It all started one fall day in 1969 when the janitor of our elementary school in White Sulphur Springs, New York, found a wild baby cottontail rabbit in the schoolyard. Of course, my first-graders fell in love with it and wanted to keep it.
I told my clever sister Lyal about our new classroom pet, and she built a beautiful wire cage for it that stood 2 inches off the floor. We placed it in the corner of the classroom.
The children named our new “first-grader” Fluffy, and so began a wonderful year for the class. The first child to arrive in the morning opened the cage, and Fluffy hopped out to begin his day. Fluffy moved around freely, usually until a student picked him up and cuddled him. Sometimes he sat on the desk while they worked. They wrote stories about him and read to him. He was their best friend.
Fluffy was an ideal classroom pet. He made no noise, didn’t bite or scratch and was so soft and cuddly that one of the children usually had him. Best of all, he was trained. Fluffy never had an accident because he always returned to the back of his cage to take care of “business.”
Fluffy ate the usual rabbit pellets but quite often he was treated to a leaf of lettuce, a carrot or whatever the children could talk their mothers into including in their own lunch boxes. There was no greater thrill for the children than to have Fluffy join them on their desks for lunch.
He had a very therapeutic effect on the children. I remember one little boy who would come in every morning ready to explode (we suspected he was being abused). I soon found that if I could get Fluffy to him as soon as he came in so he could pet him and talk to him, he calmed down. He didn’t stay the whole year and was very upset when he had to leave. I don’t know if he was upset because he was leaving his classmates or Fluffy.
One day a local newspaper reporter visited the school and came upon our classroom. He was so taken with Fluffy that he took a photograph of our class pet planting a kiss on another student, George Worden. The photo ran on the front page of the Middletown Record.
Later that year, Fluffy became ill and died (the veterinarian couldn’t tell us the cause of death). The students were devastated and the Middletown Record ran an obituary for Fluffy.
For the next five years, I had a different pet rabbit in the class. At the end of each school year, I gave the rabbit to one of the students.
Sometime later, a directive came from the school district that there were to be no more classroom pets. I assumed that someone’s show and tell pet had bit someone. Anyway, the next time I saw the principal, I asked him about it. He said, “Mrs. Townsend, if your pet is anything like Fluffy, don’t pay any attention to that order.”
Wouldn’t it be great if teachers today were allowed to be this creative in their classrooms?
Erna Townsend Adams • Pinehurst, North Carolina