Having a pet in the classroom can be a wonderful experience for children. Students can learn about the responsibility involved for caring for a pet and develop empathy for others. Additionally a classroom pet can create lessons in a variety of subjects that can motivate students to learn. What part of the world the pet comes from works well into a geography lesson, and the food that the animal eats can develop into a lesson in nutrition or biology.
One of the problems teachers can find in having a classroom pet is that they may not want a pet to be their permanent responsibility -- especially when it comes to breaks in school in the winter, spring and summer, when the teacher would have to either care for the animal at home or make accomodations for him. And having a pet in the classroom may be a fantastic learning experience for the short-term, but not a good idea for the entire year.
A few years ago I developed a program where teachers can foster small animals through HAWS for a temporary basis. The Teacher's Pet program requires teachers to fill out a classroom foster application and promise to be completely responsible for the care and welfare of the animal. The animal is still a HAWS adoptable animal -- however is on loan to the classroom for however long the teacher would like to keep it.
Once the teacher gets their application to me we discuss what animals are currently at HAWS that would be available to become Teacher's Pet fosters. Animals appropriate for this program include rodents (hamsters, mice, rats, guinea pigs), birds such as parakeets and cockatiels, and some reptiles.
Once the animal has been chosen I bring the animal to the classroom and do a 1/2 hour long presentation to the class talking about what kind of a pet the animal makes, what food it eats, how to properly care for it, and how to handle it. The teacher is given a packet of information about the pet and caging, equipment, and a supply of food and bedding that will last a few weeks. While the animal is available for adoption while in the classroom, it stays until the class is finished with it. So far all of the animals in the Teacher's Pet program have been adopted by one of the students in that pet's classroom.
The wonderful thing about the Teacher's Pet program is that the classroom gets a pet for as long or as short of a time as the teacher wants it. It gives the teacher an option to have a pet other than purchasing a pet from a pet store, and then trying to find a home for it once the school year is over. The program is a great opportunity for HAWS to educate the teacher and the students about the care of the particular pet they've chosen. And since the pet has a sign on it's cage that it's a HAWS animal available for adoption, the parents and other members of the public that visit the classroom learn that HAWS has more than just dogs and cats available for adoption.
Today a dwarf hamster went to his new home in Mrs. McSorley's second grade classroom at University Lake School. The kids were very excited and enthusiastic. They all plan on bringing toilet paper tubes and small pieces of vegetable's for Mr. Pibb. And they asked wonderful questions about how often the water in his bottle should be changed and how often they should clean his cage. I have no doubt that Mr. Pibb is in great hands and that the kids will learn a lot from him.