I’ve been taking school pictures this season and had the opportunity to include this adorable mascot the other day. Artie even got a badge made, though I imagine he’d chew it up given the chance.
It’s nice to know there are still classroom pets out there. I know there is a possibility of animal harm with this, but I like to think we have become more sensitive to animal care as a society, and trust that teachers have both the best interests of students and the class pet at heart. A lost class pet is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, not to be invited into your life lightly.* You learn to like, adore and love something that carries responsibility with it, not an object but a living thing that doesn’t argue you with you like a friend or sibling.
That’s one of the great things about pets. If you don’t have a pet of your own, you can get a taste of it. There’s a shared responsibility, and honor even, in seeing to the animal’s well-being, whether it happens in class or on occasions where a family has to take care of Mr. Fluffy over a break or holiday, if not a rotating weekend schedule. Plus you get to learn how stinky things get without regular cleaning.
It gives you a chance to see that the world is bigger than your tiny sheltered corner. That animals are sometimes unpredictable in their responses even as they have predictable habits. As are humans.
For children there is the vital opportunity to develop compassion for a creature that might not need our help if it were in the wild, but deserves our mercy and respect when we cross paths with it.
And just maybe, that becomes a deeper thread and we learn to maintain compassion for larger creatures, fellow humans and nature itself, even when things seem ready to turn on us, because we are all partners in one large complicated ecosystem.
* Unless you’re in a sitcom.
P.S. Our family had gerbils when I was a kid. I still have fond memories of breakfast times when we made tiny little pancakes for them, and they would hold them in their little hands and eat.