Intervention Visits, Practical Strategies

Critter Chaos! UGH!

shutterstock_5284702How many of you have ever walked into the family’s den where all the fun is going on and you happily plop down in the midst of everything and suddenly feel wetness soaking through you pants? The mother quickly explains that the new puppy is having some trouble getting the hang of housetraining. UGH!

Ever been to a home where the father keeps snakes and other creepy crawlers for fun? He joyfully dips his hand into the glass tank and pulls out a slithery ‘thing’ with a darting tongue and suspicious eyes and wants to know if you want to touch it! Ummm….no thanks! UGH!

Or what about the trailer waaaayyyy out on some county road where you knock on the door and hear ferocious barking while the beast of the dog inside slams his body against the screen door? As the grandfather opens the door to let you in, he warns you not to make eye contact with ‘Shredder’ but not to be too worried since he is such a good dog! UGH!

On one visit the child was nowhere to be found but I could hear scratching and scampering upstairs. When I asked the mother where “Johnny” was, she quickly informed me that he was upstairs playing with the rats. I was sure I’d misunderstood and asked if she meant mice as I used my thumb and forefinger to approximate a little critter about three to four inches in length. The mother, imitating my measurement system, used both of her hands to indicate that the critters she was talking about were more along the lines of ten to twelve inches and they were indeed RATS (and not the family pets!) UGH!

Another time a sibling asked if I wanted to hold “Marshmallow.” Before I could even react, ‘Marshmallow’ was sort of tossed in my hands. I wasn’t even sure what a “Marshmallow” was until the little fellow turned out NOT to be soft and squishy but rather a hedgehog with quills and all! UGH!

As early interventionists, we interact with families in their natural environments. This includes their family pets that can be a wonderful source of everyday learning opportunities. A snuggly cat can be strong motivation to move across the floor to get some furry loving. A funny piglet or goat on the family farm can be an endless source of language opportunities. A faithful old dog can teach compassion and the joy of unconditional love. I bet even goldfish have a trick or two up their….fin!

What experiences have you had with pets on your visits?

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12 Comments to “Critter Chaos! UGH!”

  1. I covered an intake visit with a family because a colleague was sick. She knew that the family had cats (she asked every parent because she was afraid of them). I arrived, and there was a cat sitting by the door. The parent and I started talking, and by the time I left, I was surrounded by 20 cats! Two of them were on the back of the couch with their front paws resting on my shoulders. My colleague would have had to reschedule the visit so I guess it worked out for me to go on the visit 🙂

    • Funny, Deana! I had a cat encounter too – I worked with a wonderful family who had lots of pets. On one visit a particularly plump cat plopped in my lap. I started petting him and as I approached his tail, the mother started to tell me not to do that or he’d…yup, he bit me. Barely broke the skin so not a big deal but I definitely did not make a cat friend that day!

      • Good thing YOU weren’t allergic to cats, Deana! That is A LOT of cats. Guess you and the two cats with their paws on your shoulders were quite cozy by the end of that visit!

  2. These are such great stories. I apologize for not spending any time writing for the blog yet, I have honestly not had time. I hope to get myself together in September. I was reading this though and had an “experience” yesterday in a trailer park on the Eastern Shore that is very much like the Badlands. I went to a home and the family often goes to the neighbor’s home to hang out so when no one answered I crossed the small yard to an adjacent trailer and lo and behold came across a big bird carcas! What the…!?! It smelled of death, well, because it was DEAD and it looked like a chicken or seagull but what I could not believe was that all the dogs in the trailer park had found this carcas and were gathered around it eating off of it. Sick!!!!!! I got the heck outta there and called Animal Control!!!

    • No worries, Nathan! Geez, with running across dead chickens and getting bitten by small dogs (you should add that story here too…funny!), you have your plate full! That was a good idea to call Animal Control, although you probably spoiled the day for a lot of dogs! 🙂


    • Nathan: This gives whole new meaning to having fried chicken at a picnic! UGH!

      • I love animals but think, sometimes, pet behaviors can rule an intervention session. I had one situation where I was kneeling on the floor and the next think I knew, I had 2 dog paws on my shoulders and guess what he was doing?! The mother pulled him off but this happened a few more times during that session. After that, I sat on a chair!

        I do know that there are many families who are sensitive to the presence of their dogs, cats, etc., and are more than willing to put them in another room during intervention visits if they are a major distraction. I wonder,though, if the pets are a part of the natural learning environment, should we allow them to stay, regardless of barking, drooling, etc.?

        • Oh dear, Pam! I’m guessing the dog was “overly fond” of you. I think you ask a great question. While the easiest thing might be to ask the parent to remove the critter to another room, the reality is that when you leave, that pet is going to be right back in the midst of the family’s life. (It reminds me of when I hear a parent tell a sibling to go to another room because “it’s Johnny’s therapy time”–shudder, shudder, shudder!) I wonder if some coaching might help with this situation? Perhaps asking the parent how they solve this situation when other visitors come to the home? Or maybe asking their ideas of what the parent might think could be a good solution so that the dog is not banned from the room but the early intervention can re-focus on the child and the family?

  3. Our office has a wonderful developmental services provider, who takes every opportunity to work on language and fine motor development. While in a somewhat untidy and very much infested home, it was not uncommon for coach roaches to make an appearance whether on the floor or at the kitchen table. They want to be part of the family too! The child noticed the not so small bug and was happy to share her observation with the provider. Without skipping a beat the provider responded to the child, confirming her attempt at communication and giving her a new word for her vocabulary. “Well, yes Mary that is a bug. B-U-G. Wow that bug moves fast.” Such a great teachable moment, fine motor (pointing), vision (tracking), language (labeling, conversation).

    • So funny, Adele! I love it how your provider didn’t miss a beat. What a positive and nonjudgmental “take” on this situation. Kudos to your DS provider!

  4. I attended a visit in which there were several dogs, several of which were being pad-trainined in the living room. The family was so considerate, and told us that before we arrived they had washed the carpet. However, we sat on the ground to play with the baby, and the carpet was still wet. It wasn’t soaking wet, but enough that wherever you sat, you had a damp brown mark there, because not all the dirt came out when it was washed. Just a funny situation of a very considerate act that didn’t quite work out as well as planned.

    • Hey Lauren: Thanks for sharing your story. Sounds like this family worked so hard to “do the right thing!” Bet those wet pants caused lots of good fodder for discussions and laughs!

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