Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Puppies, Coyotes & Snakes, Oh My! Kids dealing with Scary Animals

The Carpool Clan (with four children) decided that they needed more mammals in their house – so they got a dog. It goes without saying that they are insane (although I should probably be nice since I rely on them to move my children about and leave my schedule open for blogging) It is a very sweet dog, an energetic, good-natured puppy that is very cute and – all things considered – well-behaved. His name – for the purposes of this blog and eternity – is Declan.

GoofGirl is terrified of him.

This is a real problem, since we visit all the time (3C is the go-to playdate when neither have anything to do.) But, whenever Declan came near her – romping as puppies do – she would run terrified. The puppy – being a puppy – was thrilled that the chase was on and would bound after her.

I was a frustrated, this was just a sweet puppy and if she would just stand still, he would ignore her and go find something disgusting to sniff. GoofGirl knew this. When the dog was secured on a leash or behind the screen door she tried to get to know him. She played with other dogs. But, when Declan slipped his leash and began bounding – GoofGirl fled.

I rebuked her sharply, but as someone wise pointed out, “Look, she’s really scared.”

This caused a little paradigm shift. Where I saw a sweet, tumbling puppy resembling a moving carpet that nips as a puppy will (they are training him not to). GoofGirl, being much shorter, saw a big fast-moving, unpredictable creature with teeth. Her brain told her he means no harm, but GoofGirl’s heart didn’t believe it for an instant.

I thought about looking into some sort of therapy – GoofGirl couldn’t just not go to her best friend’s house. But GoofGirl came to terms on her own. On an after-school outing she went with Declan to the vet (our lives are all a bit too intertwined.) She held his leash at the vets and got to know him a bit. She is still tentative, but not wracked with fear. Best of all, she asks to go see him. She’s a brave one.


Other encounters haven’t gone so well. We are great friends with a spirited (and extraordinarily athletic) little boy who epitomizes daring and he loves GoofBoy. So one Shabbat afternoon he came home with us. But on the walk to our house we were having a good time exploring the woods close to our house. Our companion rushed down the hill to get to the stream. GoofBoy noticed something in the grass along the path.

“Check it out, a snake!” GoofBoy was excited at this discovery but his friend was not. He burst into tears and started yelling. I was some distance away. GoofBoy tried to calm him down, “Don’t worry. He’s more afraid of you. Just walk slowly back and leave him alone.”

“No, no, he’s gonna bite me! I’m gonna die.”

GoofBoy added, less helpfully, “I’m pretty sure it isn’t poisonous!”

Grown-up time.

“Buddy, not helpful,” I told GoofBoy then turned to our companion, “You want me to come get you?”


I rushed down. It was a pretty big snake, black snake. I don’t like snakes much myself. But it was just sitting there.

I went to pick him (the boy, not the snake – which may have been female) up, but as I did, he effectively climbed up me as if I were a tree. He was practically sitting on my head. We walked back up to the trail, giving our reptile acquaintance a very wide berth. He didn’t want me to put him down, declaring, through his tears, “But he’s gonna bite me!!! He has poison.”

When I finally did, he sprinted along the trail. Back at the house, GoofBoy got his big book of reptiles (from his kindergarten birthday party when we had a reptile guy come) and looked for what we saw. He found something that looked right and assured his friend that it wasn’t poisonous. I’m not sure GoofBoy’s calming words worked – unlike puppies, snakes are kind of an acquired taste.


GoofBoy had a sleepover at a friend’s house. While there, I chatted with the friend’s mom who mentioned that there was a coyote in their neighborhood.

“Cool!” I said.

She looked at me askance. She’s a New Yorker and not a fan of all this wildlife in suburbia.

“No! Now the cats and the boys can’t play in the backyard!”

“You should keep the cats inside, but your son will be fine.”

“Really?” she looked skeptical.

“Coyotes don’t mess with people –we are too big for them. Way more people are bitten by dogs. Just leave them alone and they’ll leave us alone.”

She looked skeptical.

“I promise I’m not making this up. There was a big article in the paper about this. Cities with large coyote populations have quickly developed education programs and really managed the problem. Don’t worry about it, let the boys play outside. And also, despite what you’ve seen on TV, there is no evidence of coyotes ever using explosives.”

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