Edit: For anyone who wants to know more about Robert Mullen and his company resources can be found here:
Welcome to the Jungle
Every day since we had arrived at the Barnstable County Fairgrounds my employer, Robert Mullen, had stressed that his show coming to that fair for the first time was regarded as highly controversial. He told me that there were people out there that wanted to make his life hell and ruin his career. He said they would twist any little thing I said to take it to their advantage.
At the time, I accepted this readily enough. My mental capacity for bullshit was particularly high then, and I was inexperienced enough to have sympathy for him. After doing some internet research recently, I discovered just why us being there was such an event. Now, there is nothing I want to do more than to help those same people.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare is one of the largest conservation organizations in the world. The very point of Robert’s show is supposed to be conservation and animal awareness, so one would think the two wouldn’t have a problem with each other.
Well, not so. As we see here the highly educated members of this organization, such as Kelly Donathin, Officer of the Wildlife Animal Rescue Program, had consulted studies and done much research to understand that the lifestyle of travelling and performing animals is absolutely biologically unhealthy for them.
Understanding that it was too late by the time she was involved to cancel the show, Donithan contacted Laurie Webster, head of events planning at the fair. Webster responded that the show had educational value, and defended her position, refusing to make any such deals. Donithan next took to the press, because if the situation isn’t bad enough for the IFAW, their international headquarters of the entire global organization is a mere few miles from the fairground. Kind of a slap in the face, no?
But even worse than that, is the fact that Robert has been touted as having a background in animal conservation and working with animals for over thirty years. One might think that his first meeting with Laurie Webster occurred as a proposal for working together came up. Little does the public know that the pair of them have plenty of experience together, as circus performers. I wonder if Robert even had to earn that spot in the fair. No wonder he got away with everything I detailed in my last piece.
So the first few days that the fair is up and running, Robert puts me in the Rainforest Exhibit to interact with the guests coming through. This is a challenge, because all he seems to have told me is what I shouldn’t say, with no mention of what I can. The guests are very curious, obviously, and I have just about no answers for them. So I make everything up. Occasionally, I say the wrong thing and get some abuse, but Robert is busy with the shows and overall it is a really nice break from him, with a heavy dose of lying to myself.
One thing I got in trouble about was informing people that the macaw they were taking a picture with, Orlando, was missing a toe, and thus found it hard to balance on peoples’ shoulders. Robert gave me hell for that, telling me he got a surprise inspection from the Board of Health or whoever, and that I should never say a thing like that. So even if a guest can clearly see the missing toe on the bird, I should say no, you’re wrong? Let’s just teach our children that having a missing body part is something to be looked down on and hidden, that’s very progressive.
Moving Up in the (Carnie) World
Finally comes the day that I get to start working on my show. Sarah had been the minor part in both of them for days, and now she would do the exotic animal show with Robert, while he and I did “Pet’s Overboard”. This was also around the time I was instructed to begin giving the dogs ridiculously long walks so they would be calm for the shows, after sitting around all day otherwise. In the middle of the summer, he wanted me to take them for hour and a half to two hour long walks daily. Robert used this method in Miami apparently, too. Does he have any idea how well dogs do in the heat? Half the shows were a simple “meet and greet” because the dogs wouldn’t perform under hot conditions. Not to mention, I didn’t even have the stamina for that.
The show was usually a nightmare. Rarely did I do everything perfectly. And when I messed anything up, no matter how insignificant, I was treated to a veritable psychological analysis of all my faults by a guy who had met me a mere two weeks ago. When this happened it required several hours of self talk and writing to restore my self-worth. I’d been through similar abuse through my childhood so I bounced back fairly quickly, but I also took it to heart as well.
I would say the two weeks I was at the fairgrounds, I lost about twelve or more pounds. Between the humid, muggy weather, the manual labor, and being too busy to eat once the fair began, I could see my ribs clearly while just standing straight for the first time in years. I can’t imagine the dogs were feeling any better. They became my allies, sitting in the shade of the trees with me as I browsed Craigslist for new jobs while we were supposed to be walking.
During one of the last few days of the fair, something happened that I will never forget. This incident I deeply regretted at the time, and felt very badly for my actions. However, now that I have decided to fight Robert back, I think it may be the best weapon in my defense against him.
There were three rats that we needed for the show. Laurie Webster (remember her?) had been the one to pick up the three male, white rats at a local pet store in Falmouth. They appeared on stage for the time it took to run out of one hole and into the other, and for Robert to make a really bad pun. This involved transferring two of them to one box and one to another before the show, and then returning them to their cage afterwards.
I frequently rushed backstage, shaking, sweating and heart beating like mad, as I directed, guided, and even dragged the animals, as terrified as I was of doing something wrong because of Robert. Usually, though, I was left alone to clean up as he had to leave immediately to attend to the exotic animal show. This particular show was the last of ours for the day, so the subsequent One World would be the last of theirs as well.
As I went backstage to continue my taking-down duties of the set, I was greeted by the sight of smeared blood, and the dogs all huddled in the corner, bent over something. At first, I thought Zoey had broken her tail again on something. She was so big that it happened often in such confined spaces. But there was too much blood, and then it dawned on me what had happened, even before Zoey brought the rat’s lifeless, bloody body over in her mouth and laid it to rest at my feet.
I was terrified. Honestly, more scared than I have been of anything I can remember before or since. I had no idea what Robert might do, but I knew I wouldn’t like it. I’m talking probable physical violence. After that, I felt sickened and terrible. It was my fault the rat died, and I was so sad. It actually ended up being the one that had taken a good chunk of my finger’s skin off Black Swan style the other day, so I was glad he at least got his last word in.
The first thing I could think to do was start calling cabs. There was a Petco in the area and I had to get to it. Meanwhile, I wrapped my hand in a couple plastic bags, picked up the rat, and tied them shut. I don’t know how many of you have been lucky enough to smell rotting rodent, but I was quite worried about the smell as I crossed to our personal dumpster to throw it in. I would have to rely on Robert being much too lazy to throw his own trash away. Indeed, before we left we found hordes of his trash bags under his RV, full of recyclable cans no less, while the dumpster lay a mere thirty feet away. Conservationist, my ass.
Crossing the grounds to leave out of one of the gates I checked the time, as I had only about twenty minutes to go before Robert’s show was over, and he might decide he needed me. Or notice the missing rat. I decided to concoct a story of going for a walk if he rang.
The driver turned out to be very pleasant and had a fascinating life story. I gave him a highly edited version of my mission. When we arrived at the store, I was surprised and thankful to find that out of the twenty or so rats they had, only one was the right gender and size. Unfortunately, the one that had been killed sported a prominent spot of dark fur on his face, that Robert had previously noticed, but there was nothing to be done about that. I wasn’t going to Sharpie the poor guy. We would just have to see how observant this guy really was.
Finally, I bought the rat and made my way back to the cab, still scared but calmer now. I asked the driver if he wouldn’t mind disposing of the cardboard rat box for me, as I had told him I was running out to grab the rat for a show that was starting shortly. I prayed he wouldn’t show up the next day to watch the thing, thinking I was the lead. After he dropped me off, I had spent about ten bucks on the rat and fifty dollars on the cab ride. Small price to pay, I thought. And I think it still may have been.
Annnnd, She’s Safe
I crossed back to the trailers, got the rat out of my sweatshirt and into his cage, and reentered my trailer a mere thirty seconds before Robert went in to do the feeding. And he never noticed. That rat stayed with us the whole time I was there. So tell me, Robert, how do you not notice when one of your “kids” has been replaced?
I hope that by finding out about this occurrence, people will begin to realize the kind of things that can go on in traveling animal shows, because that was just the tip of the iceberg. Robert had this big thing about protecting the environment and habitats, and yet his “wild” animals all came from private breeders, and none but the sun conures were actually endangered, contrary to what his website claims.
Another contradiction of his show: each time, right before either of them began, he would air a statement that all the animals were accompanied and supervised/cared for while traveling by “Staff Veterinarian, Christy Mullen” (his wife, supposedly). Of the forty or so shows I witnessed and took part in, that was not once the case. I also know that many people who saw the shows mistakenly believed Sarah (who had no veterinarian experience, but knew how to ride a horse) to be Christy. I even have reason to suspect Robert encouraged this practice. What was worse was when I witnessed one of the conures nearly die in Florida, and not one vet or animal expert was summoned. With his animals worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Robert was too cheap to get them proper care.
When I was in Virginia with Robert, for days on end he starved one of the sweetest cats for not doing her tricks. The only time the cats ate was during the day when they received about a quarter cup of food for performing right during each show. And supposedly at night, when Robert fed them. This cat, Annie, was not performing, possibly because of a medical or mental issue, and his response was to make sure she did not eat till she was doing her tricks right.
For about five or six days he starved her while simultaneously accusing me of feeding her behind his back. I wasn’t, but I should have been. He also suspected me of going in his room and moving stuff around, calling me a liar to my face when I told him the honest truth that I hadn’t been in there at all. On the way to Florida, while Sarah and I drove animals and large vehicles for two days straight, falling asleep at the wheel and swerving in the lanes, their lives were being put in danger for Robert’s aims. For a month while I worked for Robert, he told me that my pay was on its way, and had left his account already. He never paid me more than $100 cash.
On the Road Again
After the Barnstable County Fair was concluded, we spent an eighth of the time taking everything down and packing as we did setting everything up. Robert left first, to go to Six Flags and do a couple shows there, hijacking our beds and leaving Sarah and I to transport the trucks, animals, and trailers/RVs on our own back to Florida. We were supposed to leave the night Robert did, but Sarah had a fuck buddy nearby, and wanted to have sex with him in Robert’s bed. I was quite disgusted, but happy to rest.
After that, the next 48 hours were one long hazy blur. For someone who had never towed a huge RV like Robert’s, I consider myself accomplished that all I managed to do was broadside the back window and bumper, and drive a flat on the rim for a few minutes. We were on the side of the highway for hours getting that tire replaced after I followed Sarah into a patch of mud, and sunk about six inches into the ground. When we finally got to his and his wife’s compound in Florida, we unloaded the animals and spent the next six days taking care of them (her) and sitting around (me).
I am very sensitive to allergies, air problems, and animal dander, so I spent most of the time blowing my nose on the couch, writing, and sneaking out to the compound to smoke weed. By the way, the compound was basically a house with a bird room, and one one large outdoor cage split into different parts for the animals. Not terribly bigger than their homes on the road. But I got to see the other two tigers right up close, which were much larger than their female counterpart, and that was something I will never forget. I had also gotten very close with the cougar. While feeding the exotics ice while we were on the road, he licked my hand. That isn’t something you forget easily. And it hurts so bad to see the lives they live.
At least in permanent zoos, the animals get to choose when to come out or not, and have a retreat of sorts that they control. This was just kind of barbaric to me. I was very depressed that whole week, knowing I’d have to go back to Robert. The next fair was in Virginia, and it only entailed the Pets Overboard show, with Robert and I. I would be flying out at the end of the week. One week of that, then Dallas supposedly. He kept changing the plans constantly.
One Last Try
I formulated in my head lots of ways to call Robert up in Virginia and tell him I was done, and to fly me back home. I was worried, though, because he had all my shit with him. I did not trust him to dispose of it properly after that. But I was too scared, and reluctantly headed north when the vacation was over.
Three plane rides in one day, and the last one was this little 15 seater, flying directly above the Appalachians. I had never seen anything so beautiful, or so nauseating. I am not good with flying. Finally, Robert comes to pick me up at the airport. I was feeling all sorts of mentally resolved and energized to deal with his behavior (rose colored specs already).
We were driving along the mountains, way up high. I saw some of the most beautiful scenery that one of my best friends will be enjoying soon as he hikes the AT this spring. Robert is acting with what passes for normal behavior for him, and I knew Sarah had told him about the RV damage and he wasn’t happy, but I figured he put things in perspective and was just glad that no one got hurt. I also assumed he had the proper insurance before letting a young girl tow his super expensive vehicle down the east coast, with no training to speak of. If only his brain worked like that.
Instead, he turns on me, after we’ve been driving for half an hour having no problems, and rips me a brand spanking new asshole. Asks me how dare I inflict that much damage on his precious RV and not call him about it. Tells me I am a brat, irresponsible, the most selfish person he’s ever met, the most inconsiderate, and immature. For a good few minutes he just goes on. And I’m just sitting there, like what. The fuck? A minute later we get to Home Depot, and he tells me to wait outside while he goes in and does man things, presumably. Going right back to his old, joking self. It dawns on me that I am dealing with a psychopath.
But, oh God, just look at the view. And breathe the mountain air. It’s so pretty, and I am so out of my element. By the time we arrive at the fairgrounds, I am emotionally wrung out, but determined to find the good in the situation, if there is one. We set up the stage, just the two of us, and get the dog trailer ready for the shows starting that week. This lot is a far cry from the greenery we were set on in Cape Cod. Sure, there is gorgeous rolling green pastures all around us. But the fair? Well, that’s located in a big dirt parking lot. The cars parked on the grass, and we performed in the gravel. Guess that’s the south, for you.
From Bad to Worse
Things stay tense between Robert and I. He acts all buddy-buddy with me, but I’m not falling for it this time. I begin to seriously fantasize about just bodily shoving him off the top of the trailer where he begins his shows. Everything that goes wrong is immediately my fault, regardless of context, Robert’s mistakes, or even the weather. And I still haven’t been paid. I am getting very unhappy, very quickly. I am trying to stick it out, but my self-confidence just keeps getting beat on by Robert’s barrage of verbal abuse. He is really the only person I interact with the whole time.
He keeps loving to throw in my face the exact amount of the damage I cost him on his RV, and always likes to let me know just how pricey the animals are. It is quite clear where he values the humans on his scale. At least the animals get some sort of reward for working. Meanwhile, all my cards are getting maxed out and he keeps lying to my face about the status of my “pay”. All the way out in Virginia, all alone with this man, I am not even sure what to do or how to get out of the situation.
Things come to a head the end of the first week in August. It is a Thursday, I believe, and things have been quite rainy during the week. Unfortunately, even if we don’t perform a show because of the weather, I still have to fully prepare the set and uncover/recover all of Robert’s painted box props with tarps and bungee cords in between, before, and after all the shows. This is in addition to running the merchandise table, for Robert to hawk overpriced, drugstore-quality pirate “souvenirs”. Fortunately, everyone is much too cheap and cynical to shell out, so Robert hardly bothers with that.
This Thursday, the first show for the day had been cancelled, and the other two were still to be determined. It was sprinkling when I went to get a burger from the concession area. I came back, thinking nothing of the small, bright light I could see shining behind the trailer’s vinyl cover, thinking Robert was doing something new, and settled down to watch Breaking Bad with the sound of the rain falling overhead. It was so peaceful, I just about forgot to get ready for the next show. Robert wouldn’t really tell me if the shows were cancelled, he just sort of let me figure out for myself. This time I thought there was no question, but I guess I was wrong.
I rush to get everything out, and we do the show. Fortunately, it actually goes well more or less for once. I am on top of the trailer, taking down the streamers that routinely go off at the end of the show, when Robert comes out of the lower part and goes “Hey, Liz thanks a lot”. I honestly thought he was complimenting me for once, as unpredictable as he was. Then he accuses me of turning on some light switch that wasn’t supposed to be on, burning a hole in the vinyl covering, “ruining” the huge mural sized cover, with a hole probably the size of a cigarette burn.
I told him honestly, it could have been me, but I doubted it. I am not going to claim I am totally innocent when anything is possible. Robert loved to tell me how dumb and careless I was all the time. Maybe I started to believe it. In any case, it was kind of funny, because I had actually noticed the light turned on the whole day, but I wouldn’t dare to question Lord Robert. Not to mention, that whole area is the dog’s play area, I am certain that mistake wouldn’t have been hard to make, seeing as his light switches were upside down. Tell me that is so hard for those big dogs to be playing and never accidentally flip it.
But I didn’t even argue when Robert told me he wasn’t mad at me per se, but that I cost him way too much damage and I am not worth his time. He also told me that he would buy me a bus ticket home after we finished off the last three days of the fair. I had so much shit with me that would have not only been unfeasible, it would have probably also been dangerous. Not to mention it would take me about a week to get home. But I agreed openly with Robert just the same. In my head, though, I was jumping for joy. I was free.
I’ll Just See Myself Out, Thanks
That night, I checked the plane ticket prices, but flying on a Friday night in August is not going to get you any cheap seats. Besides, I had way to much stuff as it was. Bags and bags, a cardboard box of files, and an acoustic guitar without a case. So, I called a rental car company and made reservations for the following morning. I spent that night packing everything, and I woke up at 7am so I could move and hide everything behind an ATM machine across the lot. Robert usually expected me to be up and taking care of the animals by 9, and my reservation was for 8. I would have to have the rental company pick me up from the grounds, so I wasn’t taking any chances on his finding me before I made my escape.
It was one of the most gorgeous mornings of my entire life. Up in the mountains, the cool breeze, and warm sun; leaving that situation made me the happiest I had been in a long time. I felt in control again, and with a purpose. I had left Robert a note on my table detailing why I did what I did, and made sure he would have to see it when he saw I was gone. I forgot my little bottle of Jack in the minifridge, but I think Robert will need it more than I ever will.
Without me, he had no way to finish those last three days. The big weekend for the fair, and he lost his second in command. By being so cheap as to want to send me home by bus, I either cost him some of his pay for the fair, or the very expensive burden of flying someone in short notice. I did not do it to spite him, but rather to respect myself.
I almost didn’t even get away with it. I was going with the rental car off a hunch, and wasn’t prepared for the significant hold they must make on the credit card used. If one of my cards hadn’t extended my limit, I would have had to phone home or do something else. All alone, I don’t know how that would have gone.
Fortunately, everything checked out, and I asked my rental agent where I could find a nice breakfast diner in the area. I was famished.
Epilogue (for now)
Overall, one of the shortest, yet most challenging and instructive lessons I have ever learned. Robert never paid me and, although I went to the Attorney General’s Office, they did nothing but tell me I could sue him on my own dime.
I am not concerned about the money. I am more disturbed by the fact that this guy is on the loose, just doing whatever he wants, with no regards for the feelings of animals or even other humans. The Barnstable County Fair has invited Robert back for this year, and I have made plans to be there for his closing weekend, spreading the word one way or another. I have contacted the IFAW, and plan on reaching out to anyone else who was even a little opposed to PM Productions’ presence on the Cape.
Meanwhile, I am keeping my fingers crossed that he will be returning to Six Flags New England this summer. I attempted to tell the HR department there of his refusal to pay me, but they seemed uninterested, so I will take matters into my own hands, and fully enjoy the fact that this traveling guy, who probably thinks himself crafty and all, will not be able to hide from me.
Please, if you have love in your heart for amazing animals who don’t deserve to be dragged around and put on show for our own amusement, share this story with anyone who feels the same, or could learn from my experience. Each person who cares has the ability to stand up to this type of treatment, and say no, I won’t patronize these companies. Enterprises like Sea World (we all saw Blackfish, I hope), PM Productions, fair petting zoos, and the like can only survive to make a profit by skimping on the animals’ health and well being, and taking advantage of peoples’ love for animals while satisfying their desires to walk around in the sweltering heat all day shoving corn dogs down their throats. If you love animals, go to a shelter and volunteer, or buy a book, go to them and don’t make them come to you.
It would mean the world to all those animals and me if you could take a second to remember the names Robert Mullen, Christy Mullen, Pets Overboard, One World, and PM Productions, and never patronize these animal abusers, liars, and scam artists. I am not the first to be taken over by Robert, but no matter what it takes, I want to be the last.
And if you have any further information about these people, don’t hesitate to contact me, we need to work together to bring practices like this into antiquity, where they belong.
And Robert, wherever you are: Thanks for teaching me some valuable life lessons, and giving me the motivation and inner strength to overcome your abuse and hopefully change some lives while I’m at it.
Everyone else, thanks again for reading. Sharing this story makes it all worth having happened, even if I can only spread that knowledge to a few.