Benefits & Drawbacks of Allowing Pets in School

Should They or Should They Not Be in the Classroom?

Every parent who has ever given in to their child’s pleadings of “Can we get a pet?” by adopting an animal is well aware that taking care of even the tiniest of critters is a challenging and time-consuming task.

Despite this, thousands of schools across the country have their very own mascot—animals that are sometimes given care that is below acceptable standards; animals that could potentially pose a threat to the students’ health.

However, having animals in the classroom does not always spell trouble; teachers and parents can both play a part in taking care of the pets, reducing the potential dangers, and providing students with a first-hand look at how to treat animals in a kind and respectful manner.

Choosing Carefully

Before bringing an animal into their classroom, teachers need to do their homework, just like they would with any other kind of pet. Although there are some species of animals that are suitable for use as classroom pets, the majority of animal species are not well suited to life in an educational setting.

According to Heidi O’Brien, communications coordinator for the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education, “a variety of problems can arise when teachers fail to research a particular animal’s needs and behavior” (NAHEE). “For instance, birds have a propensity to be sensitive to drafts and alterations in the temperature of the air. Hamsters are nocturnal animals, so it’s possible that they’ll be sleeping through the school day.

Many species of animals, including reptiles such as lizards, snakes, and turtles, as well as other wild animals such as chinchillas, frogs, hedgehogs, and prairie dogs, are never suitable candidates for keeping as pets. The likes of birds, rabbits, and hamsters may make for pleasant housepets, but they are not ideally suited to the environment of a school classroom. On the other hand, some species, such as small rodents and goldfish, are able to adjust well to the environment of a school and require little attention.

According to Kelly Connolly, an issues specialist for the Companion Animals section of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), “Guinea pigs, mice, rats, gerbils, and goldfish can make suitable classroom pets as long as the teacher assumes responsibility for the animal’s care and acts as a humane role model.” A humane role model is a responsible caregiver who sets and enforces rules for how students treat animals in the classroom.

Potential Problems

In addition to giving careful consideration to which animal would work best in their classroom setting, teachers have the additional responsibility of addressing any potential health concerns. According to O’Brien, “There may be some health risks for students, such as Salmonella carried by reptiles, as well as asthma, allergies, or other conditions that could be made worse by the presence of animals.”

The selection of an appropriate classroom pet that results in minimal risks to students’ health still calls for a commitment, one that not all educators are prepared to make. It’s common for even mature adults to grossly underestimate the amount of time, money, and commitment that’s required to properly care for a pet.

According to Connolly, “caring for a pet in the classroom should not be any different than caring for a pet in your own home.” Someone needs to take responsibility for providing care for the elderly patient.

According to O’Brien, “one of the most common problems that arise is when a teacher does not adopt the class pet as his or her own and assume ultimate responsibility for the animal’s care.” If the animal is left in the classroom when school is not in session, it may suffer from a lack of climate control, missed meals, lack of water, or a living environment that is dirty. The best way for the teacher to avoid these issues is for them to take the pet home with them when school is out for the day. Not only does this help ensure that the animals receive the proper care, but it also demonstrates to the students that animal care is an important and time-consuming commitment.

Classroom Check-up

Talking to their child or the teacher of their child is one way for parents to find out if their child’s classroom pet is getting the care it needs. Another option is for parents to pay a visit to the animal.

“If you feel the teacher is providing proper care and acting as a humane role model, thank him or her for providing your child with the opportunity to learn about animals’ needs and behaviors, and to develop a sense of responsibility and empathy for animals,” says O’Brien. “If you feel the teacher is providing proper care and acting as a humane role model, thank him or her for providing your child with the opportunity to learn about animals’ needs and behaviors, and to develop

However, O’Brien suggests that if you have the impression that the care is insufficient or that the teacher is not conveying a humane message to the students, you can provide the teacher with information about pet care that can be found on the website and recommend humane education programs and materials, such as those that are offered by NAHEE and can be found at

According to O’Brien, you should make it a point to offer assistance in a cordial and helpful manner. If a teacher admits that they are unable to provide for the needs of an animal, you can offer to assist in finding a new home for the pet or suggest local animal sheltering agencies. If the welfare of animals is being compromised and the teacher is not taking any action, you may speak with the principal of the school or a representative from the local animal control agency.

A brochure published by NAHEE and titled “Is a Classroom Pet for You?” is a resource that parents can recommend to teachers who are considering bringing a pet into the classroom. It may be helpful to communicate the difficulties associated with bringing a critter into the classroom if a copy of the brochure is given to the teacher. The brochure provides recommendations for alternative approaches to teaching children about animals and pet care, such as subscribing to KIND News, which is NAHEE’s classroom newspaper that teaches students in grades K-6 kindness and respect for people, animals, and natural habitats. Other suggestions for alternative approaches to teaching children about animals and pet care are also included in the brochure.

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