Animals in Education

School Policy on Classroom Pets

 

Introduction

 

A classroom pet can enhance a humane education curriculum and help students develop compassion and respect for animals.  Teachers tend to acquire classroom pets with the intention of making the classroom more fun and interesting for students, but pets shouldn’t be acquired simply for their entertainment value.

 

Acquiring a classroom pet in the hopes that it will teach responsibility to students may be too ambitious—it is best to teach responsibility first and ensure that students are mature enough to understand the many aspects of pet guardianship before committing to the care of a classroom pet.

 

Below is a sample Policy for Schools that can be adopted by districts looking to place guidelines on how classroom pets are cared for and which species may be kept as pets.

                                                                                                                                                           

 

Policy for Schools (click here for the pdf version)

 

Considerations to make in advance:

Before acquiring a classroom pet, the educator will investigate whether any student is:

  • allergic or sensitive to any particular species or their food or bedding materials
  • immune compromised, and therefore more susceptible to zoological illnesses

Educators will provide parents and guardians with information about the classroom pet, the purpose of acquiring the animal (how its care will fit into the curriculum), and a plan for how any injuries (bites, scratches) will be managed should they arise.

 

Type of pet:

  • only domestic animals may be kept as pets
  • wild animals may not be kept as pets (this includes locally caught frogs, snakes, etc.)
  • animal must be diurnal (awake during the day)
  • whenever possible, the pet should be acquired through an adoption center, rescue, or other re-homing opportunity

Responsibilities:

The primary educator in the classroom is considered the animal’s guardian/caregiver, and is responsible for ensuring that all of the animal’s physical and psychological needs are met.

 

The animal’s guardian is responsible for:

  • researching the animal’s species and consulting reliable sources (veterinarian, humane educator) regarding appropriate diet, housing, exercise, and socialization
  • ensuring that the animal is fed appropriately, handled properly, and that its habitat is cleaned regularly; using logs to track feedings and cleanings is recommended
  • seeking regular and emergency veterinary care for the animal (including vaccinations required by state law), and is responsible for all veterinary fees
  • taking the animal home during weekends, holidays, and vacations
  • continuing to care for the animal at home in the event that a future student is allergic and the animal is unable to live in the classroom

Other criteria:

  • classroom pets are not permitted to breed; if several animals of the same species are being maintained as classroom pets, males and females should be kept separate at all times
  • students will only handle the animal under direct supervision of an adult
  • if students are given responsibilities for feeding the animal or cleaning the animal’s habitat, this will be assigned as a reward not as a punishment, and students will be supervised during all interactions
  • students must wash their hands prior to and after handling the classroom pet or cleaning its habitat
  • animals will be housed in a quiet area of the classroom away from windows, direct sunlight, heating vents, and drafts
  • the heat in the classroom will be kept within an acceptable range during the nighttime

Appropriate species:

  • Guinea Pigs—can be well socialized when handled appropriately and regularly; need room for exercise and ample housing
  • Ferrets—are generally very social animals; need very large cage space and plenty of supervised time out of the cage for exercise, so more appropriate for upper elementary levels; ferrets are required by law to be rabies vaccinated
  • Gerbils—sociable and curious; may be difficult for children to handle because of their small size, but they are fun to observe
  • Domestic Rats—sociable if handled regularly; very intelligent
  • Domestic Mice—sociable; may be difficult for children to handle because of their small size, but they are fun to observe
  • Fish—a good choice if a robust species; not generally interactive, but fun to observe

Inappropriate species:

  • Red-Eared Slider Turtles—reptiles require very consistent tank heating; their lifespan is over 30 years
  • Anoles (American chameleons)—amphibians require consistent tank heating; require very delicate handling
  • Hamsters—nocturnal (sleep through the day and awake at night), more likely to bite
  • Rabbits—most are relatively large and need a good amount of cage space and room to exercise; are naturally skittish and difficult to pick up; require a calm environment
  • Chinchillas—most need a good amount of cage space and room to exercise; they are naturally very curious and prefer exploration to being held and sitting calmly in one’s lap; they are more prone to illness due to fluctuations in temperature and humidity, which can be difficult to control in a classroom