Wednesday, January 8, 2014

let's talk about classroom pets.

I might sound like an old person when I say this, but do kids these days (there it is) have school pets?

School pets were a big deal when I graced the elementary school halls. Why? Because you had the opportunity to take them home for the weekend, and that was THE BEST THING EVER. Second grade and fourth grade were the years of the take-home-able classroom pets. (Not that there weren’t other classroom pets. We had fish in third grade and in the high school biology classroom, and the junior high science teacher had snakes, but those never left the building… except when the snakes escaped, but that’s another story.) I had the same teacher for second grade and fourth grade, and she liked rats and hamsters. I don’t remember the second grade hamster’s name, but there was a white rat named Whitney. In fourth grade, the class hamster was named Tiger, and there were two white rats named Snowball and Mitzy.

The hamster and rats went home with someone every weekend. If you were interested in taking a pet home, you’d sign up with the teacher and go through a rotation. When it was your turn to take your pet home, you’d just haul the whole cage home with you.

Enter the second grade classroom. I was a seven-year-old who didn’t think to ask her parents if it was ok to take the rat home for the weekend. I didn’t care about the hamster, so I signed up on the rat list. I eagerly awaited my turn to take the rat home, and when the day finally arrived, I dragged the rat cage home with me on the bus. Whitney the rat and I arrived home in one piece… until my mother found out that I’d brought a rat home.

I had no idea what the big deal was. It was just a little rat, and she was so cute!
Mom – not one for rodents – disagreed. She conceded that there wasn’t much we could do now (as it was the weekend, and there was no one to take the rat off our hands), but I was under threat of death to NEVER bring a rat home again.

I loved having Whitney the rat for the weekend. Besides some ill-fated fish, I’d never had indoor pets before, and I thought it was great. Whitney had a plastic rat ball, and she’d roll around the house. That night, I set her cage on top of my dresser and placed her inside.

Now, I don’t know if I forgot to shut the lid on the cage or what, but when Mom came in to check on me that night, she found herself face-to-face with Whitney the rat. Whitney had gotten out of her cage and was sitting right on top. Mom quickly woke me up and told me that I’d better get that rat back in her cage. I snuck up on Whitney… but then she slid behind the dresser. Mom then had to go wake Dad to get him to move the gigantic dresser, and I was finally able to corner Whitney. From that point on, Whitney’s cage remained closed (with a bunch of books on top for extra security). The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully and on Monday, Whitney made it safely back to school. However, not too long afterwards (I’d like to say it was the very next week, but I could be wrong), another classmate took Whitney the rat home for the weekend – and she never came back. (Whitney the rat was an escape artist, after all.)

So that was the last time I got to take a pet rat home. I had to settle for going over to my friend Allison’s house for sleepovers whenever she got to take the rats home. In fourth grade, we had two white rats: Snowball and Mitzy. These rats weren’t simply classroom pets: they were science experiments. Before you get all animal rights on me, let me tell you that these were science experiments in the loosest sense. We did rudimentary tests like giving one sugar water and one regular water and measuring their tails to see how long they grew (in order to tell which was which, we marked them with those scented markers – one rat was red, one was purple). The rest of the time, they just got to roam around on our desks during free time.

The other furry occupant of the fourth grade room was the hamster named Tiger. While my parents had informed me that there was no way I could take the rats home, they decided that the hamster would be fine. I arrived at school on the Friday I was supposed to take Tiger home, only to find that his cage was empty. When the whole class had assembled, our teacher announced that Tiger was no more. We pressed her – what had happened to our beloved classroom pet? Our teacher reluctantly told us the grim tale: Snowball and Mitzy had gotten out of their cage and into the hamster cage, and they ATE OUR HAMSTER. Taking the pet rats home for the weekend suddenly sounded a lot less appealing.

And that’s where my experience with rodents ends. Thanks to that less-than-pleasant experience (and much to my parents’ pleasure), I stopped asking for white rats for Christmas (as substitutes, my parents brought me little rubber ones they got at the Grain Dealers’ convention every year). So if your kids ever ask you if they can take the school pet home for the weekend, make sure that a.) you don’t mind a white rat escaping in your house, and b.) that there are no bloodthirsty rats near the hamster cage.


  1. YES!!!! When I saw the name of this blog my first thought was the white rats ate our hamster. Your memories are just amazing. I remembered our pets but had no idea what their names were! I love reading these blogs it brings back so many wonderful memories I suppressed as a child because I was such a dork haha!!!!

    Tricia McCloud

    1. I was definitely a dork, but I never managed to suppress my memories - for better or worse!! :) I will never forget that the rats ate our classroom hamster; I think we were all traumatized! Hope all is well with you, Tricia!!