Life Lessons from the Teacher's PetWhat can pets can teach our kids? As a devoted pet owner, no one has to tell you the benefits of having a dog or cat in your life. But many children live in homes without pets, and don’t get the opportunity to care for another living creature, or enjoy the human-animal bond. For some lucky kids, this opportunity awaits them at school. According to The Pet Care Trust, a non-profit, charitable, public foundation, pets are an important part of a child’s development. They site studies that show that children with pets in the home have better immune systems and better school attendance. Pets help children learn responsibility, compassion, and respect for another life. And children turn to pets for comfort when feeling sad, lonely or scared. Pets do not judge or spill secrets, making them an ideal confidant.

The Pet Care Trust believes that pets are so beneficial to children that they provide grants to elementary school teachers to support having small pets in their classrooms. Usually a class pet is a hamster or gerbil, Guinea pig, rabbit, lizard, turtle or fish – something small and fairly low maintenance. Many teachers have their program set up where the class pet goes home with a different student each weekend, giving the child a more one-on-one experience in loving and caring for the animal.

Dogs and cats also play important roles in schools, though they usually don’t live in the classroom. Schools have found multiple roles for dogs, most amazingly, as reading partners. Kids who lack confidence in their reading skills are encouraged to read aloud to an attentive dog. There are several organizations that advocate kids reading to pets, at home and school, including Reading Paws and All Ears Reading.

Dogs are also brought in as therapy pets, to calm anxieties or encourage good behavior. And at a few schools, the headmaster or principle brings his own dog to work. When the school’s head honcho has a friendly dog, it makes him and the whole school feel more warm, friendly and approachable.

At St. Louis City Academy elementary school, a black Lab named Walter wanders the halls as a greeter, playmate and vacuum cleaner. He also provides positive reinforcement for students in the classroom. When the kids do well in class, they get to spend time with Walter.

It’s less common for a cat to be part of a school educational program – though cats are equally calming to read with. A few schools have their own library cats. A library cat is generally a self-appointed supervisor of all who read. A good library cat will visit each student, inspect their book choice, and select the best lap on which to curl up and nap. Reading is just so much more enjoyable when it comes with warm fur and deep purring.

Pets of all kinds and sizes add a very healthy dimension to a child’s education and development. It’s likely that a kid who has the opportunity to feed and care for lizards, gerbils and rabbits in the elementary years will become a more compassionate teen, and treat all animals with care.

To help bring more pets to more classrooms, visit The Pet Care Trust’s site, Petsintheclassroom.org and donate, or give the link to your child’s teacher so she can apply for a grant.

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