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March 7, 2012

Pass On the Classroom Pet

There are better ways to teach students about animals and responsibility

The Humane Society of the United States

Guinea Pigs with Book

Shevaun Brannigan/The HSUS

Well-intentioned teachers often bring pets into the classroom to give their students lessons in respect, responsibility, and empathy for animals. But from the animal’s perspective, this isn’t always the best option.

Busy, noisy classrooms can be stressful, and small animals can be very adept at hiding symptoms of illness or injury (a lifesaving attribute when trying to avoid predators in the wild, but less than ideal in a setting where children are present). Even accidental rough handling can cause an otherwise social animal to become timid and defensive.

Small animals need large habitats that may not fit in the classroom, and many species need ample fresh produce daily. And what will happen if the animal requires immediate veterinary assistance after school hours?

Even without a live animal present, lessons in responsible pet care and respect for all animals can still be a part of the classroom experience. Consider these animal-friendly alternatives.

Invite animal experts into the classroom

Members of the community may be willing to speak to your students. Animal control officers, veterinarians, groomers, trainers, wildlife rehabilitators, and humane educators can give students valuable lessons about animals and their care. Animal shelters and rescue groups often offer educational programs to local schools.

Help find pets new homes

Work with your local animal shelter or rescue to identify a pet the children can help market to find a great home, learning valuable skills in the process.

“Adopt” a plush animal as your classroom pet

Have students research the care the animal needs. Set a schedule for students to “care” for the pet, including weekends and holidays.

Look Online

Use the Internet to bring animals into the classroom through videos and webcams.

Take a Field Trip

Visit a nature center, wildlife refuge, or animal shelter.

Schoolyard Habitat

Help your class set up birdbaths, birdhouses, and feeding stations around your schoolyard. Design a schedule that allows students to take turns filling the feeders and changing the water. You can also plant a butterfly garden and have children identify and record the various species they observe.

Reading to Dogs

Find out if there is a reading assistance dog program in your area. Kids who are normally too intimidated to read aloud often enjoy practicing on their four-legged friends, who never laugh at their mistakes.

Creative Writing

Ask students to write a story about their pets at home or a pet they would like to have one day.

Humane Homework

Assign a research project. Have students choose an animal species and gather information about the animal and report what they’ve learned to the class.

Read Kind News in the classroom!

Kind News, our magazine for K-6 students, is full of features about rescued animals, profiles of amazing kids, pet care tips, and how-tos on helping backyard wildlife.

If your classroom must have a live pet, adopt one from your local shelter or rescue, rather than purchasing one from a pet store.  The children may be able to experience the adoption process with you and learn that many small animals are in need. Be certain that the pet has humane housing and care and that every interaction is carefully supervised to ensure no one is frightened or injured. And ensure that the animal is never without a caretaker who can properly identify the signs of illness or injury and take appropriate action to provide care.

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