Hamster found severely neglected by S'pore preschool put scrutiny on keeping classroom pets

The hamster was found with extensive injuries, malnourished and dehydrated.

Keyla Supharta | February 09, 2023, 09:19 AM

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A hamster kept as a classroom pet by a local preschool was found in a bad shape with multiple injuries.

It was also very weak from malnutrition and dehydration.

Suffered extensive injuries, malnourished and dehydrated

According to Hamster Society Singapore (HSS), the hamster, Pamkin, was a classroom pet at a "reputable preschool" in the east side of Singapore, registered under Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).

HSS explained that they chose not to reveal the name of the school as it is not their intent to smear or shame the school and to protect the child and their family members involved.

Pamkin was brought home by one of the preschool students over Chinese New Year when a visiting relative noticed her unfortunate condition and brought it to the vet, HSS said.

"She is unable to open her right eye and has suffered extensive injuries, an eye abscess (collection of pus under the skin), severe facial infection and swelling, multiple open wounds and scabs, signs of skin infection and what looks to be a necrotic tail," HSS described in their post on Instagram.

"According to the informant, she was weak, malnourished and dehydrated when found, and her hideout was caked with poop, pee, and fur," they added.

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

HSS was notified about Pamkin's condition on Jan. 31. They promptly got into contact with the student's relative who then surrendered the hamster to them on behalf of the school on Feb. 1, as the school was unable to afford the costs of Pamkin's veterinary care.

Part of Pamkin's condition resulted from a fight she had with a male hamster that she was housed together with. It is not recommended to keep hamsters together as it can be stressful for them. Furthermore, some hamsters can be territorial.

"With the exception of rare cases, hamsters are solitary creatures who will fight to the death for territory or resources," HSS said.

HSS said it will be following up with the relevant authorities on the case of Pampkin.

Should animals be kept as school pets?

Pamkin's condition brought the practice of keeping classroom pets under scrutiny.

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

At the time of writing, HSS's post urging to ban class pets has gained 979 likes, while its petition has been signed by 970 people.

"Small pets are becoming a common addition in classrooms of young children in Singapore, as some teachers mistakenly believe that it is a good way to teach children about responsibility and pet care," HSS explained in its petition.

"However, a classroom simply isn’t a suitable home for an animal," HSS stressed.

Classroom animals may suffer from a shortened lifespan due to stressful factors in the classroom like loud noises, consistent tapping by curious children, and overfeeding.

Furthermore, schools may not have the necessary ability to provide for pets' upkeep or medical needs.

Classroom pet neglect a common occurrence

HSS also revealed that Pamkin's case is, in fact, not isolated.

In the comment section, one ex-teacher recounted that a student threw a classroom hamster while it was inside a hamster ball. No medical check was done for the hamster, and it unfortunately passed away two days later.

The ex-teacher also revealed that no one wanted to care for the hamster, and they had to bring the pet home as a last resort despite owning two cats. The teacher also shared that guppies brought to keep as class pets ended up being "on display like a decoration" instead.

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

Another comment reveals that most fish kept as classroom pets would die within a month, with the longest living about three months.

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

Classroom pets are not a requirement under the curriculum

HSS  highlighted a comment which suggested that keeping classroom pets were once a requirement under Singapore Pre-School Accreditation Framework (SPARK).

However, in response to Mothership's queries, an ECDA spokesperson dispelled this claim, saying that preschools have never been required to keep classroom pets. 

"SPARK is a quality assurance framework to assist preschools in Singapore in raising their quality in teaching and learning, and administration and management processes to enhance the holistic development and well-being of young children. We would like to clarify that under SPARK, it has never been a requirement for preschools to have classroom pets."

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

ECDA also added that they are aware that the Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) is looking into the matter of Pamkin's case.

"We should allow them to conduct their investigation and not engage in speculation about the facts," ECDA's spokesperson said.

Hamster neglect is a prevalent issue in Singapore

Classroom pet neglect is a small part of a larger, persistent issue in Singapore. HSS tells Mothership that hamster neglect is a constant and ongoing issue in the country.

There are several issues that contribute to the prevalent case of hamster neglect, but one of the most important factors is how cheap hamsters are to purchase compared to other pets like cats or dogs.

Many parents also purchase hamsters for their young children as starter pets without proper research on how to keep them as it is assumed that they do not require much to care of. This is a misconception.

"Owners may feel that it's cheaper to just buy another one instead of paying for veterinary fees which can go up to S$2,000 or more," HSS said. "They may be small, but their medical costs are not! As prey animals, they tend to hide their illnesses and owners would need to be proactive in spotting common signs and symptoms and be prepared to bring their hamster to a hamster-savvy vet promptly."

HSS also added that "as hamsters remain caged most of the time, they need to be provided with a tank big enough to house their enrichment needs and an appropriately sized wheel with enough bedding to allow them to build deep burrows."

HSS has been raising awareness and educating the public on proper hamster husbandry through their blog posts, social media, and workshops they give to companies and schools.

They also work closely with the AVS as an Animal Welfare Group partner to advocate for the welfare of hamsters.

What's next for Pamkin?

HSS is in close communication with Pamkin's vet to provide and continue necessary treatments.

HSS shares that Pamkin is recovering well under the care of its experienced foster and her eye seems to be opening up and her surrounding fur is slowly growing back.

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Facebook.

Once Pamkin recovers and passes the observation period, she will be put up for adoption in the HSS adoption gallery.

The preschool where Pamkin was rescued from has another hamster under their care which HSS has offered to take care of, but the preschool refused their offer.

"We are unsure of their reasons and are unable to comment on their behalf," HSS said.

"Children should never be given the impression that animals are expendable learning tools," HSS asserted. "Schools should understand that there are no positive values being imparted to a child when animal neglect and abuse is being normalised."

Schools that consider teaching their students about animal care should explore other options instead of keeping classroom pets.

"NParks has a great programme catered towards preschoolers-- an animal classroom located at Jacob Ballas’ Children’s Garden," HSS recommended. "This allows children to enjoy a field trip where they will be able to interact and learn about real-life pets without the burden and responsibilities of having a pet."

Photo by Hamster Society (Singapore)/Instagram.

Top image via HSS/Instagram