Dr. Dolittle failed out of social work school

2 05 2011

We all got into social work to work with people. Strange choice for a misanthrope like myself, but it happened. I signed on to work with all sorts of people–young, old, mentally ill, violent, funny, pleasant, everything in between.

I was ready for all sorts of possibilities. I was not, however, prepared for the role that animals would play in my work.

Animals are a part of people’s lives. Pets, trips to the zoo, Animal Planet marathons (I just need to know what those guys on Whale Wars are up to, don’t judge me) whatever it may be. If they’re a part of people’s lives, they’re a part of our work.

Lots of people have dogs, but often don’t seem to think ahead when getting one. Hint: if you bring home a small plant, animal, or person, it’s probably going to get bigger. I had the misfortune of conducting a home visit one afternoon when a family came to the realization that the cute puppy they had brought into their one bedroom apartment had reached a weight of 65 pounds and was still growing.

Never again will I allow myself to be subjected to children crying over their dad bringing their ginormous dog back to the shelter. You can’t make me.

Nobody worry. The following month the family brought in a ferret and a parakeet. The parakeet provides a lovely background screeching to our visits. And the ferret’s interactions with the family’s smaller dog gives mom plenty of opportunity to explain the birds and the bees (ferrets and the spaniels?) to the kids.

Incidentally, ferret–no means no.

For some reason, my clients either want massive dogs or tiny ones. There’s no in between. I’ve always been a fan of big dogs. Growing up I had a husky/collie/retriever mix. That, to me, was a “real” dog. Yappy chihuahuas were not.

However, I have kind of fallen in love formed a bond with a Pomeranian named Paris. She seems like exactly the type of dog I’d normally hate, but I’ve grown accustomed to her face. She has the misfortune of living with a three and five year old who have not yet learned that Paris does not like to wear hats and is too small to be ridden. As a result, she seems to be plotting a great escape. I have to check my purse before leaving any visit, for fear that she’s trying to make a break for it. Probably to start a better life. In Canada.

Pit bulls are the ultimate status symbol. Walking a pit bull (usually male, never fixed) on a chain through the neighborhood is a great way to say, “I’m a real asshole man.”

Pit bulls are a touchy subject for people. Personally, I adore them. They’re beautiful dogs, and I’ve known incredibly sweet, well-behaved pit bulls. In the Bronx, though, people aren’t usually trying to break the bad reputation put bulls have gotten. That bad reputation seems to be what makes them such symbols of bad-assery.

As a result, people have these dogs in tiny apartments, hit them in public, and, all too often, breed them for fighting.

Two families on my caseload who have had a child attacked by their pet pit bull. A four year old was bit on the face after jumping on the dog. Somehow, she got away with only needing one stitch, and is perfectly fine now. The dog belonged to mom’s sister’s boyfriend’s, and is now out of the apartment.

More recently, I went to a home for an initial home visit, and found myself faced with three full grown pit bulls. They were gorgeous, and two came over to say hello immediately. The biggest one, though, was tied to a doorknob. The three year old was kind enough to inform me, “That one bites. Hard.”

When her sixteen year old sister hobbled in on crutches and showed me two holes in her leg, I was inclined to agree.

Some opt for cats, which seems to be a more sensible option given the realities of NYC apartment living. They’re also less likely to do bodily harm. Or so one would think. I was once meeting with a mom and daughter in the bedroom they rented on the second floor of a house. While discussing the daughter’s school enrollment, I realized that I had been shot in the back with eight tiny darts.

Actually, it turned out that they had gotten a kitten and neglected to tell me. And that kitten liked to climb. I was able to scrape myself off the ceiling after a few moments, and I think was made a better person for it.

Until the mom thought that it would be a good idea to bring said kitten into the office in her purse. Spoiler alert: it was not.

Then there are the animals no one welcomes into their home. After spending a half hour in one apartment, the five year old girl volunteered to show me her bedroom.

“I love your princess sheets!”
“Thanks. Mommy got them for me after we sprayed for the bugs.”

The bugs…oh, the bedbugs. Shit, is my purse on the couch?! Sorry, I have to run!

“What is that noise? Is someone in the bedroom?”
“Oh no, that’s just Mickey.”

Mickey? Is that a boyfriend? Oh, no, that’s a cuter way of saying, “we have giant rats who live in the sofa you’re sitting on, and they no longer fear man.”

Jumping up and running would have been rude. So I sat there and completed our visit, jumping and shrieking whenever I saw a “little animal.” That’s what my former landlord who didn’t want to pay for an exterminator called them.

Accepting people’s pets, welcome or unwelcome, is just another part of accepting our clients.

As long as they don’t try to eat us. Hungry pit bulls? Climby-cats? Sexually assaulted ferrets? I repeat my social work mantra: it could always be worse.

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13 responses

2 05 2011
Carolyn

Reminds me of a supervised visit I was did. Cold grey day, basement apartment and two cobra snakes in an aquarium right behind me. Longest two hours of my life!

(I am psychotically, manically fearful of snakes)

4 05 2011
socialjerk

That is a nightmare. I don’t know what I would do. (Just kidding, I would run screaming.) Good for you for dealing with that for two hours!

2 05 2011
SW24/7

“While discussing the daughter’s school enrollment, I realized that I had been shot in the back with eight tiny darts.”

I don’t know why, but this line made me laugh almost hysterically…out loud… in my office…for more than one minute…

I ❤ your posts.

4 05 2011
socialjerk

Thanks so much! Yes, I think that line offers important insight into how my mind works. “Is there a kitten in here, or a previously undiscovered tribe of petite natives living and hunting in this apartment? Probably the latter.”

4 05 2011
Sarah

Haha I have a severe fear of geese. I supervised a visit at the pond on our campus and the kids (and parents) laughed at me every time a goose came near. Worst visit ever.

10 05 2011
socialjerk

I feel your pain. I was terrified of ducks as a kid, because one bit me when I gave it bread. People are always like, “who cares, they don’t have teeth?” They just don’t understand.

6 05 2011
Nectarine

A former co-worker of mine was always worried about being confronted by client’s dogs when she went to visit. Until one day she entered a client’s house and their big Bearded dragon rushed down the hall towards her. She has since taken a job that does not require home visits.

10 05 2011
socialjerk

I had to google bearded dragon. Wow.

I wish my clients had actual dragons. Any mythical beasts, really. It would liven things up (in a good way)

8 05 2011
Weekly Social Work Links 16 « Fighting Monsters

[…] Another international perspective from Social Jerk when she writes about encounters with animals. […]

12 05 2011
Lynn D.

Just getting caught up on old posts now! “It could always be worse,” is definitely something I use at least on a daily basis. After two years of social work in a developing country (which, with statistics, the Bronx would probably fit into that category also), you get a bit more perspective and realize that things could ALWAYS be worse.

AND, I feel you on the rats issue – my office in the Phils had an entire family of mice that ran around my feet on a daily basis. Not as bad as the giant mama rat that lived in the bathroom though. I’ve never peed with such anxiety before.

Love the post!

16 05 2011
socialjerk

Thanks Lynn! I had a mouse surprise me in the bathroom in my apartment recently. I was freaked out, and also felt a little violated. Mice are bad enough, but pervert mice? No thank you.

23 05 2011
Vetnita

Here in MN, I recently had to tell my DD client that literally nothing from her home could be moved into her new group home due to the bed bugs, cockroaches, and armies of mice at her family home. You should talk about how it feels making vulnerable people cry.

Thanks for the great rants!

23 05 2011
socialjerk

Oh, that’s awful. When one of my girls was in a psychiatric hospital, the kids had to take all of their clothes off in the lobby bathroom and change before going back to their units after going out on a day pass. It did not help with transition time. I hope that your client is doing ok now.

And we so often have to be the bearers of bad news. Excellent blog topic idea, thanks! 🙂

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