BOISE, Idaho — With a new pet comes a great deal of responsibility, and the Idaho Humane Society is here to help with the Rodent Rescuer program.
The Idaho Humane Society started the Rodent Rescuer program about three years ago to educate elementary students about caring for animals through math and science lessons.
Kindergarten through fifth grade classrooms can foster a small animal through IHS for four weeks through the program. IHS Communications Manager Kristine Schellhaas said the project inspires more responsible pet ownership through real-world science.
"A critical goal of ours is humane education — teaching kids to care for animals, that animals take commitment, and to not just go and make impulse decisions when it comes to adoption," she said. "When you bring an animal into your home, or in this case into a school, there is a level of commitment that requires food, water, treats, socialization and pen cleaning. Getting those students exposed to opportunities that they may not have an opportunity for in their home is important."
Rodent Rescuers is free for participants, and the IHS provides a sample curriculum based on U.S. standards for math and science education. While it is designed for public and home-schooled elementary students, Schellhaas said they could also accommodate junior high classes.
"We provide the animal, all the food and care," she said. "Then we have journaling, activities, guides. The teachers can easily follow the curriculum, or they can change it if they prefer."
She believes the program benefits both students and animals.
"The animals get great socialization," Schellhaas said. "We learn a lot about their personalities."
Shona Michael, a teacher at Monroe Elementary School, became a Rodent Rescuer this year. She has fostered two guinea pigs and a rabbit named Bruno.
"The kids named him Bruno," Michael said. "There's a character named Bruno in Encanto. It's the latest Disney movie."
Bruno is used to create math, science, reading, and writing lessons in the classroom.
"For the beginning levels of math, we figure out what's an initial startup cost. They can add all this up and see how much it would cost to adopt a rabbit," Michael said. "For more advanced math, we figure out what it costs every month to take care of it, or map it out for a year and then multiply by 12 months."
Michael has also used the animals to develop a variety of writing prompts and research projects. One of her favorites, she said, is "What do you think your classroom pet does at night when we're not here?"
"One student wrote that they thought that the guinea pig would be the principal at night," Michael said. "And he'd go into the principal's office and make announcements over the speaker system."
While initially meant to be a fun activity, Michael said Bruno and the other animals have become much more for her pupils.
"I've seen more willingness from students to try things that are harder for them because if they're struggling with reading or writing or math, this can be an incentive," she said.
"When kids are having a hard day emotionally, something is going on, or they just couldn't focus on the things at hand they'll just come in here, and sit by him, pat him, tell him what they're thinking and what's going on," Michael said. "The emotional connection is very strong, and that's the biggest reason I keep doing this. I see that it's made a huge difference in my classroom."
More often than not, Schellhaas said fostered animals get adopted by a student or teacher after the program ends.
"We only get a percentage of the animals back in our shelter," she said. "But even those we do are great and easy to adopt out because they've spent four weeks with students being handled. We will know a lot of things about their personality, including what treats they like and what kind of handling they prefer."
Bruno has also found his forever home through the Rodent Rescuers program, with Michael and her adorning Monroe Elementary School students.
"We failed at fostering in that we're keeping him," she said. "I would highly encourage we get kids from other classrooms that want to come in and see and spend time with him too."
More information about the program and how to apply is available here.