What not to do:
- Breeding pets in school is not advisable as the environment is not ideal for the mother to give birth and rear her young (small pets such as rabbits and hamsters will eat their young if they are stressed). There is added responsibility for the staff involved and then the rehoming of the offspring can be problematic.
- Do not send your school pet home at weekends with parents. This lifestyle does not make the animal happy as animals like routine and a known safe environment. A regular holiday home during school holidays may be a better alternative to leaving them at school without supervision.
- Nocturnal pets such as hamsters should be left in a quiet place during daylight and so may not make suitable school pets.
If you decide that you need to rehome your school pet at it is unhappy or you can no longer keep it, then you have a responsibility to find a home where the pet is going to be healthy and happy for the rest of its life. Alternatively, Blue Cross may be able to help you find a new owner for your pet. Do not use classified websites to find a new owner as these can attract impulse buying.
Examples of pets in schools:
Fish are often a popular choice of school pet as they are seen as easy to keep, but make sure the tank is of a good size, well positioned (by an electric supply and out of direct sunlight), has the correct equipment to monitor water quality and has plenty of enrichment and places to hide.
Rabbits and guinea pigs need to live in a pair and need a large house and exercise area with a constant supply of hay and lots of enrichment, including areas to dig. They’ll need protection from predators such as foxes, and an area to access where they won’t be disturbed by the children. These animals don’t tend to be keen on handling, so children should observe them instead.
Chickens must be kept in groups and a fox-proof house and run to scratch around in. The run can quickly become mucky so consider how you will keep it clean and looking good – will the pen be moveable? Also think about what you will do with the eggs and providing enrichment, such as a dust bath and foraging.
School dogs need to have an owner and go home with them at night and must be trained in the environment, well socialised and insured to be in school. Dogs need to be under control and supervised at all times and require a quiet place where they can choose to go for alone time (dogs like regular sleep and rest throughout the day). Like all dogs, they will need to be well exercised, given a good diet and provided with enrichment to keep them happy. It’s also key for owners taking a dog into a school to have an excellent understanding of dog body language and a brilliant relationship with the pet.
For more information on school dogs, visit Dogs Helping Kids, a charity which trains school dogs and provides workshops and downloadable leaflets for teachers considering a school dog.
Dogs for Good run a community dog scheme for special educational needs schools.