While walking late at night in Vernon (a very industrial city), wearing a baseball cap, black jeans and a black hoodie, I couldn’t help but feel like I was going on some kind of covert mission.
My boyfriend and I looked so out of place walking around there at that time of night. The only people who had any business being there were those working graveyard shifts at food processing plants and a couple healthcare centers we saw.
As we approached the back gates of the Farmer John slaughterhouse, we saw a truck full of pigs that had already been stopped by activists, preventing it from going through.
I ran toward it thinking it might be the only truck full of pigs I’d see that night. It was a weird mix of emotions because on one hand I didn’t want to see the pigs because it seemed weird to want to see pigs destined for slaughter. Plus, not seeing them lessened the harsh reality (in my mind) of their fate. On the other hand, I wanted to see them in hopes of showing them moments of compassion before they were mercilessly murdered.
One Woman, One Worldwide Save Movement
Moments of compassion. That is the whole purpose of the pig vigil, which was started in 2010 by Anita Kranjc of Toronto Pig Save. If you haven’t heard, Anita is on trial for her act of compassion last year when she gave water to a thirsty, overheating pig. The pig, like millions of others slaughtered for food, was in a truck packed with other pigs who were dehydrated, exhausted, panting and foaming at the mouth. Pigs are unable to sweat, which is why they love the coolness of mud (and it’s why they’re mistakenly perceived as dirty animals). Due to brutal transport conditions, over a million pigs die slow, agonizing deaths before they even reach the slaughterhouse.
Toronto Pig Save ignited a worldwide “Save Movement” in which animal rights activists in different countries stand outside slaughterhouses to “bear witness” to the animals who arrive by the truck full, moments before they enter the gates of hell where their violent and gruesome deaths await. It's the only chance the pigs get to experience several minutes of kindness from individuals of the same species that has done nothing but abuse and mistreat them from the moment they were born.
I never thought that I could step foot inside a slaughterhouse, or be anywhere near one. And yet there I was with a group of activists, water on hand, to painfully bear witness to the screams of pigs inside the trucks and those who were already inside the slaughterhouse. As many of us said that night, those screams will forever haunt us as they have permanently seared our hearts and souls.
Pigs, Dogs and Cats--The Only Difference is Your Perception
When I looked into the eyes of those pigs, I saw no difference from the eyes of cats and dogs—companion animals with whom we share our homes. When I saw two pigs try to stick their heads out of the small ventilation holes, I thought of dogs who love sticking their heads out of car windows, and what a stark contrast it was to the scene before me. Just imagine a dog in a car, enjoying the ride, next to tired and terrified pigs wanting to escape the confines of a truck that's shrouded with the smells of their imminent deaths.
Now imagine if that truck were full of dogs. You, like so many others, would be outraged and find it abhorrent that dogs would be packed into a truck, one on top of the other, transported for 28 hours (or more) without food, water or rest. Why reserve our sympathy just for those commonly considered as pets? It's clear that all animals have the capacity to suffer. So how can we be so complicit about animal abuse just because it doesn't involve cats or dogs?
Those pigs were telling us that night that they did not want to die, they did not want to be in that truck any longer, and that they were in agony. It doesn't take an animal expert to know what they were thinking, feeling and vocalizing because those screams and squeals said it all. They shook you to the core, gripping your heart, and twisting and squeezing it with every sound.
And then the looks. The stares they gave out of those sweet, innocent, beautiful eyes--seeking answers and mercy. Why are we in here? What did we do to deserve such torment? Why are we being sent to our deaths?
Many people have a difficult time grasping the intelligence of pigs. Just think about the depths of a dog's intelligence--their awareness of their surroundings, of danger, of love, of fear or ill intentions. The same can be said for pigs, whom scientists have shown are actually smarter than dogs and chimpanzees. They are cognitively complex beings who are emotionally and socially sophisticated.
No Act of Compassion is Wasted
Many people wonder why we give pigs water when they're about to die anyway. Well, imagine you were born to die. Your whole life has been nothing but violent abuse and mistreatment, and after enduring a long, arduous journey, the smell of death hits your senses. Your terror is heightened, and your hunger, thirst and exhaustion are at an all-time high.
Then, out of the darkness, you see people--monsters--who are acting out of the norm. They approach your truck, speak to you in a soothing voice and give you something to quench your thirst as you're panting and foaming at the mouth. You wonder who these monsters are, and why they actually don't seem to be harming you for once. They reach out to you, you nuzzle their hands, suckle their finger, and stick your nose out to try and connect with them. In that moment, you experience something you've never had before. What is it? And then, the moment is gone. These "monsters" step back, saying something to you in their soothing voices as the truck starts back up and you're moving again, closer and closer into the air thick with the stench of death--pierced only by the screams of your fellow species, knowing that you will soon share their fate.
You're not sure where that moment of compassion came from, but you welcomed it, no matter how fleeting it was.
Everyone's Duty to Bear Witness to Those Who Suffer
Vegan or non-vegan, it's everyone's responsibility to bear witness to these pigs--and all animals who are killed for food. Non-vegans need to connect with the living beings who are forced to lose their dignity, individuality and lives for soon-forgotten meals. People need to see firsthand the depths of the animals' suffering (it's not just about the act of killing) so that:
- They reexamine their diets, and at least consider eating less meat to reduce the suffering and astronomical numbers of animals killed for their flesh. (For tips on adopting a plant-based diet, go to TryVeg.com, which also features a ton of delicious veggie recipes.)
- They don't take food for granted. There is so much food wasted--and it pains me to see people carelessly throw bits and pieces that were once part of a living being like it's nothing, when animals are forced to suffer so much just for their body parts to make it onto people's plates.
As for vegans, bearing witness is an important way to offer the first and final moments of comfort and compassion to the innocent animals who are viciously abused and killed just for being born as the "wrong" species. It's a way of shining light on their suffering through videos and pictures--exposing the true horrors of the animal agriculture industry that far too many people don't know.