May is National Pet Month! Did you know that about 80 million households across America have at least one pet? That's a lot of fish flakes, cat treats, and wet nose prints on our windows. People keep all kinds of animals as pets, and the benefits of having them outweighs having to lint-roll their hair off our clothes all the time. But pets exist in other places too: for example, in our classrooms!
Owning or taking care of a pet – at home or in the classroom – has proven benefits. For big kids and little kids alike, having a pet at home or at school helps teach responsibility, compassion, and even science. Just like people, class pets come in all shapes and sizes. Some classrooms have scaly reptile friends such as geckos, snakes, or turtles, while others have furry pals such as guinea pigs, bunnies, hamsters, or mice. But there's something all classroom pets have in common: they bring us together and teach us things without us even knowing it!
No matter what age you are, you're bound to learn something from your class pet. Having an animal companion teaches children to be gentle and caring for all living beings, gives us the opportunity to be responsible for something other than ourselves, stimulates learning, enriches classroom experiences, and helps the emotional and mental growth of students. Human beings are bonding mammals, biologically driven to connect. When it gets harder to bond authentically with other humans, animals can help provide that bonding experience that we need. Plus, it is widely known that animals, whether they're our pets or an animal we're just visiting, can cause humans to live longer and have higher rates of happiness.
Although class pets haven't always been common, people have had pets in and around their homes for centuries. In 170 AD, Chinese Emperor Ling Ti appointed his pets as senior court officials, which allowed them special luxuries and even bodyguards! In 1493, upon returning to Spain, Christopher Columbus gifted Queen Isabella two South American parrots. In 1928, Morris Frank from Tennessee brought back a German Shepherd from a trip to Switzerland and introduced the concept of a "seeing eye dog" in the U.S. In 1988, the first Labradoodle was bred specifically to be hypoallergenic by an Australian named Wally Cochran. Animals have been an important part of our lives for hundreds (and even thousands) of years and benefit us in many different ways!
With the invention and increased use of technology we are open to even more possibilities – including virtual pets. As much as we love our cats and dogs, not everyone's situation allows for a physical pet. For people living in small spaces, a virtual pet could be just as invaluable as our physical pets. Virtual pets take up no space, leave no messes, and can still teach children responsibility. Plus, virtual pets don't have vet bills! Although virtual pet chores might not be as frequent as physical pet chores, having a virtual pet can still teach kids responsibility. Children will still have to take care of it, feed it, bathe it, and pay attention to it - all of which can be beneficial and offer kids a smooth transition from a carefree to a more responsible lifestyle.
Whether they live in your home or your classroom – or virtually – pets bring joy to our lives and benefit us in more ways than we know. Occasionally they might leave muddy pawprints on our
favorite rug, steal food off the table, or make a mess somewhere it's hard to clean up, but we wouldn't trade our time with our companions for anything. Pets do more than just chew on our shoes - they make us happier, better people!