Building Future Pet Owners
By Steve King, President, PIDA
The Pet Care Trustís Pets in the Classroom program has made great strides in exposing children to the joys of pet ownership, but more help is needed from retailers.

Just over a year ago, the Pet Care Trust launched a program designed to get pets into America’s elementary school classrooms. The Pets in the Classroom program provides funding for teachers in grades kindergarten through six to purchase a pet of their choosing, along with habitats and supplies to care for the animal.

To date, Pets in the Classroom has funded more than 3,000 classroom pets, at a cost of $366,000. Forty to 50 new funding requests come in every week. Teachers love the program because of the classroom enrichment it provides at a time when school budgets are being cut to the bone. The program gives each teacher the flexibility to select the pets that are most appropriate for her students. So far, approximately one-third of the funding has gone to freshwater aquariums. Another one-third has funded small animals, such as guinea pigs, rabbits and hamsters. Reptiles, amphibians and birds comprise the final one-third, with snakes, lizards, turtles and frogs being most popular.

Making a Difference

The purpose of Pets in the Classroom is to introduce kids to the fascinating world of pets. The pet industry risks losing a generation of future pet parents to video games and smart-phone apps if kids have no firsthand experience in caring for an aquarium, playing with a guinea pig or watching a bearded dragon in its habitat. Teachers who have received Pets in the Classroom grants testify to the powerful impact these pets have made with their students:

“Thank you so much for approving my Pets in the Classroom project,” says Teresa Rougeau, a first-grade teacher in Tampa, Fla. “My first graders love our two hermit crabs. An unexpected benefit has been an increase in attendance. They can’t wait to get to school to check on ‘Alvin’ and ‘Theodore’.” 

“Thank you so much for this fabulous program,” says Monica Contreras, a second-grade teacher in Lutz, Fla. “I have been meaning to get a pet for my classroom for a couple years now, and this grant finally got me to do it. We’ve only had the pet in the class for a week and already she has made such a positive impact on the kids. Thank you for helping me provide a truly special experience for my students.”

“This year, our entire fifth grade of over 150 students was allowed to learn about tree frogs and hermit crabs in our unit, ‘Systems and Survival’. Without your help and support, we would not have been able to undertake such a project and cannot thank you enough,” says Susan Dougherty-Fitzpatrick, a sixth-grade teacher in Croswell, Mich.

A video showing the powerful impact Pets in the Classroom is having in several Florida elementary schools can be found on YouTube.

One Million Kids

The Pet Care Trust’s long-term goal is to reach one million children in 30,000 classrooms. We have the potential to significantly increase the number of pet-owning households through this simple program. We have a long way to go to reach our goal, and we need your help. Here’s what you can do:

• Promote Pets in the Classroom in your store. Posters are available, and a brochure explaining the program can be downloaded for printing as a bag stuffer. Contact Nina Bull at to request these resources.

• Contact your local elementary school principals to let them know about Pets in the Classroom and offer to be a resource for teachers who want to participate in the program.

• Help teachers’ grant money go farther by offering discounts for classroom pet supplies. Several pet product manufacturers are supporting the program with coupons and lesson plans. See links to these additional resources at

• Donate to Pets in the Classroom to help us reach the one-million-kids goal. As little as $125 will support one classroom (30 kids); and $500 will support four to five classrooms (120 kids). Send donations to Pets in the Classroom, C/O The Pet Care Trust, 2105 Laurel Bush Rd., Suite 200, Bel Air, MD 21015. The Trust is a 501 (c)3 charitable organization and your donation may be deductible as a charitable contribution.

Pets in the Classroom may be the single most important program that the pet industry has ever undertaken. Your participation and support will help ensure that funding is available for every teacher who would like to have a classroom pet.

Steve King is president of the Pet Industry Distributors Association and executive director of the Pet Care Trust.