Deciding to keep an animal in your classroom should not be taken lightly. While animals can be a valuable addition to the classroom when there is adequate knowledge and time to look after them properly, the decision to do so should only be made if all aspects of their care can be assured. This includes ensuring they have adequate and appropriate food, water, space, ventilation and a place where they can escape the noise and attention of a class of students. Additionally, care and shelter after school hours and during holidays needs to be arranged. There should also be provisions made for emergencies such as power failures and fire drills.
A teacher who brings animals into the classroom is responsible under the Animal Protection Act for ensuring they are free from distress. Teachers need to ensure they are familiar with all aspects of animal care and be cognizant of possible zoonotic diseases before deciding have a classroom animal.
Some school districts have developed policies for the use of animals in the classroom, which can be helpful guides in making your decision. At the minimum, the following criteria should be followed:
- There should be an educational or therapeutic reason for keeping an animal in a classroom.
- The teacher must be aware of the needs of the animal and ensure they are met.
- Safety provisions (for both the animal and the students) need to be in place to avoid the impacts of accidents and zoonotic illnesses (illnesses that spread between animals and people).
- Never send an animal home with students, even for a short period.
- Set a good example by letting students know you have a veterinarian who examines your animals on a regular basis. If you have animals who stay in your classroom, keep the veterinarian’s name and phone number accessible for substitute teachers, etc.
- Animals not generally considered appropriate for a classroom include wild-caught animals or those which are endangered, invasive or requiring a permit to be imported into Canada.