Creating New Pet Owners
The Pets in the Classroom grant program is beneficial not only to elementary and middle school students across North America, but to the pet industry as well.
Want to see a child smile? How about two million children smiling? That is the impact The Pet Care Trust’s Pets in the Classroom program is having every day in classrooms throughout North America. The Trust has awarded more than 54,000 grants for classroom pets to teachers since 2011. An average of 50 kids pass through these classrooms, school libraries and science centers, bringing two million students into contact with guinea pigs, rabbits, bearded dragons, parakeets, turtles and aquarium fish every day. Children in elementary and middle schools from Alberta, Canada, to Homestead, Fla., look forward to a classroom made brighter, more interesting and a lot more fun, thanks to these pets.
Classroom pets are fun, but are they making a difference in our schools? Can we attribute changes in student behavior, test scores or lesson retention to their presence? In fact, anecdotal evidence from teachers supports the notion that pets improve learning.
Chris Hannah, a teacher at Dr. William Mennies Elementary School in Vineland, N.J., explains how a bearded dragon named Phil has become a superstar at his school.
“My experience with the program has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Hannah. “I am an elementary music teacher in a low-income district in southern New Jersey, serving approximately 650 students per year. Phil, our bearded dragon, has become a school mascot of sorts. Not a school day goes by without countless students coming to see him, talk to him, or for the privileged ones, feed him. He has become an integral part of science lessons in several classrooms, graphing and charting his growth rate, and even has his own Instagram page. Students are very motivated to be chosen as the weekly Phil’s Feeders Club. I cannot thank the grant enough for opening my eyes to just how much any student can benefit from the experience.”
Joleen Lundin, a teacher at Madison Elementary School in Blaine, Minn., has a fish tank in her fifth-grade classroom. “It is wonderful for my ADHD kids who get up, wander to look at the tank for a few minutes, come back to their seat to work again,” she says. “We also use it in our school for other kids who need a break—Autistics especially—and as a reward system [they get to feed the fish].”
Jill Lutz, a fourth-grade teacher in Lititz, Pa., has gotten a first-hand view of the impact that classroom pets have in her classroom. “I have a very supportive administration that backs up ‘critters’ in the classroom 100 percent,” she says. “They also work diligently to place students with autism, anxiety or spectrum disorders in my room because these children thrive in a room with pets.”
The Pet Care Trust is taking the first step toward documenting the positive impact that classrooms pets have. Thanks to a generous grant from Healthy Pet of Ferndale, Wash., we have partnered with American Humane Association to conduct a study on the well-being and behavioral effects of classroom pets for students. Preliminary results of the study will be released this spring.
Parents and Pets
What do parents think of the pets in their children’s classrooms? A study released last year by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) confirms that parents viewed classroom pets favorably. Three-quarters of the respondents in the National Pet Market Opportunity Study whose children had a pet in their classroom responded that its presence had a positive effect on their child. Children exposed to a classroom pet were more likely to get over a fear of pets they may have harbored. They were also more likely to take responsibility for household pets as a result of the classroom experience.
The Pets in the Classroom program is beginning to have an impact on pet ownership at home as well. The same survey confirmed that one-third of the respondents said “having a pet in their child’s class led their family to get a pet.” With more than two million students exposed to a classroom pet thanks to Pets in the Classroom grants, the program may be responsible for up to 600,000 new household pets.
Millions of dollars have been spent by families in neighborhood pet stores buying fish, lizards, hamsters, guinea pigs and birds, along with the aquariums, habitats, cages and all the ancillary products needed to care for these new members of the household. Return visits to buy food, bedding and companions for their pets inject millions more into the retail pet economy.
How You Can Help
The Pet Care Trust relies on donations from companies and individuals to sustain our mission of bringing pets to 100,000 classrooms and five million children. You can make a tax-deductible contribution of any size at petsintheclassroom.org. Tell the teachers in your community about the program and how they can participate.
Classroom pets are good for kids, good for teachers and good for the pet industry. Let’s do good together.
Steve King is executive director of the Pet Care Trust and president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association.