Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Can Any Pet be a Baby-Ready Pet? Animal Friends Offers Baby-Ready Pets Classes

By Kristy Locklin

My cat, Hobbes, is a biter, as evidenced by my scarred appendages.

Throughout my pregnancy, he eyeballed my belly and licked his lips in anticipation of tasting young, supple flesh.

I bypassed the children's book "Pat the Cat" because I didn’t want to give my daughter the impression that she could actually touch our cat. But, banning all feline-themed literature didn't seem like a reasonable thing to do. So I consulted the experts at Animal Friends.

Each month, volunteers Ron and Mary Papik present "Baby-Ready Pets!" a free workshop that gives expectant moms and dads tips on preparing their critters for the new arrival.

The couple uses information provided by the Humane Society of the United States, as well as their own personal experiences –they're parents and pet owners—to ease fears and anxieties about bringing home baby.

Panky, an Animal Friends resident, served as a demonstration dog. When Mary pressed “play” on a boombox, the sound of a crying infant filled the room. Panky's ears perked up, he cocked his head to the side and began sniffing the colicky device. The Papiks encouraged the class to download baby sounds off the Internet and play them in the nursery to desensitize the animal to the strange noises.

Before little Sarah arrived, I logged onto and cranked the speakers to full volume. Hobbes—who gets freaked out by a ringing doorbell —looked up for a moment then went back to licking himself.

I took that as a good sign.

Practicing safe interactions between animal and infant is important, Ron and Mary said, so I put some baby lotion on my hands to get Hobbes used to the smell. He hissed and backed away like a vampire from a clove of garlic. I keep Sarah slathered in the cream to keep the furry bloodsucker at bay.

Once, he nipped at my ankle while I was dancing around the room with Sarah singing “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” I'm not sure if his aggressiveness was caused by jealousy or my awful Axl Rose impression.

The Papiks urged me to praise, pet and reward Hobbes. This way, he'll view the baby as some sort of wonderful, Meow Mix-dispensing goddess instead of a foul-smelling attention-stealer.

Over the course of the 90-minute workshop, I learned many things —the importance of constant supervision, how to keep the cat from jumping in the crib, etc. —but the handout on feline body postures is what really caught my eye.

The page boasts sketches of cats in various emotional states —neutral, alert, playful, fearful, agitated and aggressive. Even after eight years of co-habitation, I still can't read Hobbes' body language. I posted the flier on our refrigerator. I want my daughter to learn these signs and grow up to be a responsible pet owner. Hopefully, she can teach me a thing or two and I will no longer be Hobbes' favorite chew toy.

Animal Friends’ Baby-Ready Pets Class is offered regularly, with upcoming classes on October 15, November 20 and December 18. Seating is limited and registration is required, so visit the Animal Friends University page to secure your spot. This class is for people only, so please leave your pets at home.

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