"Never work with children or animals" is the famous quote from W.C. Fields. He was referring to child and animal actors in a film setting and it was inferred that they would steal the scene.
With my job in humane education it's impossible to avoid working with either one. I will admit, however, that working with kids and animals can lead to unpredictable situations and my job requires that I go with the flow and try to find teachable moments when unintended situations come up.
The other afternoon I was at the after-school program at Blair Elementary School visiting with the kindergarten through 3rd graders in the school's gym/auditorium. I did an activity with them showing how quickly cats can multiply when you start with one unspayed cat. Fiona, an adoptable HAWS cat, was in the carrier next to me as I worked with the kids and periodically let out mournful meows that told us just how unhappy she was with her confinement.
I always get a bit nervous taking cats to off-site programs because they are very unpredictable. A cat who is seemingly outgoing and friendly at the shelter can behave very shut down and stressed in a different environment. An unlike small animals that are easy to confine, cats are so athletic that they can easily get away if loose.
Before I took Fiona out of her carrier I told the kids that she might jump out of the circle they were sitting in, and if that happened they were to be completely quiet, stay put and allow one of the adults to go get Fiona.
I wasn't surprised when Fiona left the circle of kids, walked over to the wall and started walking the perimeter of the room. It's very common for cats to do this in new environments as a way to ensure there isn't anything dangerous in the area. I calmly walked behind her allowing her to check things out. I really wasn't concerned until we came to the part of the room that contained the stage. Unfortunately I didn't notice until it was too late that one of the sliding doors to the chair rack storage area under the stage was open by a few inches. That's all it took; in a flash Fiona dashed in the opening and was gone.
The children were amazingly quiet and well behaved while the adults crowded around the 3 foot high opening and shined a flashlight all the way back into the storage area. After we pulled the chair carts out, we finally located Fiona huddled way in the back 20 feet away from us.
Realizing there wasn't any way she'd come out on her own, I sighed, got down on my hands and knees, and crawled through what was probably 15 years worth of dust to retrieve her.
During this whole procedure the kids were still sitting in their circle, being very quiet and respectful. I explained that Fiona was just a bit frightened and that's why she wanted to hide. None of the kids complained that they didn't get enough time with the cat, and they all thanked me for coming as I left.