Animal magic

Advantages and disadvantages of having pets in schools

source: Jerome Monahan
Guardian Education December 11 2001 p5

There is a debate in the UK on whether pets should be kept in schools. Aberdeen city council has banned this practice, because schools take on great responsibilities when they keep pets. The council, and the RSPCA also believe that living creatures should not be caged, and other creatures should not suffer in order for humans to learn. Children, however, like to have pets in schools, and so does the Society for Companion Animal Studies (Scacs), which sees interacting with animals as important for children’s education.

Scas argues that school pets often receive better than average care, and children learn to respect and cherish animals through learning from school pets. The charity has published guidelines to help teachers choose and care for suitable pets. Guinea pigs can be frightened easily, and hamsters tend not be be sociable. Gerbils, however, are diurnal, and are a better choice. Rabbits should have access to outdoor runs, while dogs need somewhere quiet in the daytime, so they can rest. Exotic species are not really suitable for schools, Scas argues.

Vetwork UK is an animal welfare charity from Scotland, and sees it as important for school pets to be protected from excess stress, This applies especially to prey animals, like gerbils, which may perceive noisy children as predators. Many schools see pets as a way to bring together children, and boost teacher morale. Schools which have enough space may also provide wild areas and ponds for animals and water birds, like ducks.

School pets can be vulnerable when schools are burgled, which reinforces the RSPCA’s opposition to keeping pets in schools, yet the high number of abandoned animals in Britain, and the prevalence of cruelty against animals among some children underlines the message of Scas that children need to learn more about how to care for animals.