×

Michigan teachers raise classroom pets at home amid pandemic

Scott Kefgen, 38, of Grosse Pointe Woods, Mich. is a first grade teacher at Harlan Elementary in Birmingham, Mich. and is caring for all the classroom pets: a gerbil (pictured), two leopard geckos, three fire belly toads, and two yellow belly cooter turtles, photographed at his home on Tuesday, May 5, 2020. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press via AP)

DETROIT (AP) — Some Michigan teachers are taking care of classroom pets that were removed from schools after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced closures in March due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Scott Kefgen, who works at Harlan Elementary School in Birmingham, is one of those teachers. He houses geckos, turtles, frogs, a gerbil, lobster and about 30 fish.

“The geckos are in the middle of my kit

chen floor, my dining room table has the gerbil, and the frogs and the turtles are in this gigantic tank,” Kefgen said.

Teachers are caring for different kinds of animals, not just traditional pets like hamsters and fish, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“I went in to do the dishes and there was a frozen mouse thawing out in a cup of hot water in our kitchen,” said Elizabeth Paddock, whose husband, Jon, teaches ninth-grade biology at Clarkston Junior High School.

The Paddock family is currently keeping three snakes, a turtle, skink and bearded dragon.

Jon Paddock figured he’d take care of the animals for a few weeks. But when the governor announced in April that schools would remain closed, it dawned on the family that it was going to be more work than they originally thought.

“That’s when I finally was able to put calls out to all my students and say, ‘OK, it’s time for people to volunteer to take animals,’ “ he said. He arranged a drop off for students to get the animals without touching one another. Unfortunately, every pet was not able to be moved to a teacher’s home. But Scott Doty, who teaches biology at Berkley High School, is still taking care of his classroom animals.

Doty has about 30 aquariums in his classroom holding about 300 fish. He couldn’t move them, so he goes to the school to feed them. There is also a bearded dragon, a ball python, a tarantula and a colony of Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Kefgen was one of many at his school awarded a grant from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to raise salmon. The fish were supposed to live in the school aquarium until they could be released into the wild on Mother’s Day weekend.

But those plans changed when the shutdown happened. The fish had to be released in March into cold water that reduces their chance to survive, Kefgen said.

“In terms of classroom pets, that was, I think, the most heartbreaking,” Kefgen said. “We had to do an emergency salmon release without the kids.”