Lesson 44. A short aside on School Pets I Have Known
The late lamented gerbils reminded me of the sheer range of insects, fish, birds and other animals that once used to inhabit schools.
The reasons for the presence of this variety of living creatures were varied. On the educational front it was generally felt that it was good for children to look after animals, both to gain in responsibility and to learn about “nature”. Also that it was nice for the pupils who didn’t have pets at home.
However, schools also had animals who attended with their human owners. Heads in particular were fond of bringing their elderly dogs to snooze in their office during working hours. At my daughter’s school there was a large friendly Labrador, who nudged you and demanded patting as you tried to hold a serious conversation with the headmistress.
At the convent we had the convent cat, a large, bad-tempered,vicious animal who haunted the hall around the snack vending machine.
Part of my job at the convent involved visiting feeder schools. One day, when I went to an old Victorian red brick primary, I was greeted by Sister Barbara the head. As she was escorting me to her office a huge lop eared rabbit hopped past us at a leisurely pace and disappeared off down a side corridor. Sister continued her conversation without even mentioning the apparition.
I had to ask.
“Oh that’s Basil. He’s just going back to his room!”
“His own room?”
“Oh yes. He’s getting old now and he finds break time a bit noisy.”
Basil had a whole cloakroom all to himself with comfortable private sleeping quarters, an expanse of fresh clean hay and a variety of toys. He had a cupboard for his grooming equipment and to store his dried food. He also had the free run of the entire ground floor, though he was shut in his room at night. When a whole generation of pupils grew up and moved on, the most fond and vivid memories they had of their primary schooling was of Basil and his idiosyncrasies.
At another primary, after my meeting with the head, I was proudly shown around by a pupil. The school made a point of encouraging one or two of the children to accompany visitors on a tour. As we walked along one corridor we passed a collection of tanks and cages. As I paused to admire the small zoo, my escort pointed to a tank and informed me that it belonged to her class and contained their special pet.
“Would you like to hold him?” she offered generously, plunging her hand into the greenery and holding out the largest stag beetle I had ever seen.
Mice, rats, lizards, stick insects, giant moths, even snakes I had encountered with equanimity, but that was my limit.
Making my excuses, I politely declined and left.