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
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.