Gasp! Snort! Sneeze! Sniff! Wheeze! Rattle! Does it seem like every child has asthma or an allergy these days? The increase has led school boards to ban classroom pets that have scales, feathers and fur. However, this was not the case during my teaching career a hundred years ago. Pets added a new dimension, something different, another level of enjoyment for the child who didn’t like school. Over the years, I welcomed (sort of) an impressive selection of creatures to my classroom.The first pet was a gerbil named Junior. Admittedly, he was not the friendly sort and nipped the fingers of every child who dared pick him up. Everything was fine and dandy until the morning we discovered an empty cage. We searched every nook and cranny of the classroom to no avail. After a week or so, we concluded Junior had escaped the confines of his cage and run away. Just like mourners at a funeral, we reminisced about our first pet and accepted that pets enter and leave our lives. After all, it is part of the circle of life.
Months later, after Junior had become a distant memory, I made a surprising discovery. Yes, Junior was alive and kicking, in a cupboard in an empty classroom. He had lived undetected for ages. While AWOL, Junior had been quite industrious. He had constructed a city block of gerbil condos using only shredded paper. We apprehended him without incident and trotted him back to our classroom where he lived imprisoned in a cage for many months.Next came a budgie bird — a whole story in itself. What was I thinking? The mother of a student was attending nursing school in Toronto and the student was living with another family. In one of many moments of weakness, I agreed to take in the budgie for the duration.
Twinkle the budgie loved to sing his heart out when the morning sun enveloped the classroom and serenaded us in a voice louder than mine. I had to banish the budgie to a dark corner of the cloakroom until the sun moved away from our classroom. Live and learn, as they say.As soon as one pet moved on, another seemed to need rescuing. That is how a big, white bunny rabbit named Frisky came to our classroom. I should point out that his behaviour completely contradicted name. He was anything but frisky.
Rabbits, it would seem, have active bladders. Between school’s end on Friday and Monday morning, Frisky peed a river. That meant a Saturday and Sunday visit to reline his cage with fresh layers of newspaper. At some point, Frisky found a new home. Thank goodness. No more rabbits! No more animals! If only.
The following year, we had a contest in our class to bank points for good behavior. 1000 points could be exchanged for a treat for the whole class. I was expecting pizza and a movie. WRONG!The class voted for a tiny green lizard (anole) and for reasons known only to God, I agreed. What do anoles eat? Live crickets. That meant regular trips to the pet store to buy crickets which reminded me of cockroaches. SHUDDER! I should have known it was high time for me to quit teaching when I agreed to a lizard. As a matter of fact, the lizard and I left around the same time.
In hindsight, which is 20/20 and useless, I should have put my foot down and offered them a fish — take it or leave it. But think of all the excitement I would have missed!