On March 30, I obtained a marvelous gift for my school - a pair of skinny pigs, complete with their spacious cage, plenty of hay, bags of food, and treats. Chocolate and Vanilla are two boys, skittish but friendly, and their owners felt that they could not give them the attention they deserved. They were happy to see them going to a school and that I have some experience caring for skinny pigs.
It's been a few weeks since I brought them to my school and it's absolutely wonderful to see how their presence has excited the entire student body and the staff as well. The questions erupted in such a torrent that I had to video tape some of the conversations. Pets are fantastic for inquiry, because the queries are all authentic and genuine. The students and I created a bulletin board called "100 Questions We Had About Our Pets" and I didn't even include all the questions that were asked.
Even more exciting than the curiosity is the empathy and compassion I see in our students because of the animals. Chocolate and Vanilla needed their nails clipped badly and a Grade 6 student who has rabbits at home volunteered to clip their nails, since he does it with his own pets. I held Vanilla and Chocolate and he used another teacher's special clippers to get the length of their nails reduced. Chocolate's nails are dark, so it's difficult to see the blood vessel, and while snipping, the student accidentally nicked the vein and Chocolate bled. The poor Grade 6 student was so worried and upset. I reassured him that even professional groomers make them bleed, and we had special clotting powder for just such a situation. This same student has come every day after school to check on them and get them used to human contact. A Grade 3 girl watched the Grade 6 boy talk and approach the pigs and asked if she could have permission to go into the cage and gently pet them. She's demonstrated her calm demeanor and responsibility so I agreed that, with supervision, she could also get them used to human handling. In just a short period of time, the students have the pigs contentedly accepting strokes on their noses and necks.
There are a lot of rules and regulations surrounding animals in schools (and rightfully so), but the benefits outweigh the challenges. These pigs get children to open up their hearts and minds in a concrete, immediate way. It'll be interesting when I have four skinny pigs under one roof for the Easter long weekend, but I'll cross that piggy bridge when I come to it.