Giving our time as a family

by Taunya Ahier

Over the winter break, my family and I were able to volunteer a lot. I would highly recommend it as a family activity. We spent time together, experienced new things and met interesting folks, all while helping others. We volunteered at a nursing home for residents with advanced dementia. Our highlight was having a professional musician and the former organist for the Toronto Maple Leafs play a Charlie Brown tune for us on his piano!

We also volunteered at Farmhouse Garden Animal Home. We have been helping the animal sanctuary with bake sales and other fundraisers over the past year but, this winter, we began volunteering with the animals and taking care of the barns. With these more physical chores, our highlights were tipping over a huge round straw bale that we dispersed down a chute from the loft to the barn below and then spread as bedding for the cows. We used pitchforks and other farm tools to give hay to cows and horses and the blunt end of the pitchforks to break the ice cover on some of the water barrels. We know our helping helped others directly, and we are the better for it!

We also spent some time at Toronto Animal Services East and OSPCA in Stouffville delivering toys for the animals that my kids and their classes and my students had made. After spending time at the shelters, our family made our New Year’s resolution to volunteer at the shelter more. We’re looking forward to it!

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Published: January 15, 2018

Meatless Mondays: Small steps for a big change

by Taunya Ahier

This fall at my school, I started something I've been wanting to get going for the past couple years — Meatless Mondays. After inviting classes to study World Food Day and the ways a plant-based diet can reduce world hunger, students were so engaged they came up with the idea of a meatless day at school on their own! After they presented their World Food Day findings to the rest of the school, I invited each class to take on a Meatless Mondays challenge. In November and December, our school of just over 300 kids had about 300 meatless Monday lunches.

Those participating have looked forward to Meatless Mondays and have embraced the idea on other days of the week, too. Kids would shout, “Hey, Ms. Ahier, I have a meatless lunch today, and it's Wednesday!” “Right on!” I would say.

I was also very proud to see that some of the classes explored other reasons for eating less meat: climate change, feeding more people, reducing suffering of animals and health. Sometimes, even staff members would let me know they brought a meat-free lunch! Our announcements every Monday include a clip played over the PA system of a famous athlete, musician or celebrity who is vegetarian. We ask what that famous person has in common with our school that day: We are all having a meat-free lunch!

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Published: January 1, 2018


The Golden Rule

by Taunya Ahier

I was reading a newspaper article recently on the emotions of animals. The article was questioning whether animals have similar feelings as us. By the end of the article, the author hadn’t stated clearly one way or the other what he believed, so I asked my kids, who happened to be passing by. I said, “Guys, I'm reading an article about whether animals have feelings like happiness or sadness. Do you find that animals have feelings?” Without hesitation, both four- and six-year-old said “Yes” and then continued on their way. I felt the same as them. I can't even believe anyone who has spent time around animals would question this!

My kids are raised with several different species of rescue animals. If we know an animal desperately needs a home, we will either foster or just take the animal in. We've tried very hard to learn all we can about the different needs of different animals that we've homed, but one thing is always clear: they all feel emotions. They can feel shy, happy, calm, inquisitive and fearful – of new situations and sometimes of humans – just as we can. Which means, of course, that we should treat everyone, even non-human animals, as we would want to be treated.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Lessons learned from guinea pigs

by Taunya Ahier

Recently, I brought two guinea pigs my family had adopted to school. I was thrilled when many students chose to spend their recess on the sunny front lawn of our school, demonstrating kindness and empathy, not only to the guinea pigs, but to each other too. I am a teacher of primary students, but I was honoured to spend the recess with kids from grades 2 to 7. I was touched to see their interactions with each other and their care and gentle handling of the guinea pigs.

My guinea pigs, Molly and Holly, are our two most social, cuddle-craving pigs, and they would much rather come to school with me in the morning and leave with me afterward than stay at home. They have their time in kids' arms at school and then spend the rest of the time in a big cage with all their accompaniments in my room.

The kids not only benefit from the presence of the pigs, but the pigs benefit from so much extra attention (more than they would have waiting alone at home for us to come back!). One day a week, I think this program, Pause 4 Paws, provides the perfect launching board for kids who may not usually have any involvement with animals to learn about respect and empathy and to hear important messages about the responsibility involved with taking care of animals, why they should support animal shelters and why we sometimes need to use our humane voices to advocate for animals!

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Who's forgotten during weather disasters?

by Taunya Ahier

The recent weather disasters south of us left me empathizing with the many stories of human upheaval and trauma, but they also left me wondering, what about the animals?

I remember reading in the news about domestic animals left homeless. Thanks to legislation passed in the U.S. after Hurricane Katrina, there is more haven in shelters for pets, but I cringe to think of the hundreds of thousands of farmed and factory farmed animals affected by severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

One Twitter user noted, along with this photo of a stranded donkey in rising water, “Water levels are rising here, and humans are not the only ones in danger from the floods.”

It may be some time before we hear about the tolls these storms have taken on farm animals. Even here in Canada, we've had severe weather that has impacted farmed animals. Whether it’s extended power outages or wild fires, I can't imagine how modern, industrialized farming could not be impacted by these weather episodes.

I remember once, during the power outages of 2003 in Toronto, asking a well-versed animal advocate what happens to farm animals during such events. She told me matter-of-factly that chickens hang upside down on slaughter production lines until power is restored.

I shudder to think of what chickens and other farmed animals must go through in the life humans have already given them, let alone what they must endure during a breakdown of an already broken system.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Meatless Days at School

by Taunya Ahier

In September, I did an awareness campaign on wildlife in our school yard and worked with some wonderful staff who tried to look after orphaned wild baby rabbits. I did end up having to take the wild rabbits to the Toronto Wildlife Centre, where they grew strong before being released in a green space near my school. I felt proud leaving the bunnies with TWC, knowing our school is a staunch supporter of their work ($200 raised for TWC by my school in May during our Respect Animals Week!).

I also got started on our school's Equity initiative, which means raising awareness and knowledge of issues such as International Day of Peace, Orange Shirt Day and World Food Day.

This year on World Food Day, I invited classes to watch a video on how eating less meat can help world hunger. I invited classes to give feedback, make connections and propose ways that we can help. I was so impressed by the four classes that participated. One of the classes came up with their own challenge: to go meatless on Mondays and Wednesdays!

I was inspired by these students, many with their own challenges, who were stepping outside their own needs to see the greater needs of the world. I asked them if they would like to challenge the whole school to go meatless every Wednesday. I think we can do it as a team.

Many of the kids from this inner-city school don’t have the luxury to go and buy mock “meats” and alternatives. I would love to give them the chance to earn a special reward at the end of the year, maybe a healthy vegan snack from a local business or a special keepsake. Most of all, I want to offer them my humble amazement that, when we come together as a team, we make a difference!

Stay tuned throughout the year!

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Connecting with wildlife – in the city

by Taunya Ahier

My kids and I recently took the GO train into Toronto's Union Station. We planned to go to the Hockey Hall of Fame and the Eaton Centre, among other Toronto attractions, but instead, we found ourselves right smack on the sidewalk outside Union Station for a huge chunk of the morning.

When we climbed up the steps to Front Street, we noticed so many pigeons. There were male and female pigeons, white pigeons -- even a one-legged pigeon. We just couldn't walk past the wonderful opportunity to meet so many beautiful downtown inhabitants!

So, we dug into the picnic lunch we had packed to eat at Nathan Phillips Square and fed it to the pigeons. We also had smaller brown birds join in, and a gull, too. I found myself just as fascinated with the pigeons as my kids were, but also proud as a parent that my kids didn't necessarily need thrilling entertainment and could make their time special with the city's wildlife.

I was additionally proud that my kids wanted to share our picnic sandwiches with a man they noticed laying on the street, as well as the pigeons. In the end, we decided the birds would benefit from our picnic food, and the man would probably benefit more from us sharing some coins so he could make his own choices for food.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

The life of a meat rabbit

by Taunya Ahier

My family and I foster for Rabbit Rescue. We are fostering one of the most wonderful bunnies! Her name is Rumsey. She is a lucky bunny because she survived being a “meat rabbit.”

Rumsey is a champagne colour, with big floppy ears, a gentle disposition, and a big appetite! She is too large for a cage so she has the run of what would be our master bedroom, if we used it for humans rather than rescues! She shares her space with a couple of Toronto Cat Rescue foster cats and, as soon as one of her human family comes in the door, she hops over as quickly as the cats run to greet us.

On the factory farm, Rumsey was kept with hundreds of other rabbits in decrepit conditions. This is what led to her eventual rescue and, thankfully, the chance to enjoy all the creature comforts of a family and a home.

When we call her and she hops to us, we can't believe that rabbits just like her are kept for slaughter and are put through the slaughter system all the time. Rabbits with vibrant and calm personalities are shipped to slaughterhouses on transport trucks crammed full of other bunnies. The trucks are so crammed that, by the time they arrive at the slaughterhouse, many are either dead, ill or are deemed not fit for consumption. If people are going to raise rabbits for meat, they could, at the very least, have enough compassion and respect to allow the animals to be transported humanely.

Once at slaughter, rabbits wait in trucks until the time that they are to be “processed,” which means they are unloaded from crates, suspended, given blows to make them unconscious and decapitated.

For more information on rabbit slaughter, check out CCFA's rabbit slaughter fact sheet.

If you are already vegan or vegetarian, or are just a concerned consumer, consider supporting rescues helping animals that have survived factory farms.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

When 4,000 Die

by Taunya Ahier

I read an article recently about the number 4,000 as it pertains to farm animals. Imagine 4,000 of anything: $4,000, 4,000 mosquitos, 4,000 kilometres, 4,000 vegan desserts. That’s a lot. Now, imagine 4,000 living, thinking, feeling, scared individuals dying all at once.

In late January, a barn fire broke out at a pig farm near Sarnia, Ont., killing 4,000 pigs. Aside from the fact that the barn was never retrofitted to prevent such a tragedy, and that keeping 4,000 of any creature is so unnatural, what struck me most about the article I read is that it stated that no “people” were injured in the fire. We are meant to assume that means humans and to be glad that no humans were hurt. What about the individual lives of each of those pigs, though?

When we realize, through research, that pigs are comparable in intelligence to a human toddler or preschooler, I think most of us can empathize with what must have been going through their minds as they were confined, with no escape, as they watched, heard and smelled their fellow pigs around them scream, struggle and die.

“There are few preventive measures required because the barns have few human occupants,” according to the CCFA. We need to do better than this for the sentient beings we are raising for meat.

Express your concern about the national standards that are failing to protect farm animals by contacting:

Standing Committee on Fire Protection
Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes
NRC Construction
National Research Council Canada
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0R6

The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
1341 Baseline Road
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0C5

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

Passing Animals on the Road

by Taunya Ahier

Recently, on a drive to Toronto, I passed three trucks, one full of pigs, one full of cows and an empty chicken truck on its way back from the slaughterhouse. On a day when I could appreciate the sun's rays and the buzz of the summer heat, here were farm animals experiencing what was probably their first day of fresh air ̶̶ on a busy highway, in a crowded truck they may have been standing in for 52 hours and on their way to death.

It ruined my happy summertime feeling. My two kids, aged four and six, were in the car. We were taking one of our rescue dogs to an oncologist in the city. I am often upset about the state of human-engineered farm animals, but to see these animals up close with my kids in the car brings a whole other flood of feelings. I was horrified as I thought of the hours that lay ahead for those animals. I also felt embarrassed that this is the world presented to my kids. We're meant to be taking care of our world for those who are inheriting it after us (human or not).

When we got home later, my kids wanted to draw pictures and notes about the animals. My son wrote a message for the slaughterhouses. It reads: “Stop it.” Pretty insightful for a six-year-old.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

An Inner-City School Takes Part in Respect Animals Week

by Taunya Ahier

Along with Pause4Paws, a weekly empathy-raising and awareness program that gives students a chance to meet and bond with a rescued domestic animal, my school, General Crerar Public School in Scarborough, just finished its 16th annual Respect Animals Week! We had a vegan bake sale, a huge interactive and multi-media  assembly, vegetarian lunch challenges, a talent show, teachers vs students sports tournaments and curriculum-connected rescue bunny visits, all to raise awareness and more than $800 for animals.

This year, we are splitting this donation between the Toronto Cat Rescue, Toronto Wildlife Centre, PETA and the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals. We also had an Adopt-A-Heart campaign for Toronto Animal Services (TAS). Students can’t always have their own pets, but they can still help creatures in need. Students purchased paper hearts for 25 cents and wrote messages on the hearts, which were then given to TAS. TAS staff put the hearts on the cages of pets in their care to help them get adopted. Through this alone, we raised more than $50 for TAS.

Any school or childcare centre can hold Respect Animals events! Whether it's a week, a day, seasonal, yearly or any other variation, all it takes is one caring adult to realize that small activities can be organized to help teach children that they can make a difference.

If you’re interested in planning your own event to raise awareness and donations in school settings, or simply interested in boosting compassion in kids, contact Taunya Ahier at Taunya.Ahier@tdsb.on.ca.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.

What About Emotional Literacy?

by Taunya Ahier

As a teacher, I'm intrigued, and sometimes scrambling, to keep up with all the latest pedagogical research that informs my teaching at a Toronto school.

For years, while keeping up with all the latest approaches, there was something nagging me. In my opinion, the very first thing we should be attending to as educators — and parents, and society — is emotional literacy.

We brush the tip of the iceberg in schools by briefly talking about traits students should embody and we often hear about the anti-bullying measures schools are taking. Are these strategies aimed at addressing symptoms of a bigger issue, though? I’m not sure but, in the last two years, I have made an effort to infuse empathy, respect, understanding, awareness and social action in school.

I realized when my son was born that I wanted him to be aware, to pay attention to the world around him and to be kind and involved. Once I returned to work after maternity leave, I realized that that nagging feeling about the emotional development of kids needed to top my agenda. We should plan for the emotional needs and development of students first. The rest of the curriculum should not only follow, but be linked and intertwined with emotional literacy.

This affects how the youngest generation lives and shares the earth with animals, and with each other. Schools should have a humane education program that places just as much importance on positive character traits as it does on developing all other areas of a child's education.

This would help our world so much! Imagine younger people growing up to have a base knowledge about understanding the feelings, emotions and well-being of others. Future leaders with that rich emotional base would do a much better job of making important decisions. Kids would grow up so emotionally intelligent they would abolish long-distance transport of animals and continually develop more and more humane methods of housing and slaughtering animals. They would work to eliminate the meat eating, knowing that it is neither sustainable nor necessary.

Taunya Ahier is a teacher in the Toronto District School Board and a longtime supporter of the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals.