Monday, July 18, 2016

When a Visit Goes Bad

Not every visit goes well. As a therapy handler we have two tasks. One is to bring joy or comfort to the individual/s we are visiting and the other is to protect our pets. In that regard if someone is mistreating our pets or not following instructions we need to let them know. There are a set of rules to follow. Most of the time the visits go well, but occasionally I have to step in and correct bad or unwanted behavior. This past week during a visit at a special needs school a set of instructions was given at the beginning of the session. The instructions consisted of how and where to pet our animals. Our animals like to pet with a flat gentle hand on their bodies (backs and bellies). No head no feet and no tails. These instructions are given for a specific reason. We don’t want any tails to be pulled, any eyes to be poked and any nails on their feet to be pulled. At the beginning of this visit I noticed an aide walk in with her student (she is munching on a chocolate bar) I feel myself go on high alert. She isn’t giving her student full attention and I see the student eye Maggie with intense curiosity. In the beginning of each session all the kids are instructed to sit together in a circle in the middle of the room to hear these instructions and then they are split off into smaller groups around the different animals to be able to spend individual attention with each animal(we rotate every 10-15 minutes so each group meets every animal present). This particular teacher gets distracted and her student walks right over to where I am sitting with Maggie, takes one look at her and proceeds to step on her. Now this kid is not a small child, but rather a hefty child. I promptly yell ”No!”. I then tell the child, “You need to go and sit with the rest of the children. At this point Maggie looks at me as if to say “why would someone do that to me?” I pet Maggie assure her she is a good girl and I would not let this happen again. This child did attempt to come back a few times but I sent him away. It sounds a little harsh but in this case if a teacher is not ready to step in then I have to correct bad behavior. I have had multiple discussions about situations like this with my program director. She has given me clear and precise directions as to how I am allowed to behave towards any individual that is mistreating Maggie. I do understand that teachers might feel overwhelmed at times, but pet therapy visits should not be viewed as their “time off”. There have been countless times that I have watched teachers congregate in the library chit-chatting about their personal lives while I have been disciplining their students. I feel we need to work together a little better so all parties involved come away feeling the visits are a positive experience both for the students, for the school and for the therapy handlers as well.

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