Classroom Animals and Pets
Research - Articles and Papers

Affeld, Sharon. (2000).
Exploratory Analysis of the Impact and Benefit Of Having A Pet in the Classroom On Children’s Anxiety (excerpts only). Unpublished Masters' paper.
Goodwin, Jolie. (1999?).
The Benefits of Pets in the Classroom. Unpublished paper.

Benefits of Pets
by Sharon Affeld (CA&P member #28)
contributed July 2000

Affeld, Sharon. (2000). Exploratory Analysis of the Impact and Benefit Of Having A Pet in the Classroom On Children’s Anxiety (excerpts only). Unpublished Masters' Project.

The following excerpts are from a University Master's Research Project by Sharon Affeld. In a University "project ", a study is designed but not actually carried out with real subjects. (Which is why we do not, therefore, have any "results" or "findings".)

There is no doubt that children experience anxiety in the school setting. Anxiety is probably the most basic of all emotions. Anxiety is not experienced only by humans. Anxiety responses have been found in all species of animals including the sea slug (Rapee, Craske, and Barlow, 1997). Anxiety experiences vary in their severity from mild uneasiness to extreme terror and panic. They can also vary in their length from a brief, almost fleeting flash, to a constant, all day affair. A definition of anxiety that covers all aspects is difficult to provide although everyone knows the feeling which we call anxiety (Rapee, Craske, and Barlow, 1997). The DSM-IV lists the diagnostic features of several types of anxiety. The Generalized Anxiety Disorder includes the Overanxious Disorders of Childhood (p.432). The disorders specifically for children list anxiety, worry and one other symptom, for example "being away from home" or "experience impairment in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning" (p.432) as the criteria for anxiety.
John S. Dacey and Lisa B. Fiore (2000) state in their new book that between 8 and 10 percent of American children and adolescents are seriously troubled by anxiety. They further report that there are typical causes of anxiety at several age levels. Notably for children aged 6 to 7 going to school, also-called school phobia, and physical harm from, or rejection by, specific individuals at school are the most prevalent causes of anxiety.
All Children experience anxiety. Anxiety in children is expected and normal at specific times in their development. (1995, A.A.C.A.P.). Anxious children are often afraid to meet and talk to new people. Since these children also have difficulty having friends outside the family this anxiety can have a profound impact on their school success. Because anxious children may also be quiet, compliant and eager to please, their difficulties may be missed. Anxiety would still affect their adjustment to school (1998, A.A.C.A.P. Fact Sheet). Anxious children are more likely to be bullied than other peers (1998, New York Times). Dr. Deborah C. Beidel, associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston says that the most common anxiety problems identified in children are separation anxiety, social phobia, and overanxious disorder. In her study 36% of children with anxious parents were diagnosed with anxiety only; 38% of youngsters with depressed parents had depression only; and 45% of those whose parents had mixed anxiety/depression also had those disorders. In comparison, only 10% of children in the control group had any of these disorders (1997, Beidel). This may mean that in any given class it is possible that at least 10% of the children may have an anxiety disorder of some type.
It is noted in an article by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (1995) that another factor that contributes to anxiety in young school age children is moving to a new community. Moving may be one of the most stress-producing experiences a family faces. Studies show children who move frequently are more likely to have problems at school. Moves are even more difficult if accompanied by other significant changes in the child's life, such as a death, divorce, loss of family income, or a need to change schools. Children in kindergarten or first grade may be particularly vulnerable to a family move because developmentally they are just in the process of separating from their parents and adjusting to new authority figures and social relationships. (1997, A.A.C.A.P.)
Not wanting to go to school, sometimes referred to as separation anxiety, is most common in children aged 5-7 and 11-14.These are transitional times when children are dealing with the new challenges of elementary and middle school(1998, A.A.C.A.P.). Separation anxiety may give rise to what is known as school phobia. Children refuse to attend school because they fear separation from a parent, not because they fear the academic environment (1994, A.P.A.)
It has come to my attention through reading and observational comparisons that classrooms that have pets are much more welcoming for children. It is my belief that children can be less anxious about leaving their parents and adjust better to their new school environment if there is a pet in the classroom. The classroom pet acts as a "transitional object", it becomes "a safe and innocuous way of lessening anxiety" (Levinson, 1969, p.XV).
Child psychologist Boris Levinson (1969) aptly states, "Man's anxiety is partly due to his withdrawal from the healing forces of nature and it's foremost representatives, the animal kingdom (p. VIII)." This could in part be remedied for children by having access to a pet in their learning environment. In a classroom study completed in 1997 called PAWS In the Classroom preliminary results stated that there was an "observation of less tension in individuals and among the class as a whole" as well as "significantly improved attendance and timeliness" (1997, P.T.S.N.A.).
There is a symbiotic relationship between pets and human beings. People supply the material needs of the pet while the pet satisfies the psychological needs of the master (Levinson, 1969). This can occur in a classroom setting. There is an added benefit that by providing the material needs of a classroom pet the child further reduces its anxiety. Pets offer a therapeutic and non-threatening strategy to reduce anxiety.
Another benefit of having a pet in the classroom is reflected in the beliefs of John Dewey (1859-1952), an American philosopher and educator whose writings and teachings have had profound influences on education. His philosophy of education, called pragmatism, focused on learning-by-doing rather than rote learning and dogmatic instruction (Dewey, 1938). If children learn to care for pets they will gain empathy and self-esteem with the added benefit of reduced anxiety.
Children brought up with pets show better social skills and empathy with others than children with no pets. Pets can act as a "security blanket", unquestioning confidantes and valuable companions These aspects are increasingly important as the family unit size and configuration shrinks and changes (Keating, 2000).

The study will attempt to investigate the benefits of having an animal as a pet in an academic setting. I believe that having a pet in the classroom will decrease the anxiety level of the children in that class. Anecdotal reports are often made on the benefits of animals in conjunction with children in a clinical or therapeutic setting. For the purposes of the study a guinea pig will be used but there are several types of animals recommended for a classroom by the SPCA (Huddart, 1998).

Boris M. Levinson (1969) was the pioneer in the area of pet therapy. His work on Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy was first published in 1969. Since then therapy that is done with pets has been referred to in several different ways. Some of the terms used today are Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) or Animal-Assisted Activities (AAA). In reference to children the terms animal-facilitated learning and child-animal interactions were used. There are also many references to the human-animal bond (2000) when discussing the relationship between humans and animals in general. There is some pressure being made at this time by the International Wildlife Education and Conservation people to set universal terms in the use of pet therapy or pet-assisted therapy.

The purpose of this research proposal is to design a construct with which to establish the relationship between anxious children and pets in the classroom.
The hypothesis is that children in a classroom that has a pet will feel less anxious than children in a classroom that does not have a pet.
There is surprisingly little research in the current journals on pets in an educational setting. Most of the research is confined to articles on studies on pets and the health of children and seniors and behaviour of adolescents. There is, however, much current interest in the overall benefits of pets to society.

In the 25 years that I have been teaching I have always had a pet or pets in my classroom. It has bee my observation that the children in my class adjust better to their new situation than children in classes without pets. A class with pets also provides an easier transition for new children that join a class later in the year after friendships have been established. They display less anxiety because the pets act as transitional friends for the new students. The parents of the children in the classroom with pets report that their children enjoy and look forward to coming to school despite academic pressures. Reports from parents and some children that have graduated all agree that their most memorable and happy year was the one where the children were able to interact with pets.

If this study can prove a benefit to children from having pets in an academic setting more teachers and schools may adopt the concept and many children would benefit. The ramifications of this study may show that all classrooms may benefit from including pets.

The literature contains many aspects of how animals help humans. Most information concerns how animals can help seniors and challenged individuals. The second largest focus of material is on how animals can help society as a whole. There are also some studies on how animals can help children. There are very few articles related to using animals in an educational setting. Many of the studies looked at the human-animal bond from the perspective of humans helping the animals or of mutual assistance. All the literature is overwhelmingly in favor of having pets interact with children.
The most extensive work I have found to date is the book by Boris M. Levinson, Ph.D. (1969) entitled Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy. He apparently stumbled on the fact that children related better to him when his dog Jingles was with him during therapy sessions. The book is dated but the information is applicable today. Levinson notes that pets are important to "wholesome emotional development" in children. He believes that pets of all kinds can play an important role in helping to maintain emotional stability. There are reports in the middle of the eighteenth century of pets being used as a revolutionary approach to handling the "mentally ill". At the York Retreat in England patients were required to care for pets in the belief that they would learn self-control by looking after dependent creatures weaker than themselves (Valiquette).
The use of pets in pet therapy is a variant to play therapy. Levinson (1969) states that there can be a structured use of the pet in the therapeutic process. I believe that the structured use can be transferred to a classroom setting. Initially pets can be utilized as a "transitional object" between home and school. Secondly use of the pet where cuddling, affection, and unconditional acceptance are indicated and finally provision of a setting where the child can be the master of the situation. In a classroom the child can choose when and if he wants to hold the pet so these applications fit into the classroom setting. Levinson does devote a chapter to pets in a classroom setting but concentrates on "exceptional" children. Some of his observations could also be applicable in a class of "normal" children. One thing that he stresses is that the teacher should be comfortable with nature, and have an easy relationship with animals. He notes that the introduction of pets can assist both the teacher and the students. Animals, a constant source of interest to children, provide a diversion, which dissipates tensions. This could relieve the anxieties of the students. Levinson advocates pets in classrooms. He says that teachers and psychologists have different agendas for having pets. Teachers use pets to promote enthusiasm for learning. Psychologists use pets to enhance therapy. He is a great advocate for having pets and children together in a learning environment.
Another work of note is the unpublished thesis by Fiona Day (1997). In her paper on pets and pet therapy on all age groups she does devote a considerable portion of the paper to children. She refers to much research literature. Most are related to how animals make children feel in various venues such as group homes but there is no reference to the interaction of pets and children in the classroom.
Hoelscher and Garfat (1993) point out that interaction with animals can help children to bridge feelings of isolation, poor self-esteem and depression. Touching and playing with a pet can help reduce stress as well as give the child a source of unconditional acceptance.
Another advocate for the benefits of pets on society and children is the educator, scientist and humanitarian Leo K. Bustad (2000, Delta). He devoted much of his life to work on the human-animal bond and became known as a pioneer in human-animal bond theory and application. He was instrumental in establishing the international, non-profit association the Delta Society. The Delta Society focuses on funding research on why animals are important to the general population and specifically how they effect health and well being. Current literature indicates that Delta is building on its scientific and educational base to apply the scientific information to everyday life. The Society offers the first comprehensive training program in animal-assisted therapy to volunteers so they can work with animals and change the lives of people who are ill or disabled (2000, Delta). There is also a shift in focus at this time to include more work with children (1999, Delta). Bustad co-authored a book on animals and an elementary school curriculum. Indications are that much work will soon be done with animals and children in an education setting but it is in the developmental stages.
Barker and Dawson (1998) did a large study on anxiety on psychiatric patients. Their results showed statistically significant reductions in anxiety scores after the animal-assisted therapy sessions. They concluded that animal-assisted therapy was associated with reduced state anxiety levels. While it is true that this study was done on hospitalized patients I believe that the findings can be significant to children in a school setting as well.
Barker and Dawson (1998) did a large study on anxiety on psychiatric patients. Their results showed statistically significant reductions in anxiety scores after the animal-assisted therapy sessions. They concluded that animal-assisted therapy was associated with reduced state anxiety levels. While it is true that this study was done on hospitalized patients I believe that the findings can be significant to children in a school setting as well.
Various SPCA groups in Canada and the United States (Naherniak, 2000) also advocate more interaction between children and pets. Their main focus is to teach children empathy for the animals. Several references were made to the fact that childhood cruelty to pets is a powerful indicator for future abusive behaviour.
In Kale's (1992) paper on Teens at Risk she points out that having a pet to care for can change their whole outlook on life. When the teens first come to "Project Choice" in Puyallup, Washington they are given a calf to raise and care for. The teens are adamantly opposed to this, often suicidal and all emotionally and behaviourally disturbed. Within the 60 to 90 days that the teens are at the farm they have a complete change of attitude. They learn to feel empathy and how to communicate with each other.
One problem that could arise from having pets in the classroom is that a pet may pass away. In a situation such as this the teacher must respond to the children's reactions to the loss. Jarolmen (1998) conducted a research project on 106 children, 57 adolescents and 270 adults who had lost their pets within a 12 month interval. In this study the findings suggested that children grieved more than adults. This finding suggests that teachers must be prepared to do basic grief therapy with the class should such an event take place.
In one article written about a dog that became a permanent member of a classroom (Owens & Williams, 1995) it is noted that the dog had "a positive impact on the overall learning environment". Permission was granted to the teacher to bring the dog for a 2 week project by the Science Coordinator at the Board of Education, the school principal and the parents of the students. The children enjoyed coming to school, were more motivated in class and cooperated better with each other. Shy children spoke out more and the whole class was happier. What started out as a short unit became a permanent arrangement due to the positive impact the dog made on the class.

Excerpt from CHAPTER THREE

Anxiety appears to be a universal phenomenon: it occurs across cultural lines and has been in evidence throughout recorded history. There is an increase in anxiety worldwide (Reynolds & Richmond, 1985). One possible line of research stemming from this study is to see which animals have the most anxiety reducing effect on the children. For example would mammals be better than reptiles? It would also be interesting to see how many educational settings are using animals as part of their curriculum or in the interest of Biophilia (1993, Kellert & Wilson).


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1995) The anxious child (On-line) Facts for Families © No. 47

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (1995) Children and family moves (On-line) Facts for Families © No. 14

American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author

Barker, S. B. & Dawson, K. S. (1998), The effects of animal-assisted therapy on anxiety ratings of hospitalized psychiatric patients. Psychiatric Services Vol. 49 No. 6

Beidel, D.C. (1997) Anxious children American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 36: 918-924

Cozby, P.C. (1997) Methods in Behavioral Research (6th ed.) California: Mayfield Publishing Company

Dacey, J.S. & Fiori, L.B. (2000), Your anxious child: How parents and teachers can relieve anxiety in children Jossey-Bass Publishers

Day, F. (1997), A review of the literature on the effects of pets and pet therapy on all age groups. California: Polytechnic State University

Delta Society (1999) Animals and children Published by Delta Society USA

Delta Society (2000), Celebrating a life of compassion: Leo K. Bustad, DVM, PhD. A Tribute to the Man and His Work. Renton: Delta Society (On-line)

Delta Society (2000) Animals helping people, people helping animals (On-line)

Dewey, John (1938), Experience and education New York: Macmillan

Hoelscher, K., & Garfat, T. (1993) Talking to the animal Journal of Child and Youth care, 8 (3), 87 - 92

Hoelscher, K., & Garfat, T. (1993) Talking to the animal Journal of Child and Youth care, 8 (3), 87 - 92

Huddart, S. (1998) Notes on animals in the classroom (On-line)

Human Animal Bond Websites (2000) Pet Care Forum (On-line) Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

Jarolmen, J. (1998), A Comparison of the grief reaction of children and adults: focusing on pet loss and bereavement Baywood Publishing C. Inc. Omega, Vol. 37 (2) 133- 150

Kale, M. (1992), Teens at risk: Working with animals to create a new self-image. Interactions Vol. 10, No. 4

Keating, J. (2000), Friends indeed Canadian Living June 2000, pp. 145-148

Kellert, S., & Wilson, E. (Eds.). (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, DC: Shearwater Books.

Levinson, B. M. (1969), Pet-Oriented Child Psychotherapy Springfield: Charles C Thomas Publisher

Naherniak, C. (2000), Classroom animals: More than responsible pet care BC SPCA Education Division (On-line) http:/

New York Times, (Reuters) Oct 02 Bullied Children Younger, Anxious article referenced on the British Medical Journal 1998; 317:924-925.

Owens, R & Williams, N. (1995), A New Breed of Teacher's Pet Teaching K-8 October 1995

Pet Therapy Society of Northern Alberta (1997) Paws in the classroom (On-line)

Rapee, R., Craske, M., & Barlow, D. (1997), The Causes of Anxiety and Panic Attacks. (On-line).

Reynolds, C. & Richmond, B.O. (1985) Revised Children's Manifest Anxiety Scale (RCMAS) California: Western Psychological Services

Salvia, J. & Yesseldyke, J. (1998), Assessment Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Valiquette, J. (undated), Animals as an agent for change in private practice psychotherapy Proposed Thesis Topic (On-line) http:/

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 The Benefits of Pets in the Classroom
by Jolie Goodwin (member # 22, USA)
contributed May 1999

Goodwin, Jolie. (1999?). The Benefits of Pets in the Classroom. Unpublished paper.

Pets in Progress

Upon hearing a soft knock, I opened my classroom door to find my headmaster holding the hand of a very teary child. He introduced the timid boy to me, explaining that it was his first day. My headmaster told me he had tried two rooms previously and could not get the child to enter through the door. I glanced back at my class and turned again to see the young boy slide behind my headmaster's tall leg. I got down on one knee and welcomed the child. He peered out at me, but made no move to venture from his new hiding place. My headmaster then whispered to me, "I suddenly remembered you had a rabbit." As if on cue, one of my young female students came over and reached out her hand and said, "Would you like to come in and see our pet Bunny? His name is Bailey and he LOVES us!" I motioned for the students to move to the floor and we let Bailey, our beloved classroom rabbit, out of his cage. The boy stepped into the room and within a five minute span went from tears to giggles as the small, brown, furry critter nibbled on his shoelace.

This is only an example of what an animal can bring into the lives of children, as well as adults. Many questions are brought to mind when one contemplates the impact of these animals. Can animals help bring out or strengthen some of the stronger traits we are constantly searching for in children? If they can, how can we, as parents and teachers, facilitate that outcome? Can having a pet in the classroom help teach children? What does it teach them? Can an animal actually bring about positive changes in people in the domains of emotion, health, and / or cognition? These are all questions that are constantly being discussed by teachers, psychologists, social workers, parents, and even certain organizations such as the Delta Society, Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), and Fidelco. Animals can have a profound impact on children through interaction. This paper will attempt to come up with some possible answers to the above questions by looking into current research, interviewing children and teachers, and reflecting upon personal experiences as a teacher who keeps animals in the classroom. Following this discussion will be lists of the pros and cons of keeping a pet in the classroom generated by teachers and children, as well as research results. Personal anecdotes based on different types of animals in the classroom and possible lessons that could include a classroom pet will also be incorporated. Animals can provide an additional aspect to education that not only is important, but essential to creating a well-rounded individual.

An understanding of the way children go about the process of creating healthy bonds can be found by examining their interactions not only with people, but also with animals. The notion that all humans have an innate, biologically based need for social interaction is agreed upon by Bowlby (1958) and Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall (1978). People are constantly seeking things that will relax them, relieve stress, bring happiness, and / or enhance emotional stability. For the child, the attempt to make social bonds can be difficult as other children often are making the same attempts elsewhere, or on different developmental levels. A pet can serve as an additional attachment. I remember all too well coming home as a child and burying my tears and difficult times in the fur of the family dog. I recall explaining things to the dog, telling it all the things that went wrong that particular day knowing full well the only response I would get would be licks with a long, wet tongue. Somehow, it made me feel better. Considering the results of a study conducted by Triebenbacher (1998) that state that 90% of pet owners talk to their pets, I realize this is a common behavior. Many children just want their feelings validated and often do not receive this outcome when presenting their problems to adults. People tend to want to solve other people's problems or attempt to cheer them up. Often, a pet fulfills the need of the child simply by being there. Robin and ten Bensel (1985) believe the desire children have for proximity and an emotional bond is congruent with attachment behavior towards humans. Robin and ten Bensel call the relationship between child and pet, "simpler and less conflicted than human relationships" (21, p.66). Kidd and Kidd (1995) conducted a study asking children to draw a picture. The picture could contain themselves and / or family members and / or pets. It is interesting to note that children who owned pets drew themselves significantly closer to their pet than to their family member. In response to the importance of child / pet relationships, Kidd and Kidd state that "perhaps relationships with pets are more accepting and less complex than those with family members. Pets do not scold, criticize, or demand behavior changes" (p. 239). I cannot think of a person who would not benefit from this type of relationship. This is not to undermine the strength and importance of human relationships, but simply to note that animals can complement these relationships in more ways than one.

The question of whether animals are beneficial to humans seems to have an answer. The question of how exactly they are able to provide these benefits remains. Also, exactly what are the benefits they can bring? Sable (1995) suggests that pets have a place in our intrinsic desire to make close bonds. Is it possible that pets can serve as facilitators in strengthening present bonds? I know that having pets in my classroom brought the students closer together through shared jobs and interests. The animal became a focus for some children, and suddenly there was a new friend with a common interest. In Kidd and Kidd's study mentioned previously, there were other interesting conclusions made from the children's drawings. It was observed that out of the group of pet owning children, 100% of these children included a family member in their picture. However, 35% of the children who did not own pets drew a picture of only themselves. If it is possible for a pet to bring a family or a group closer together, the arguments for not owning a pet should become null and void. So many families are trying to achieve these results in other fashions. If even the possibility exists that a pet could strengthen families, that in itself is enough reason to make the effort.

In addition to strengthening existing bonds, contact with animals can have other effects on children as well. Their overall social health and emotional well being could be improved through interaction with animals. Kidd and Kidd state that "to help children grow up to be happy, healthy adults by adapting and adjusting to a rapidly changing world, it is important to find ways to study the emotional relationships between children and animals as well as other human beings" (p. 238). There are teams within schools consisting of regular education teachers, special education teachers, social workers, psychologists, etc. These teams are always implementing lessons, groups, discussions, and role-plays to attempt to show children ways to adapt, improve their social skills, and even alleviate academic stress and social problems. Could having an animal in the classroom correlate with these lessons? Could the pet even help children move towards independence in these goals? Triebenbacher seems to believe this is true. She states, "The benefits of pet ownership and attachment to animals include minimizing emotional trauma, helping to alleviate some emotional problems as well as fears and loneliness, to lessen anxiety during times of stress, to promote good mental and physical health for both children and adults, and provide noncontingent unconditional love and opportunities for affection" (p. 192). Children are faced with many obstacles throughout their school days. Often pets can have calming effects on children and even make them feel loved. By adding this factor into their lives not only at home, but also in the classroom, teachers are empowering their children to not only learn interesting things in a new way, but also to seek out a possible stress reduction method. Triebenbacher conducted a study based on this belief. She interviewed children regarding their feelings about pets.

Here are some interesting statistics based on her interviews.
* 98% of the children consider their pets to be "very important family members" (p. 194).
* 98% of the children indicated that they love their pets very much.
* The most commonly expressed way to convey love to an animal was through touch (hugging, petting, etc.)
* The second most common way to convey love dealt with responsibilities as a pet owner (feeding, walking, etc.)
* When asked if they believe their pets love them very much, 99% of the children stated that their pets did love them very much.
* 88% of the children said they believe their pets know when they are sick or sad.
* Children from ages 3-11 indicated that, if they could have any pet, their first choice would be a dog.

Since animals appear to play such an important role in the emotional well being of children, many people believe that it is the role of the teacher to try to provide the things that enable children to progress in this area. The level of progression a child can make is inconsequential. Animals can make a difference in the life of a three-year-old autistic child in the same way they can with a retired banker. Their love is universal, nonjudgmental, and unconditional. I recently took a few students to a pet store on a field trip and observed one of my retarded sixth graders become enthralled with a young Shepherd puppy in the front of the store. He became completely absorbed in the animal, and extended a hand to make contact. I then watched in awe as he giggled while the dog licked his face. It was a sound I had not heard in the entire seven months that this boy had been my student. Groups mentioned previously, such as the Delta Society, CCI, and Fidelco also see the change that animals can bring to people who could greatly benefit from them. Fidelco spends their time and energy training German Shepherds to guide blind people through their lives, bringing them greater independence. These dogs have entered the lives of thousands of people - bringing smiles and newfound energy to live life. The Delta Society is constantly doing research in areas such as: the health benefits of animals pet loss and bereavement, using nature in education, animals as teachers and healers, etc. They even offer courses people can attend with their pets to get a special pet therapy license. This license allows a pet and their owner to enter places such as hospitals and nursing homes to foster the positive effects animals can have on people in extra need of love and attention. Canine Companions for Independence sets trained animals up with handicapped people to serve as a home aid for them. Similar to Fidelco, the dogs are trained to do things such as fetch the telephone and medicine containers, open doors, bring food from the refrigerator, etc. These companies change the lives of so many people. As educators, it is important to reflect on their research and contemplate the implications it has for the classroom.

Humans can begin to better understand themselves in relation to other beings through a relationship with animals. These relationships are fundamental to world building and human development (Naherniak 1995). Naherniak states, "If there is one thing that is most important for children to realize, it is that they share a world with other beings who have needs similar but not identical to theirs. This understanding helps to develop the child's confidence, empathy and respect for others" (p.2). Teachers have the unique opportunity to provide avenues that can help children make these realizations.

Some people see the addition of animals into the lives of children as something that is beneficial. Others go even further with this notion and call it is need. Kellert and Wilson (1993) suggest that the need humans have to interact with animals is critical in their development of their emotion, intellect, and personality. The word that stands out here is intellect. It has been made clear that children can benefit from animals in the domains of emotion and socialization, but can animals teach people in others areas as well? If they can, this has major implications for the way children are presently learning. Shepard (1982) even goes so far as to suggest that since people seem to be growing away from nature in the modern world, this is causing a psychological retardation in humans. Could simply incorporating a small pet into the classroom setup alleviate his proposed problem? By adding animals into our classrooms, our lessons, and our homes, what other benefits are possible? Could the pet enhance the behaviors and personality traits that teachers and parents are striving to mold in their children?

Kellert and Wilson offer through several studies the following three conclusions:
1. Animals are powerful reinforcers of human attention and behavior.
2. When children interact and watch animals, they grow to be more persistent in nature and show more positive behavior changes.
3. The presence of animals facilitates both human speech and nonverbal expression.

It appears as if animals can add benefits to the academic lives of students as well. Many educators that I talked with who kept animals in their classrooms said they discovered that the animals provided much more in their classroom than they had originally anticipated. Children learn to value all life forms, learn facts about the animals, but most importantly and most commonly agreed upon by these teachers, was that the animals increased student motivation. One teacher stated, "My students learned so much just from the simple presence of the animal. They practiced responsibility, they learned about the animal in a hands on manner, they learned a respect for animals and their rights, and they learned new ways to express love and emotion." I have a student this year who is so motivated by the tank of fish in my room that she will, for the first time ever, sit at a table and work math problems with me. The simple fact that she can be the one to feed the fish and turn out their light is enough for her to end her power struggle over math work. The fact that animals can be reinforcing can be brought to new levels when children enjoy the animals. I have had students who hate to write create elaborate plays about pirates just so they could use the classroom cockatiel as their first mate. Children will create wonderful, creative works in all areas using the animal as a model. I had students who created a science fair project using my pet snake to prove that snakes do not have ears. Not only can animals help out in these areas of academics, but they can also serve, as the push students need to go the extra mile. Some of the most imaginative, exquisite stories I have ever read written by children revolved around certain animals. With a creative mind and a twist on the traditional teaching outlook, animals can add so much into not only the classroom environment, but also into lessons. In the following section I will outline some ideas that can be incorporated into lessons taught by the teacher who keeps animals in the classroom. A wonderful way to instruct a new skill is to somehow incorporate it into a previously learned skill. Building on mastered skills helps children see connections and retain information. Children already know a lot about animals. By using the animals to bring in new information not only motivates children, but also is calling upon previously learned schema.

Information about animals can be incorporated into all areas of a curriculum.
* SCIENCE: Animals lend themselves to science as they serve as a visual when studying things like anatomy, life process and cycles. Teach children about the environment, animal homes, and our human responsibilities for animals; teach about chemicals and pH with a fish tank. Including animals in the curriculum can also help children connect science with the outdoors and nature.
* SOCIAL STUDIES: Discover the significance animals have had on our history. Study working, companion, and wild animals and how these animals may be viewed differently by different cultures. Find out how animals are treated and used differently in various areas of the world. Teach animal habitats with a map of different ecosystems. Discover the many laws that protect animals around the globe. Actively participate in the legislative process through letters to congress and research on the need for new animal protection laws.
* MATH: Introduce the concept of animal overpopulation and extinction, use animals as a theme in computation problems, estimate the weight and length of animals and measure, use geometry, area and perimeter to create proper animal cages and habitats, counting, and fractions and percents (what fraction of the fish are red?), or graph the number of pets classmates have at home.
* READING: Encourage imagination through animal themes, motivate children to read with stories that connect to their pets, use folk tales and literature with animal characters, and act out stories using the pet to ensure reading comprehension.
* WRITING: Keep a journal of animals sightings and behavior, write plays using the animal as a character or prop, write fiction and non-fiction stories related to the animal, write letters about the animal, write expository articles on local pet stores, compare and contrast different animals and pets, or interview in the community and write up the results.
* HEALTH: Teach children the importance of a varied diet and self-care. Children can learn responsibilities regarding the care of another living being as well as themselves.
* ART: Art activities based on animals can help children relate to the color, shapes, and aesthetic beauty of the natural world. Sketch, paint, or sculpt animals children see as well as in their natural habitats. Research famous artists who utilized animals in their works.
* COMPUTERS: Research animals and their behavior, physiology, and care on the internet or use computer software to help students learn.

After having looked into reasons that provide a positive push towards having an animal in the classroom, it is important to also look at the aspects of pet care that cause many teachers to decide against using pets in their teaching profession. When speaking with teachers who own pets, their most common gripe was the difficulties the pet can cause over school vacations and summer break. Also, some teachers stated that it took a lot of time and energy to care for the animal. However, many other teachers stated that they have systems set up where they provide little to no care to the animal and that the students ran that aspect of caring for the animal.

The following is a list of the pros and cons generated from teachers, research from the Mining Company Guide to Elementary School Educators (1997) and the A.P.E. News (1995), as well as personal experience that go along with the adding a pet to your classroom and lessons.

* Wonderful source of happiness and inspiration
* Motivating for children - brings enthusiasm
* Improved learning experiences in the curriculum
* Tactile and visual connection to the natural world
* Observing and caring for animals instills a sense of responsibility
* Teaches a respect for life
* Active participation for the group creating social bonds
* Increased sensitivity and awareness of other living things
* Teaches the understanding that life forms need specific things to survive
* Less tension in the classroom
* Provides the opportunity to touch and observe new animals, possibly overcoming the fear of some
* Students can teach other classes and create presentations about the animals
* Teaches compassion
* Practice shared responsibility and care schedules
* Increased social skills and emotional stability
* Can be a positive reinforcer
* Teaches the pros and cons to keeping animals

* Must provide food, water and attention on a regular basis - can consume time
* Many animals need daily care - must be prepared to give care over breaks
* Moving around over breaks can add stress to the animals life
* Must research and make sure your classroom is a suitable environment - many animals need heat and light. Does your school run these amenities over the weekends and vacations?
* Certain animals need room to roam - can you provide this in your classroom?
* Can your students refrain from sticking inappropriate snacks in the cage and follow the strict dietary rules some animals must follow?
* Animals might have babies - are you prepared for this?
* Animals might die - can you adequately prepare your students for this?
* Some pets may cause allergy problems in some students
* Can cost money between care and food
* Animals are a permanent commitment - giving the animal to a shelter come summertime sets a poor example of animal care for children
* Could provide a poor wildlife image - is it appropriate to send the message that it is OK to keep wildlife (birds, reptiles, etc.) as pets?
* The classroom environment might be a scary place for some animals
* There is the risk of injury - how will a parent react to her young son being nipped by the classroom rabbit?

This second list shows the negative aspects of keeping a pet in the classroom. It takes a person who not only has a love for animals, but who is willing to spend the extra time and effort that keeping animals in the classroom requires. The benefits of doing this, as mentioned throughout this paper, are enormous. It is difficult not to agree with the notion that by taking into account the potential positive outcomes of incorporating animals into the lives of children, this list of "cons" seems to hold less importance.

When an educator reaches the point where they have decided to add an animal to their classroom environment, the next question is obvious. Out of the numerous possibilities, which animal suits the teacher best, and what will that particular animal add to the lives of that teacher's students? Previously mentioned, from Triebenbacher's study, when asked what animal they would want the most, most children stated a dog as their first choice. Is a dog appropriate for the classroom? Given their demands for attention and exercise, the answer would be "No". However, the benefits of a dog in the classroom can be possible on a part time basis. Canine Companions for Independence has a program that matches service dogs with teachers of special needs children. When the animal is trained and available, the extent of the benefits from a few weeks with a visiting dog is innumerable. However, there are many obstacles to this type of visit. When I asked my principal if I could bring my well trained, five year old yellow lab to school for a week of research, I was told there is too much liability. I am not sure if I would receive different answers at different schools, but the fact that it was not possible for me shows that this is against the norm of the typical classroom pet, and the idea was not well received by administration. I continue to believe that if there is administration who agrees with the positive possibilities and parents are in agreement with the project, many good things could come from this type of animal intervention. However, there are many other options that would bring the positive results sought after. The Mining Company Guide to Elementary School Educators (1997) states the most popular classroom pets as: "turtles, frogs, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, spiders, rats, parrots, crabs, guppies, goldfish, lizards, and snakes" (p.2). Having had personal experience with four of the animals on this list, I will take the next section to provide short anecdotes explaining the benefits and outcomes of the addition of these four different animals into my classroom and lessons.

The Year of the Snake
About three days before the start of my first year teaching, the director of science walked in my half ready classroom and asked me if I wanted a snake. Having not thought much about the set up of my classroom due to the preoccupation of curriculum, files, and lesson plans, I thought it might be interesting to have a pet for a while, seeing as if I didn't like it I could always give it back. I cleared a space on a shelf for the cage and placed a large water and food (goldfish) bowl inside with some wood and the skull of a deer for my new Garter snake. I was thinking that many students might have a fear of snakes and this would be a great opportunity to help them get over their phobia. I never thought much about integrating of the animal into my lessons, or using the animal to modify behavior - it all just sort of happened. On the first day of school I met Brian, a 7-year-old youngster who did not want to be there and had avoided all school related activities, teachers, homework, and even the bus for the last year. The school was determined for him to have a fresh start. His mother escorted him into my room with quite a large frown on his little face on the first day. His mother, in an attempt to excite him, said, "Look Brian, a snake! Just like yours!" I immediately seized this opportunity and told Brian how happy I was to hear he liked snakes. His eyes lit up a bit and I told him I was a new snake keeper and would love for him to teach me all he knew about snakes. He then told me he knew everything about snakes and I then asked him if he would like to be in charge of caring for the snake. Two things came of this - first, Brian was well received by his peers as they listened to him tell what a snake can eat, and how to properly take it out of its cage. This was a boy who ended school last year stating that nobody liked him. I watched his face light up with excitement as he answered the questions from the other students, obviously impressed with his knowledge and bravery. The second change came over time, as Brian would run into my class every morning to check the snake and talk to me about it. His mother told me that for the first time, Brian runs to catch the bus. Over time, he created stories and pictures telling of the snake's imaginary adventures. He worked hard, and even had a story published in the school newspaper. Brian wasn't the only one that the snake affected. Many children who would not let me near them with the snake in September were holding the snake and learning about its habits by Christmas. Many students wrote stories and the snake was incorporated into games, math problems, etc. I had a science class conduct an experiment for the science fair with the snake, a homemade maze and a tape recorder, proving (even to themselves) that snakes do not have ears. This was an important year for me as an educator. As it was my first experience teaching, I learned a lot about all aspects of being a teacher. I learned an additional thing also - that an animal in my classroom can play a role as important as math books and reinforcement systems. I was hooked and I vowed to keep a classroom pet every year. Unfortunately, over the summer the snake died. He just stopped eating and no one could figure out why. I like to think he was broken hearted over not seeing his young friend for so long. Brian likes to think so also. It's interesting that Brian still continues to visit me. It seems to me that the snake was a link to a larger bond and a renewed self-confidence.

The Year of the Rabbit
The end of the summer rolled around and I remembered my vow to keep a pet in the classroom and I was contemplating what to do about this. The problem was solved for me when I met a girl who would be using my classroom for two periods of the day and I was to use hers for those two periods. She came equipped with a small lop eared rabbit and when she asked if she could keep it in my room as it was bigger, I jumped at the chance. This was great, all the benefits of an animal in the classroom with someone else to take care of it. Bailey the Bunny became a school favorite. The headmaster was puzzled at the small number of children playing outside at recess until he came into my room to find about 25 children on the floor playing with Bailey. Many children met each other on the floor of my room and became fast friends. In fact, an after school club began called Animal Study and I led this group of children through nature walks, and slide shows, and animal games and discussions for over a year. The children were so motivated to do anything in my classroom, simply because the rabbit was watching. It was amazing to see the effort and accomplishments that were coming from my students. Bailey, also, was wonderful. It was as if she knew which students needed a little attention. One day there was a boy having a difficult day and was ripping his paper with his pen in frustration. About to yell out something he shouldn't have, his face changed and he laughed. I looked down to see what caused the change, only to see that Bailey had plopped her entire body over his foot just at the right time. Bailey was our pet - the students wanted to take care of her and they learned about the importance of exercise for an animal as well as other aspects to providing a healthy lifestyle for a pet. At the end of the year, my neighboring teacher changed jobs and sadly, the rabbit went away with her, so I again found myself thinking about a pet for the next year. The rabbit had been so successful, but I couldn't bring it home with me the way she had over breaks because of my dog, so my thoughts ventured out to new possibilities.

The Year of the Bird
I broke my vow and began the school year without a pet in my classroom, thinking I would get some ideas from the children. I was undecided on what to add to the classroom when my husband (at the time, my boyfriend) solved the problem for me. It seems to me that if I wait long enough, an animal will fall into my lap. He drove up to see me one Friday night in September and greeted me with a shoebox. Upon lifting the lid, I looked in on a petrified bundle of feathers that my husband had found in his backyard. Upon careful inspection, we discovered it was a young cockatiel with yellow feathers and beautiful red cheeks. Upon further inspection we found it had a band around its ankle and knew how to "hop up" onto fingers. Hence, we immediately placed ads in the newspapers to find its owner. In the meantime, the bird lived in a large cage from the science wing of the school with homemade perches and toys on a shelf in my classroom. Over the weekend I took it home with me. Another week went by and there was still no response to the ad, so we decided we had a pet. My ever punning husband named the bird "Avery" (connected to Aviary - a bird shelter) and left the bird in my care. As to be expected by now, the students immediately fell in love with Avery. She was well trained (by her previous owner) and would sit on shoulders and play in people's hair. Unfortunately for me, Avery thought freckles were birdseed and would occasionally try to eat them, but other than that, she was wonderful. She would sit on the desks while children wrote stories about her, and she even served as a "parrot" in a school play on the shoulder of a very proud pirate. We actually all thought Avery was a boy until one day in science class she laid an egg. She had perfect timing - right in the middle of a lesson on reproduction. The children later discovered why the eggs would not hatch into baby birds and the tiny eggs were blown out and decorated to become the most adorable Christmas tree ornaments. Avery exuded personality - I found myself telling stories to everyone about my pet bird that liked to shower with me and then would lift her wings for a blow dry. Then the time came for Christmas vacation and I would be traveling home. I found children knocking my door down to ask if they could take her home for the break. One of my students, Max, had recently lost his pet dog to old age. I called his mother and asked if they would be interested in taking care of the bird over vacation. The other students all agreed that Max should be the one to take it when I explained my reasons. The students learned so much from Avery - about bird gender, hold to care for and pick up a bird, about unfertilized eggs, and about empathy for a child going through the loss of a pet. They also improved their writing skills along with many other things that showed a positive change. When I went to pick Avery up at Max's house, I walked into their kitchen to see Avery on the shoulder of Max's father in a suit while the family ate cereal around the table. Avery was singing and puffing her feathers as if to tell me that I had picked a good place for her. I was lucky. I understand the variety of outcomes possible with situations such as this. Another teacher who kept a chinchilla once gave it to a family for a week and the animal came back so frightened it didn't come out of it's cage for a week. So, as the year continued I would loan Avery to Max's family over the breaks, as they had all fallen in love with her. At the end of the school year I would be getting married and moving to a new apartment and a new school. I would be away for most of the summer and was uncertain how Avery would handle the change. At the suggestion to Max of making Avery part of their family, both Max and his mother cried and said, "We were praying you would ask us!" So I said Good-bye to Avery and moved on, knowing she' d be happy, and once again wondering what the next animal would be.

The Year of the Fish
Once again, it wasn't even into the first month of school when I got a call from my new principal. It was as if someone had told him I was coming. He had a friend who wanted to give away a free fish tank set up to a teacher in the district. My principal "immediately thought of me." Ten days later my students were helping me set up filters and airlines and thermometers to get it ready. I was glad I had waited again this year, as the set up of the tank was the greatest learning experience. We had discussions on proper homes for animals and we learned together what fish need to survive and why. Fish are an interesting pet also, as they tend to die more readily than rabbits, birds, and the like. This also brings opportunity. We talked about what we should do with dead fish and about being respectful and humane. We read together that they should be buried, not flushed and my students learned about decomposition and the wonderful effects this has on the growth of new plant life. Another one of my students conducted a science fair experiment on using dirty fish tank water to water plants, and we both learned about the benefits of that. I presently fill milk gallons and bring them home to water my houseplants. One particular student of mine is so excited to see the fish she sometimes forgets to say Hello to me in the morning. She will complete massive amounts of work for the opportunity to feed the fish and turn off their light. We have taken field trips to buy fish together and even watch our fish have live babies. One boy in class often needs to take a time out to calm down and has opted to time out by the fish tank. He now spends homeroom watching the fish, and the amount of time outs he has needed has decreased by half since the beginning of the year. The great thing about fish is they can stay in the classroom over vacations. This summer I think will pose a problem, but it is small enough (15 gallons) that I might just take it home. The fish have provided my classroom with everything the other animals have with the exception of touch. This is the first pet the children cannot touch and hold and I think that is an important factor that I find to be missing. Other than that, I have been surprised at the positive response to these animals, and find tons of ways to incorporate them into teaching lessons and skills.

Animals Brought in from the Outside
If you decide that keeping a pet is not for you, there are many other ways to incorporate animals into your classroom. This past year I organized two assemblies. I had a woman come in with iguanas to talk to the children about keeping reptiles as pets, and to discuss the iguana in particular. She talked only with my class and she was so well received that the children wrote her the longest letters I had seen from them ever. They talked of iguanas for the next month. I also called Fidelco and had a woman come talk with the 6th grade about their program and how they train seeing eye dogs, why people can't pet them when they are working, and what they can do for someone who is blind. The effects of these talks brought about discussions and feelings similar to those found when dealing with a classroom pet. There are many ways to bring animals in from the outside and avoid the "cons" of taking care of an animal all year. I remember being in first grade and having a nature teacher visit and going out in the field with bug nets to catch bugs. I recall taking my animal study group out to a stream to catch newts and tadpoles. These types of activities can open up the world of animals to children just as much as adding animals to their everyday environment.

Upon the realization of what an animal can add to the lives of children, teachers should feel the need to react. Whether it is in mindful reflection, discussion with others, or action towards changes, the implications of this research provide to educators' new insight. This insight cannot be pushed away as the outcome is too powerful. Most people might say they knew animals could have an impact on children, but how much of an impact was unclear. Animals can create positive change in the realms of social skills, emotional well being, cognition, and independence. By providing these opportunities to children, teachers are handing their students a key. It is amazing to watch the ways animals can open doors for children. After having witnessed the changes personally in many different ways over the years, I feel it is my obligation as an educator to provide these experiences to my students. Not bringing animals into their immediate world could be compared to cutting the music program in the school. Hence, the pressing question is for today is why is the number of teachers who keep animals in their classes so low? In my present teaching situation, there are over 80 teachers and only 2 of us have animals in our classrooms. Could this be considered negligent? I do not believe it is due to negligence, but more that it is due to ignorance. This research needs to be shared and reflected upon. The implications are too large and too important. The children may not even be aware of what they are missing, or even of their own potential.


Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: a psychological study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

A.P.E. News (1995).Animals in the classroom. API: A.P.E. News, 9 (2), 1-2.

Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child's tie to his mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-373.

Huddart, S. (1995). Humane education and the biophilia factor - new perspectives on animals in classrooms. BC SPCA Education Division, pp.1-3.

Kellert, S., Wilson, E. (Eds.). (1993). The Biophilia Hypothesis. Washington, DC: Shearwater Books.

Kidd, A., Kidd, R. (1995). Children's drawings and attachment to pets. Psychological Reports, 77, 235-241.

The Mining Company Guide to Elementary School Educators (1997). Elementary school educators - critters in the classroom.

Naherniak, C.(1995). Classroom animals. BC SPCA Education Division - Profound Encounters, pp.1-3.

Robin, M., ten Bensel, R. (1985). Pets and the socialization of children. Marriage and Family Review, 8, 63-78.

Sable, P. (1995). Pets, attachment, and well-being across the life cycle. Social Work, 40, 334-341.

Shepard, P. (1982). Nature and Madness. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Triebenbacher, S. (1998). Pets as transitional objects: Their role in children's emotional development.Psychological Reports, 82, 191-200.

Phone conversations with The Delta Society and Fidelco.

Internet address utilized for research:

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