Liars and Tigers and Scams, Oh My!
This is the story I came here to tell in the first part of this piece, before I got sidetracked by how much Texas Roadhouse sucks. But this is an experience that went beyond just plain sucking. For four weeks this summer, I belonged to a lunatic. I know he will be reading this, and I stand behind everything I say. I will describe what I saw, heard, and experienced in my own words and my own perception completely unedited. I have no respect for Robert Mullen, and my hope is that as many people will see this and pass it on as possible, not for personal revenge, but to protect the animals he owns and keep people from patronizing his awful behavior.
As you may have read in the first part, or can do so here, I was not going through a very great time last summer. When I saw the ad on Craigslist, I didn’t know a lot of the things I do now, which is why I was taken advantage of so easily. I may come across as naive or too trusting, and maybe I was, but I am over that now and plan on using the the ordeal as much as I possibly can to raise awareness. I know I could have done more when I was there, but the past can’t be changed, and I can only strive to improve the future.
My first problem was obviously using Craigslist to find a job. Every time I do that I end up in a shitty situation. I was fairly new to unemployment at the time, however, and I was desperate to have steady income. My credit was very strong then, and I had just financed a car on my own for the first time. However, I was a full-time student at the time so it didn’t help my money situation that I could only work so many hours without losing grades. Opportunity cost and all that (thanks higher education!). Summer was here, though, and no classes meant a chance to make more money while I could.
The next mistake I made was replying to an ad that had no pictures and only a few sentences describing the position. There was no personality to it, no feel. But “Traveling Animal Trainer/Performer” seemed rather glamorous to me back then and I still absolutely adore animals.
I received a response right away, which wasn’t too sketchy because I do have experience working with animals. Robert gave me his site’s address, PM Productions, and I happily fell for everything on it, wanting to believe that he was a conservationist and all that, wanting to believe a man who forced animals to live their lives not just in captivity, but also on the road, would really treat them “like his own kids”. So I made an appointment for an interview with him after the coming weekend. I had to be prepared to leave in a week or two if I got the job.
The whole time I was anxious, but excited, thinking about the possibilities. The ad and Robert had both led me to believe that I was interviewing for a show lead, where I would sometimes stay in hotels before shows. And I wanted to get away from my current life situation, so logically, I decided a stressful job living on the road and changing my geographic location would fix everything. You can run from yourself, but you can’t hide.
I also had a feeling in my stomach that I knew was some sort of intuition telling me to do something, but I wasn’t yet able to distinguish the go-for-it gut feeling from the run-away-and-never-look-back one. Unfortunately, that turned out to be the latter speaking, but I had spent a while trying to convince myself otherwise, so my body was supplying extra anxiety to hopefully deter me from the job. Eventually, I decided it was an opportunity and who am I to not take advantage of that? Which is an awful way of looking at things: making me seem like a passenger rather than a driver in life.
The day came for the interview and, being notoriously late as I am, I rushed to Six Flags down the street to be on time. I didn’t eat anything, because I had nearly overslept, something I practice religiously. That turned out to be not a very bright plan, as I ended up waiting for Robert in the HR building of Six Flags for over 45 minutes, and feeling awfully hungry. You’d think a sane person would leave by this point, but I stayed, telling myself he was no doubt busy.
Why Six Flags, you may wonder. The beauty of that was him having two shows at the park last year, a first for him and a very profitable account. Making him very easy for me to find in the future.
He finally comes in all apologetic and we sit down in some random hallway. He again proceeds to lie to my face and say he is looking for a show lead for a dog and cat pirate-themed show. Saying I may be staying in hotels, stating we would be doing shows at fairs, but also museums and schools. Kind of leading me on. He asked me the usual stuff, but also things like: If you were offered the job would you discuss it with family and friends first? Clearly looking for someone who is both easily manipulated with some sort of independent streak and wouldn’t be talked out of a course of action by worried friends and family, which I was not, although some did try. Their worries were not unfounded.
Out of the Fire
I left Six Flags feeling I wouldn’t get the job, and for the next day or two I told everyone I wouldn’t take it if offered. Totally different from what I had been saying a couple days ago. I think this was mostly for my own benefit, so I wouldn’t be upset when I didn’t get the offer. Nevertheless, I did feel relieved it was over. So I thought.
But when Robert called a day later than he said he would to offer me the job, I figured either his first choice had said no or he wanted to keep me hanging. I asked for a couple days to think about it, and he gave me around five hours. I would be leaving for six months and I had five hours to decide.
I wanted to say no, but I am God-awful at it, although I’ve definitely gotten better than I was then. I just knew it could be an adventure and, like I said, I wanted to get away. I felt as if I couldn’t say no, and I called about three hours later and accepted. I like drama and change, too, so what can I say? It made me feel special to be doing something interesting, I think. But I also very much did want to travel.
My training was to be a couple days later, and I had to get a DOT physical in order to drive some of the trucks, which involved a ton of running around and proving my mental stability because I take antidepressants. $97 dollars later (that I was supposed to be, but never was, reimbursed for), I had a piece of paper that Robert never checked, and I made my way to Six Flags to shadow the girls who were running that particular show. I believe there were three performances that day, just two days before we were to leave.
The stage is in the little kid area of the park; I don’t know where the exotic animal show is as I’ve never seen it at that one. Stephanie, the lead of the show, came to get me from security. I questioned her about her job on the way over, but she didn’t seem super enthused about it. Makes sense now, of course. At the time I was only seeing a girl who was tired of working for the same people all the time. I, too, am a free thinker.
The stage at 6 Flags was much nicer than any set up that we had at the traveling shows. It was a real stage, with benches, and cute banners and stuff. The ship was nicely constructed and expensive looking. We walked up a side ramp and entered a fence marked “employees only”. When I got to the dog pen, hidden behind a fence, there were probably twelve or more canines all barking a welcome to me at once. It was a hot, sunny day and although the pen was in the shade, it was only a circular area around eight feet across. There were both large and small dogs lumped in, and although only four or five were necessary for the show, the others were there on break from traveling, and even housed employee’s personal pets, probably without park knowledge.
The interior of the backstage area was a small cement room, which led to directly underneath the “ship”. This is where the animals would go before and during the show. The rest of the time they resided in their kennels. Because the dog, cat, and rat cages were all in the park, as well as the dog’s facilities, I have no reason to believe those dogs ever left those two areas except for the occasional “meet & greet” around the general vicinity. I found out my job would actually be to let the animals in and out onto the stage based on the lead’s vocal cues, control the music of the show with an iPod, and I would would be onstage for about three minutes total.
At this point, I still hadn’t seen a script or anything useful, so the girls decide to let me watch the first show. The first time I saw it, I was honestly struck by how good I thought it was. Now, I am kind sad to remember feeling that way. The show was supposed to be about rescue animals, and this was accurate as far as I am aware. They adopted all the dogs and cats from kill shelters and train them then tell everyone to go to the shelter and adopt and spay or neuter.
There were a couple mistakes, though. The lead’s mic cut off sometime around the first couple minutes of the show, and the music was definitely messed up. But through at all, she stayed calm and worked the problem as though it were part of the show. She was very talented, and I still hate the idea of her working for Robert. She could do so much better.
Afterword, I go to the back, and Robert is not very happy. It seems that first he gets mad at the girls, but then they realize that the break-in Robert noticed earlier, when some change went missing, also resulted in someone messing around with their sound system. So he goes away to deal with that, and the stranded tigers they apparently have going on in some other state. I’m just kind of taking it all in, but when Robert leaves I try to get to know the girls better.
What I am seeing is the newer girl is annoyed by Robert’s way of running things. Specifically, he wants her to wear her hair in a certain way she doesn’t want to. The more experienced show lead seems resigned to Robert’s way of doing things and his use of her to do his dirty work. At this point, I see this is as the usual pains of working for others, and dismiss it. I am also learning that a lot of the job seems to be pointless waiting around for the shows to start, as they only take about ten minutes to prepare for with the luxuries of having a permanent set up.
The next show happens, and I am trying to pitch in here and there. I am also noticing in the back of my head they are quite harsh to the animals, verbally and physically. During this one, the assistant (future me) forgets to close one of the cat crates, and Robert gets quite angry again, but doesn’t chew her out in front of me, although he’s not shy about foreshadowing it. At the time, I figured it was the girl’s mistake, but I was to learn about the pressures of working for Robert all too soon.
Indeed, I would do something worse than simply forgetting to lock a cat up that was summarily retrieved. He liked to claim that they had to be very harsh to them so that dogs wouldn’t get into any “danger” or
“hurt themselves”. In the long run, this resulted mainly in the dogs being completely disobedient to anyone less than abusive to them. Those days seemingly far ahead of me, I played Candy Crush backstage during the last couple shows, and enjoyed a delicious soft serve twist (that I probably paid $15 for). Back then, I was too excited about packing and the leaving to really think about what would happen when I did.
To the Frying Pan
Tuesday rolls around, and I get to the park, expecting to leave right away. Instead, I meet Robert’s wife, Christy, and she brings me to the house that the park pays for the girls from the show to live, where I they are loading the remainder of the exotic animals onto Robert’s RV. Their official trailer for transporting the animals is in Florida, which I now know is definitely illegal in terms of transportation and animal safety. Most weigh stations in the north are not usually open, especially in the evening, when we were traveling. The four of them went to get lunch and left me to sit in the house for about an hour, after telling me not to touch any of the animals. Bear in mind, this is an RV that isn’t hooked up to any sort of power source, and it is mid July. We wouldn’t be leaving for hours, and somewhere the dogs were in the same situation (they would leave first with Christy, though).
Finally, they come back, I get started on some work. Christy departs for the Cape, the girls go back to the park, and Robert gives me some vague instructions, only to disappear when I need clarification, his trademark move, I am to learn. I first ran errands, then Robert eventually had me finish loading both of the box trucks with huge sheets of plywood and heavy electric equipment. I was sweating balls, in that disgusting dirt parking lot. He seemed to have no regard that I was tiny and not too powerful and I had asthma. But it was only the first day, so I took it in stride I thought.
Finally, after about six or seven hours from when I first arrived, we are packed and ready to go. I followed Robert in his box truck towing his RV while I followed in a Penske box truck towing nothing. Although we were only going one or two hundred miles, at the first rest stop we reached I had a panic attack. Another sign from my body to my mind to back out, but it was too late by then. We arrived a few hours later, in the growing darkness, at the fairground. It was mostly empty as we had gotten there a couple days early. There were just a few other vendors. The “house” I was staying in had been driven there towing the dogs by Robert’s wife Christy beforehand.
I’ll never forget when Robert unloaded my water hose and big electric cable for me and basically said okay now my wife and I, we’re going to dinner, see you later. Ah. The only times I’ve ever stayed in RVs were either very long ago or I was quite young. Why would he expect a 21 year old girl to hook up her own shit in the dark on a deserted campground? Props to any who can, but I am not that female. He ended up staying to help because I was quite lost, and there ended up being significant electrical issues the whole trip after that.
My “house” was about a six by eight foot studio, complete with kitchenette, bed (read: two damp mattress pads), falling down table, and 2 x 3 combination shower and bathtub. And that last one is just as unpleasant as you would imagine it to be. And that was before I knew the toilet tank fills up. I honestly thought it emptied onto the ground. I had never encountered any of this shit in my life. Pun intended.
After the first shower in my toilet, I take solace in Breaking Bad on my iPad, and write. I did a lot of writing while I was gone, spent a lot of time outside, and worked on learning guitar, too. That was actually my favorite part of the whole thing: living in a shitty little room where it was more comfortable to be outside and entertaining myself, as opposed to getting caught up in distractions, such as the TV or a computer (my only internet was my iPad and phone, and they weren’t exactly great for surfing the web, and also quite expensive because it was all cellular).
For the next two or three days, most of the animals remained in the crates they had been transported in. This included a lemur and Capuchin monkey sharing what was essentially a large dog carrier, three cats in a metal cage sharing one litter box, an anteater in a cat carrier, and so on. The dogs were allowed to come out and run around or go to the bathroom, but I never saw the exotics out of their trailer till a couple days after getting there. The temperature was in the 100s every day, and during those couple days we all sat in our metal trailers, enjoying the air conditioning as much as possible. I will say the exotics got the air conditioning but Zoey, the goofy and clumsy Great Dane, chewed up the cord of the air conditioner in the dog trailer during our ride up and Robert was too cheap to get it replaced.
Finally, we began to do some work. Not that I was bored, but I had spent most of the time wondering why we got here so much earlier than we needed to be. Christy had left for the airport the morning after our arrival, and it was just Robert and I for those couple days. He seemed kind of nice, but mostly standoffish and full of himself. It was such a relief to be joined by a crew of guys to help us unload the box truck, which contained an entire tiger arena, and massive canvas tent. I didn’t have to a lot of work, because we were joined by those guys and a group of inmates afterwards, and they sure weren’t going to let me break a sweat. Robert seemed pretty annoyed by that fact, as one of his favorite jokes was believing in women’s rights “to work”.
After the arena was assembled it was about twenty feet across and thirty feet high, but not very stable yet. There were cage pieces laid out for the Rainforest Exhibit, basically showcasing all the exotics, and a four foot high perimeter fence surrounding the arena. Could a flimsy metal cage that could be transported on a truck hold back three tigers? I was apprehensive, but I would soon find out that we would only have one of the tigers there with us for that fair, not the three that Robert was originally paid for.
We next unloaded the dog trailer of all the canines, felines, and three white rats. It was the inmates who spoke up about giving them water, and let the dogs drink a number of their water bottles. I was extremely touched, but not very surprised, that they were the ones to do it. It was clear Robert was a very proud man, and thus I was very nervous to mention something that might come across as disrespectful. All the big fair people were there that day and Robert was too busy kissing ass to get upset about some guys loving his dogs.
The last thing we did that day with the guys was to unload the rest of the “ship” from the dog trailer, and assemble this huge, metal and plywood stage for the dog and cat show. That thing must have weighed at least a ton altogether and was completely unnecessary for the type of gigs he was booking. No one had anything as presumptuous as this, and Robert knew it and loved it. How could Robert feel justified in showing up at the fair less two tigers, borrowing a huge crew from the fairgrounds to set up his literal “wood”, while relaxing for the first few days we were there. As you’ll see, Robert had an existing relationship with the head of events booking at the fair.
After the guys left for the day and it was just Robert and I, he told me he would be leaving for a few hours to return the Penske truck which we had spent all day unloading, but first we would take the exotic animals off the trailer. I was quite excited to see them all for the first time. Although it was against Robert’s own rules, he had me help him move the two macaws, a serval, anteater, monkey, lemur, and other fascinating animals. As we did so, I noticed their water bowls were all bone dry, and most were filled with shavings. Nice.
As Robert is making some final touches to the tiger arena, and balancing precariously on a stool to do it, this old douche of a guy comes over to give Robert a ride back from the return. The two of them predictably get along great, and before long Robert is cracking wise about OSHA and being a proprietor. At the time, I laughed out of courtesy, but I wasn’t laughing a month later when I realized I had worked for free the whole time.
As soon as the two men were gone I ran over to see the animals. Robert had given me a couple small tasks to do while he was gone, but I knew he would forget about them by the time he came back. I couldn’t help myself as I began to give water to all the exotics, getting right up to them and interacting. The serval was licking my fingers, and the macaws were drinking water bottles by themselves with their beaks. Try doing that and not getting emotional about the way they were being treated. If I could go back now I would have immediately called animal control, took some pictures, and made my way home! But then? I was really good at lying to myself. Oh, Robert just has a lot of stress to deal with right now, he must be off his game. Or, I came all the way here to quit already? Come on. I was not right in the head then. But that was Robert’s game. Find young girls and take advantage of them.
When Robert returned earlier than I was expecting, or maybe that was the time flying by my ears as I felt myself connecting with the animals, I was still sitting close to them. Robert didn’t say anything about it, and the next day we went on with our set up, getting ready for Sarah to show up with the rest of the animals. We put up a tent to load all the crates under, so the animals would have shade and privacy, i.e. Robert could treat them however without anyone seeing. The other vendors were starting to arrive and the grounds were getting busier.
White Trash Tiger
That late afternoon, Sarah arrived with a tiger, a horse, and a cougar. They had all spent the better part of three days driving up from Florida. The Tiger was – I shit you not – in a very heavy duty wheeled cage, loaded onto the bed of an F350, and covered in ratcheted 2-inch thick plywood sheets. This was towing the horse trailer.I can’t imagine how Robert could ever have been thinking that was a good idea. In fact, as all three of us were rolling the cage off the tailgate with a ramp I had to throw myself aside to avoid getting crushed by it. It wasn’t that close, but it was close enough.
Throughout, the five hundred or so pound beauty that was Natasha was pacing incessantly in the big metal box not much bigger than herself. When they removed the plywood hiding her, I gasped out loud. I felt so incredibly amazed at her sheer power and grace, yet helplessly awful for her life and very guilty of my admiration. And yes, there existed that childlike desire of ownership of nature herself in the back of my mind. The kind of feeling that draws the types of crowds shows like Robert’s thrive on.
Tellingly, Robert treated the animals as if they were something to be feared. Some of them were, as it is through punishment, isolation, and deprivation that you turn an animal violent against you. All of his trainings were fear based, just like with the dogs, and it was really hard to watch time and again. I would see a lot of violence enacted against the animals from Robert, from withdrawal of food from the animals when not responding to cues, to actually full on punching them and out of control rage.
But, for a few days, everything was seeming much better, for now I thought I had an ally in the form of Sarah, who had told me she didn’t want to be there either and was only doing it for Robert as a favor, and who also found Robert’s ways irksome at times. She helped me stick out a few of the particularly tough days, full of excruciating manual labor and remonstrations from Robert. The heat was still present, but I enjoyed the feel of being healthier and more active at the same time. I have a history of eating disorders, but all the physical work made it very impractical for me to not eat.
I was keeping up cheerful correspondences with a lot of my friends and family, trying to fool more myself than them, I think. I remember the first night I phoned home was the night that Sarah arrived, and we were all going out to dinner after a long day. People who stay on the road a lot can usually never resist the comforts of dining out. It is more expensive, but it is almost like having someone cook for you who cares. Almost.
Anyway, I was on the phone with my therapist, and was taking a moment to myself. I hear the dogs barking in the trailer, a normal thing for dogs to do when they are in new and unfamiliar surroundings, but I knew both Robert and Sarah were there to hush them up. That was, until they both bitched me out for letting the dogs bark and made me hang up my call to make them shut up.
I was quite irked. I had only wanted ten minutes or so, and it wasn’t even as if Robert had informed me that this was my duty! I was supposed to be there to take care of the animals, but I hadn’t even witnessed them being fed, let alone do it myself. I was given no direction, then either reprimanded for doing something I shouldn’t have, or put down for not knowing to do something I was supposed to. Story of my life with Robert.
One of the days before the fair, I overslept a couple hours, and he was banging on the side of my trailer – he loved to do that, even when I could hear his speaking voice right outside. I apologized and got up and dressed as soon as I could. When I came out he laid into me about how I was such a lazy person and that I always was the first to go to bed and the last to get out of it.
Excuse me? I had been getting up every day at the same time he told me to on that first day, 8:30, and he never said a thing before. Furthermore, sorry if I am too scared to do anything in front of you for fear of being criticized. You call it lazy? I call it playing safe. And I always worked till he told me we were done, when I went to bed was not any of his damn business and he could go fuck himself.
That’s what I wanted to say anyway, I was so incredibly angry. His points were degrading, rude, improper, and just plain mean. It was as if anything I did wrong was to personally spite him, and he reacted in kind: by attacking my character. No one gets what they want by treating people that way. But Robert was so manipulative that I had no idea what to do. One minute he would say awful things and I would hiding tears, then the next he would be joking with me while I fake-laughed at his one liners just so he would like me. I’ve known bullies and I’ve been bullied. He was a Bully, with a capital B.
The apex of his awfulness before the fair actually began was the day that he had offered to let me use the truck to run errands, then used it the whole time for his own needs. This was another infuriating habit about him: he would say things, then right after claim he never said them, or just straight up forget interactions. This guy promised me I could go to CVS down the road to get my asthma medication first thing in the morning. It’s another hot day, we’re almost done setting up, and I can’t breathe.
For those who don’t have a lung problem, it can affect your entire body in the most restrictive way. I felt about to pass out, I was hyperventilating and I had a panic attack, crying in the middle of our setup because I couldn’t breathe. Because Robert wanted me to work first. He wanted me to wait because the fair was opening. I got so sick that day, and he didn’t give a shit. Neither Robert nor Sarah tried to hinder or increase my breakdown. They just ignored it. And when I went to Robert intending to demand I go to the pharmacy, he acted as if I was some huge imposition upon his life, for trying to simply make him good for his word.
The fair was about to begin. To be continued.