The importance of pets
May 19, 2014
by Jenni Sebora

A guinea pig makes a great classroom pet. I know, because we have had a pet guinea pig in our classroom for more than three years – the same guinea pig, Mocha. We got him through an ad in the paper – guinea pig, cage, and water bottle, all for about $4.

Mocha has become an integral part of our classroom. He is a teacher, a nurturer, a friend, a confidante, and our class pet.

Pets bring so much to the table, and provide hands-on ways to learn.

What does Mocha need to eat? What living conditions does he thrive in? Where do guinea pigs come from?

The students and I have done research on these topics and questions, including what happens when your guinea pig is urinating a lot and there is a little blood by his rectum.

Yes, we have tackled some health questions regarding our friend, Mocha.

In this most recent health situation, we needed a real doctor’s advice from a real veterinarian.

There is no line item in our class budget for pet care. The young adults I work with are 18 to 21 years old, so we focus a lot on work and independent skills. We run a snack cart, in which we earn money that goes into a student account for our program. “Raising Mocha” supplies come out of this budget, as well as out of teacher’s pockets.

After school one day a couple of weeks ago, I stopped by Lester Prairie Vet Clinic on my way home from school/work. Dr. Richard Kiekhaefer happened to be in. I could see he was busy, but he was kind enough to listen to my concerns regarding our dear Mocha.

He consulted and talked with another one of the fine staff there, and told me that he would call me at home.

I gave him my number, and, sure enough, a short time later, he called me at home with a description of possibilities of what was ailing Mocha – maybe an infection, maybe stones, maybe cancer.

Dr. Kiekhafer went further than that. He gave me some medicine to try with Mocha – two times a day. He told me to call him back after we tried the medicine, to either continue with a longer regimen of the medicine, or do further research.

Talk about going above-and-beyond. I thanked him, and told him my students would be thankful, as well.

Giving medicine to a guinea pig requires more than just one person, as you can imagine.

My cohort held him up – gently, of course – and I put the syringe dropper of medicine in his mouth. We found out it was easier than we thought, and the process went slick every time. Mocha sucked on the dropper. Maybe it tasted like apple or carrots, as these are Mocha’s favorite treats.

Well, it seems something worked – time, medicine, and lots of love from lots of people. Mocha is eating as normal, as well as urinating and the such, too.

Mocha and other such pets really do enrich our lives.

In our program, our students, who are young adults, are responsible for his care, including feeding, watering, and cleaning his cage. It absolutely is about responsibility and respect for a living being. They know that Mocha has needs that need to be met by someone else.

When needs are met and we fulfill a responsibility, itbuilds character and self-esteem. It feels good to meet a responsibility that we have.

Mocha has been more than just a teacher of responsibility, though. He has been a nurturer, a stress reliever, and a form of a living connection.

Many of the young adults I work with, if not all, have formed a bond with Mocha. At breaks, Mocha is out of his cage and always in someone’s hands being petted, held, and talked to. Pets have emotional needs too, just like humans.

Mocha knows when we enter the room; he starts squeaking and purring. Maybe he wants a carrot, maybe some water, or maybe some attention. He communicates, and we respond – or we do our best to.

Yes, Mocha does not even know it, but he is one great teacher and friend. Yep, he takes some work, but most worthwhile things do.

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