Pause 4 Paws: Be Kind to Animals and Eachother

Taunya Ahier, a special education teacher in Toronto, and an animal rescuer, found a unique way to teach emotional literacy and a love for animals at the same time. We caught up with her to chat about her program, Pause 4 Paws.

  1. What is Pause 4 Paws about? W hen did you start? I founded Pause 4 Paws in September 2015, at General Crerar Public School in Toronto. I run a Pause 4 Paws group at recess once a week where students from Grades 1-8 are invited to my room to spend time with the rescued pets, and with each other. I visit the kindergarten, learning disability and other classes with the animals on my breaks/prep times where we focus on our number one Pause 4 Paws rule: Be Kind to Animals and Each Other.
  2. How did the idea/concept of Pause 4 Paws come about? One of my first teaching jobs with the Toronto District School Board was in a children’s day treatment centre for kids with moderate to severe needs. During my first week there, I ended going home crying because I felt so overwhelmed! I would go home to my rescue animal room – a little haven of rescued bunnies, turtles, degus, a guinea pig and a rat, and I would sit down with them and feel soothed, less anxious, like there was a big room of little people just waiting to hear how my day was, and help me take away the stress! In turn, I knew that those of them that were mistreated and unsocialized in their previous homes were making their own strides with me sitting there with them. Then a light bulb went off: What if the students at work who were very hard to reach, very untrusting of adults, those that had a heavy past but were just 4-6 years old, were to have the chance to bond with a rescued creature that could certainly use their love, too!
  3. What were the early beginnings for the program like? I started by bringing two rescued degu brothers in, and the transformation began! I started an emotional literacy program, and at the same time I linked components of emotional literacy (empathizing, demonstrating kindness) to the students’ language curriculum. The degus came in with me in the morning and left with me in the afternoon, but for those few hours at school, our class was calmer so as not to make the degus fearful, the kids thrived with the chance to have hands on contact with the little creatures, and the students also opened up more to me. They began talking and sharing more about feelings, and they began to be more receptive to a teacher’s help. I began using this as a launching off point to connect their enthusiasm for the degus to their emotional development, as well as their reading and writing.
  4. What are the objectives of the program, and what does it do for the kids as well as pets? We aim to learn kindness towards animals and each other. The actual physical requirements needed for an animal to feel safe and welcomed are: for kids to understand that they need to be calm and gentle. Through this understanding, we develop empathy for the animals. The animals very clearly communicate whether they feel loved or scared. If at any time a student becomes loud, the animals will react and almost mirror that student, so I can immediately remind them to keep a calm voice so that the animals will want to stay and be cuddled, instead of wanting to go back into their cage in my room. By understanding how our actions and kindness affect animals, students better understand and practice kindness with each other. Pause 4 Paws also gives so many different kinds of students a chance to interact in a really non-judgmental, no-stress way.
  5. Which pets are the most ‘popular’ in the program?  All the pets are so well-received and loved!! I would say that they are all favorites, but if I’ve spent a few weeks in a row bringing in one group of animals the students will eagerly ask me when the rescued chinchilla/guinea pigs/hamster/rabbits/turtles are coming back! Our family also had a wonderful, beautiful rescue beagle named Millie that just passed away due to incurable cancer. She was very popular at school. She came to my family visibly injured and was blind in one eye and with age had developed lumps here and there. The students adored her, and were so vocal about how it didn’t matter that her one eye didn’t look like the other and how she was beautiful inside and out, but that her lumps and bumps didn’t matter because she was such a lovely, cuddly, sweet person.