The BC SPCA recognizes that animals in schools can enrich the lives of students. However, the relationship must equally respect the welfare of the animals, whether present on a temporary or permanent basis, according to the Five Freedoms.
Direct involvement of companion animals in classroom education must be approached with the goal of providing exemplary animal care. When companion animals are considered for classroom placement, the teacher must:
- Select a species whose natural behaviour patterns are compatible with a classroom setting;
- Ensure the animal has been socialized to thrive in a classroom setting;
- Integrate the animal as part of a structured humane education curriculum, where possible; and
- Provide the animal with the Five Freedoms, including during non-instructional times.
The BC SPCA is opposed to the keeping of wild or exotic animals as classroom pets. Full provision of the Five Freedoms is not possible for most of these animals, whether wild-caught or captive-bred, due to their complex social, physiological, behavioural and environmental needs.
Animals should not be placed in educational settings where youth under the age of five are present, owing to the difficulty of ensuring the health and safety of both the animal and the children. Instead, consideration should be given to structured visits by animal caregivers who can safely oversee child-animal interactions.
School Visits with Animals
Anyone bringing a domesticated animal into a school on a temporary basis must provide for the health, safety and well-being of the animal for the duration of the visit.
The BC SPCA does not condone school visits with wild or exotic animals. Such visits may have the unintended effect of persuading students of the suitability of these animals to life in captivity.
Classroom Hatching and Breeding Projects
The BC SPCA is opposed to the hatching of birds (e.g., chicks, ducklings) in schools due to the welfare issues associated with inappropriate handling and environmental conditions, particularly when non-animal alternatives (e.g., videos, photos, apps) are readily available. Other hatching programs (e.g., salmonids, insects) should be critically evaluated on a case-by-case basis with regard to issues such as high mortality rates due to inadequate care or introduction of non-indigenous species into ecosystems.
Classroom Science Projects
The BC SPCA recognizes the innate curiosity that children have towards animals, and the value of inquiry-based learning in furthering student knowledge and appreciation of animal needs, behaviour and emotions. However, teachers should critically assess whether live animals are necessary to the achievement of learning outcomes. The BC SPCA only supports the use of live animals for student-driven or teacher-led classroom science projects under the following conditions:
- The Five Freedoms are ensured for all animals involved, including the use of humane training and handling methods;
- Projects are non-invasive (e.g., observation of animal behaviour) and in no way cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm;
- Animals are not killed as part of a lesson or in front of students; and
- Any portrayal of animals is not demeaning toward the individual animal or the species.
Alternatives to the use of live animals, including nature walks, field trips and documentaries, are encouraged as the BC SPCA believes that observation of wild or exotic animals outside of their natural habitats has less educational benefit for students.
As per the BC SPCA position statement on the Use of Animals in Teaching, the Society is opposed to the use of any animal, including cadavers or tissues, for dissection in education except when training animal professionals in post-secondary institutions. The BC SPCA supports alternatives to dissection and encourages science teachers to use non-animal alternatives (e.g., 3-D models, virtual dissection apps, videos or photos) that have been proven to provide equal or better learning outcomes, while respecting the moral, cultural and religious freedoms of students.
Approved by the Board of Directors – January 2020
(replaces Classroom Pets, February 2009; Educational Visits Using Animals, February 2009; Hatching and Breeding Programs in the Classroom, February 2009; Student Science Projects, February 2009)
Research shows that children who interact with animals have higher levels of self-esteem, greater empathy and better social skills.1 Having animals in the classroom can therefore contribute to their social-emotional development.2 However, there are a number of conditions educators should consider to ensure the health, safety and well-being of classroom pets and students alike. These include (but are not limited to):
- The educator selects a species whose natural behaviour patterns are compatible with a classroom setting (e.g., the animal is not nocturnal);
- The educator thoroughly researches the animal’s nutritional, social and environmental needs prior to acquiring the animal;
- The animal is under the direct guardianship of the educator (or other knowledgeable adult at the school) who assumes full responsibility for the care and welfare of the animal, including overnight as well as over weekends, holidays and school breaks (i.e., the animal is not sent home with students);
- The animal is socialized to thrive in a classroom setting;
- The animal is provided appropriate levels of care and a high standard of welfare in accordance with the Five Freedoms;
- The animal has access to regular and emergency veterinary care;
- Animal handling is supervised by an experienced adult and conducted in a safe and species-appropriate manner;
- The animal is not permitted to breed;
- The animal is included in emergency evacuation planning;
- The educator understands the risk of zoonotic disease transfer to students and implements appropriate hygiene and cleaning regimens; and
- The animal contributes to a structured humane education curriculum, where possible.
It is important to note that the mere presence of an animal is not a guarantee that children will learn prosocial behaviour. Empathy and compassion are learned primarily from role models.1 Educators should therefore lead by example, and encourage sensitivity and respect for the physical and emotional needs of classroom pets.
Not all children have the opportunity to experience animals at home or in the classroom; hence the significance of structured school visits with animals. These humane education programs build on a child’s natural curiosity about animals to help foster greater awareness and caring for the needs of others, starting with family, pets and classmates, and gradually growing to incorporate the larger community and even the planet (often referred to as a “circle of empathy”).1 As empathy deficits can be regarded as both the cause and consequence of cruelty to animals 3, it is especially important to reach youth between the ages of eight and 13, when they are developmentally the most receptive to developing empathy skills. By fostering empathy, humane education programs may also prevent or interrupt a pattern of development that results in aggression against people.3
Given that children are innately drawn to animals, having animals in the classroom can provide opportunities to support the learning of the science curriculum, as well as motivate students to engage with science learning.2 However, it is the belief of the BC SPCA that student learning should not come at the expense of animal welfare. Moreover, ignoring the emotional responses or even glossing over the death of an animal can affect the value that children place on animals, and can inadvertently reinforce the notion that animals are disposable. Again, as role models, educators have a significant influence on the attitudes and behaviours of their students towards animals.4 Ultimately, due to the animal welfare issues that can arise, the BC SPCA is strongly supportive of non-animal teaching methods, many of which have been shown to be as or more effective than using animals.5
Background updated – January 2020
1Renck Jalongo M (ed) 2014 Teaching compassion: Humane education in early childhood. Springer Science+Business Media: Dordrecht, NL
2Herbert S and Lynch J 2017 Classroom animals provide more than just science education. Science & Education 26: 107-123
3Komorosky D and O’Neal KK 2015 The development of empathy and prosocial behavior through humane education, restorative justice, and animal-assisted programs. Contemporary Justice Review 18: 395-406
4Balcombe J 2000 The use of animals in higher education: Problems, alternatives & recommendations. The Humane Society Press: Washington, DC, USA
5Animals in Science Policy Institute 2019 Comparative studies of animal and non-animal methods in teaching.
Animal: A living being belonging to the kingdom Animalia.
Five Freedoms: A concept first developed in 1965 by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.
The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst;
- Freedom from pain, injury and disease;
- Freedom from distress;
- Freedom from discomfort;
- Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.
The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.
Companion animals: Domesticated animals who have been selectively bred to live and thrive in mutually beneficial relationships with humans and who are kept primarily for the purpose of companionship.
Domesticated animals: Species that have been selectively bred by humans over hundreds or thousands of generations in order to alter their genetics to create animals that are dependant, docile, predictable, and controllable, and that no longer occupy an ecological niche in the wild.
Exotic animals: Species that are non-domesticated, non-indigenous wild animals, whether captured from the wild or captive-bred.
Wild animals: Species that have not been domesticated. Wild animals have evolved in complex ecosystems resulting in mutual interdependencies with other animals and the surrounding environment. Wild animals may be exotic or indigenous, and wild-born or captive-bred.
Zoonotic disease: Diseases that are transferrable between humans and animals.