend Zone

In fact, the only penguin Missy will give any attention to happens to be an adorable stuffed animal penguin (an emperor penguin chick, as it were). This has confused guests before to the point where we've had several extremely concerned suggestions for the plush like, "You should really take that penguin to the vet.  It looks sick."  

On Missy's 8th birthday, which was just a few weeks ago, she spent the whole day snuggling with trainers on the beach (behind a perimeter fence)...INCLUDING ME! I only got one random bite, but then it was all love love love after that.  I know she'll enjoy another round of I Hate Cat at some point, and laugh as I weep over yet another failed relationship attempt.  If she could fill a glass with my tears and toast to my unhappiness, she would.  But when she's being a sweetheart, I'll bask in its glory as long as I can.

There's even this photo I can cry over later when Missy wants nothing to do with me again.

Missy knows how well she can play a human being.  And dag nabbit, that's what makes her so amazing.  When I hear our critics claim that we force animals to do things, I want to invite them to meet our dear penguin friend.  She'd teach them an important lesson (and break their hearts doing it).

* This means she bit the %(@* out of me