From Cockroaches To Guinea Pigs, Folks Are Stepping Up To Care For Class Pets

by Clint Edwards
Originally Published: 
With Schools Shut Down, What Happened To All The Class Pets?
Courtesy of Jennifer Murillo and Oreo, Bree Gillespie and Cujo and Jacquie Milchen and Peppa (and friends)

My wife holds a dual role at our children’s school here in Lebanon, Oregon. Part of her position is teaching gardening, while the rest of her time is spent as a teaching assistant in a fourth grade class. When schools were closed due to COVID-19, I suppose it made sense that we inherited the fourth grade class “pet”: Snappy… the Venus flytrap.

How can a plant be a classroom pet? That is a good question, but considering Snappy does eat bugs, and Venus flytraps are a pretty cool plant, I think an exception can be made here. Snappy is currently sitting in my 13-year-old son’s window right now, waiting for my kids to leave the patio door open so another meal will buzz into our home.

Catherine Falls Commercial/Getty

If you think about it, though … there are a lot of class pets out there, and not all of them are as simple and low-maintenance as a Venus flytrap. Scary Mommy spoke with a couple of folks to find out how they are handling the whole class pet quandary. Luckily for those pets, many parents and teachers are taking on a lot of additional roles in the aftermath of the coronavirus, and one of them happens to be zookeeper.

Jennifer Murillo’s daughter attends 4th grade in Queens, New York. Their class pet, a guinea pig named Oreo, was on a schedule: he would go home with one of the students each weekend, until the pandemic hit. But Oreo is pretty popular, and according to Jennifer, he is back on schedule. “We now have Oreo. The teacher has coverage by month for June, July, August and we’ll get him back in September. Honestly, he is so good and so cute I’d keep him the entire time, but other families want him too. We’ll see once the fall comes how much longer we’re out of school.”

Oreo the guinea pig: Jennifer Murillo

I must say, though, Emily Margaret probably had the most work to do to find homes for class pets of anyone I spoke with. She teaches animal behavior in the Bronx, and literally had dozens of animals in her classroom. Somehow she managed to get them all placed before school closed.

According to Emily, “I personally took the two gerbils, a small container with eight discoid cockroaches that my class did neurosurgery on last year, and a colony of at least 60 hissing cockroaches.” Four hamsters, a leopard gecko, a bearded dragon, and a blue-tongued skink all went home with various students on the school bus. But don’t worry, the class set up an Instagram account for the class pets, so Emily and her students have been able to keep tabs on how all these class pets have been surviving the pandemic.

Back to rural Oregon, my son’s former teacher Bree Gillespie suddenly had to take home their classroom pet Cujo. Now don’t get too caught up in his deadly name; he’s a teddy bear hamster. I must say, Cujo is quite popular. So popular in fact that when I mentioned that I was writing about classroom pets, my son Tristan asked how Cujo was doing, and wondered if we could trade Snappy for Cujo. I will admit, I thought about it for a moment, but not long. Let’s be real, we have a cat and a dog … so frankly, I doubt Cujo would last very long in our house. To be honest, I’m surprised the dog hasn’t eaten Snappy.

Via Bree Gillespie

Some class pets were waiting to enter the world when the world changed. Krista Hall’s 3rd grade class in Lunenburg County, VA was hatching chicks as part of a science lesson. They were on day seven of the incubation process when school closed. “I ended up with 16 baby chicks,” Krista said. Lucky for her third grade class, Krista recorded the chicks hatching and posted it on YouTube so her students could still be part of the process. Unlucky for Krista … she now has 16 chickens to care for.

But the sad fact is, not everyone was so eager to take care of class pets. This is particularly apparent when it comes to fish. Jacquie Milchen, a fourth grade teacher’s aide in Ohio, ended up with the class fish, Peppa. However, as she left with Peppa’s tank in her arms, somehow she ended up with three more fish. As it turns out, in the scramble to move in-person school to home school due to COVID, many of the teachers did not want to take on the additional duty of caring for the class fish. According to Jacquie: “My track record with fish is good, that’s why I ended up with them. The other teachers were going to flush their fish if I didn’t take them.” I know … this is a sad story. No one loves the fish like the hamsters, but hey — bless you, Jacquie.

Peppa the class fish via Jacquie Milchen

Naturally, the fate of class pets nationwide is still a little up in the air, but on the whole, it does seem like parents and teachers are combining their resources to take care of these little guys. Lots of families are fostering pets they didn’t anticipate, and finding that taking care of their displaced classroom pals provides ample opportunity to learn new things, get hands-on experience, and have some fun in the process. And they’re showing that “emotional support animals” come in all stripes (er, scales?). In a recent article for NPR, the Brooklyn-based mother of a six-year-old tasked with the classroom tortoise says that “Holly has become a source of comfort during the long, unpredictable days of the city’s lockdown.”

Thank goodness for the kind souls willing to open their homes to frogs, gerbils, cockroaches, and yes, Venus flytraps. The hope here is that every class pet will be safe and sound, and return — to the delight of their classes — once things return to normal.

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