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Rafael Moves Into the Library

5th Graders Work to End Animal Homelessness

The 5th grade class had compiled a list of forty questions for Rita, a veterinary technician at Queen Village Animal Hospital and volunteer at Morris Animal Refuge. The occasion? Joanna Bottaro and her students at McCall Elementary were welcoming a new friend to their class: a formerly homeless guinea pig they named Rafael.

Rita easily answered most of the students’ questions. What do they eat? (Fruits, veggies, food pellets and timothy hay.) What do they play with? (They like cat toys.) How often do we clean the cage? (Once a week.) Do people eat guinea pigs in other countries? (Yes!) What are some weird things that guinea pigs do? (“Popcorning” or jumping up and down when they get excited.)

But one question stumped her: “Were guinea pigs ever used on space missions?” (The students quickly researched the question, and it turns out the answer is yes!)

The students have narrowed the focus of their topic – animal abuse – to homeless pets. Why, they wonder, are so many dogs, cats, and, yes, guinea pigs languishing in shelters or worse, on the streets?

Claire Tillman, a volunteer with the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), visited their class recently to talk about overpopulation. “We learned about puppy mills. Are there guinea pig mills? Is guinea pig overpopulation a problem?” one student asked.

“Yes,” Rita answered. “Any kind of animal, especially small animals, can get overbred. Pet stores are a bad place to get pets – many shelters have a lot of different kinds of animals, not just dogs and cats.”

Once Rita had answered all the students’ questions and taught them how to properly care for their rescued guinea pig, it was time to settle Rafael into his new home: the classroom’s library. Although they all agree there is a lot more work to be done, Joanna and her students were happy to know that today, there is one less homeless pet in the world.