My kids come home from school with lots of consent forms. Last week, one came home asking permission to enter Erin into the draw to see who gets to take home their Grade 3 class fish (Lord Bubbles). She didn’t win the draw, but it fit with a recent article in the Toronto Star entitled “Classroom pets head home for the holidays”.
Classroom pets are an area that has been minimally studied from animal welfare and zoonotic disease standpoints. Problems such as infectious diseases (mainly Salmonella from reptiles), bites and scratches definitely occur, but there can also be positive impacts, particularly when pets are brought into learning activities or when kids have no pet exposure at home. As with most things, it’s a balancing act, managing the risks and maximizing the benefits. How to actually do that (and whether any thought goes into it in most classrooms) isn’t clear.
Adopting out classroom pets is usually necessary. If the teacher won’t take the animal home, someone else has to. I suspect there’s often little prior communication with parents – “look what I brought home Dad!” is probably a common way this happens. Ideally, there’s some advanced planning and education of the prospective adopters before the animal goes home. The gecko shown in the picture with the Star article highlights a high-risk species (a reptile), so hopefully there was some consideration of whether the household to which it was going included any high-risk individual (e.g. pre-school age kids) and some information was provided about animal care, including zoonotic disease risks and how to mitigate them. Unfortunately, those thought processes aren’t particularly common. That’s one reason we have info sheets for various species on the Worms & Germs Resources – Pets page.
Most classroom pets are low-risk and adopting them can be beneficial all around. A little education and some common sense go a long way.
Photo: Jennifer Pyz, thestar.com