Toronto Pig Save was founded in 2010 by writer, activist and photojournalist Anita Krajnc (rhymes with “Heinz,” like the ketchup), to draw attention to the plight of pigs on their way to slaughter at Quality Meat Packers in downtown Toronto. The group holds vigils several times a week to bear witness for the pigs and to offer these terrified animals some small measure of comfort, if possible, before they go to slaughter. The animals have often endured long drives in searing heat or freezing cold and frequently arrive suffering from heat exhaustion or frostbite. Activists are often able to get close to the trucks and offer a kind touch and soothing voice, and in the brutal heat of summer, cold water and watermelon.
The work of Toronto Pig Save has spawned similar groups in Melbourne (Australia), Burlington, Hamilton, Guelph, Montreal and Brandon (Canada), as well as Indiana and a soon-to-be-launched Pig Save in New York City (USA). There are also Toronto Cow Save and Chicken Save groups. They have received coverage in mainstream Canadian press, including the Huffington Post, and are attracting a huge amount of attention in the animal rights movement overall.
Anita Krajnc has been trying to get me to attend a vigil for two years. I’ve been extremely reluctant to go; I’ve seen many photos and videos from the vigils and didn’t know if I could emotionally handle seeing animals in distress and being unable to do anything to help them. But I knew that sooner or later, this was something I had to do, so this past weekend, I went.
There were about 18 or so of us. We held signs, received lots of thumbs-up and honks of support from passing drivers, chatted and handed out leaflets to passers-by, and remained polite in the face of a few people who yelled highly original things like “I love bacon!” at us. We didn’t have to wait long before a transport truck showed up. We could smell it before we saw it and could hear the pigs screaming from a block away. If you’ve spent any time around pigs in a normal setting, you know that they are not generally given to screaming. They communicate with a complex series of grunts, snorts and exhalations, all of which mean something to the pigs around them, and to people who know them well. You’ll hear the occasional squeal brought on by a fit of pique if one gets too close to another’s food or otherwise does something annoying, but pigs left to their own devices are calm, sociable animals.
As the driver went around the building to pull into the loading dock, the screams got louder. It is a chilling, blood-curdling sound that tears at your heart. As the pigs were being unloaded, their screams would crescendo and you’d know they were getting hit with the electrified paddles designed to hurry them along. Terrified baby animals — for they are babies, nowhere near full-grown — with no understanding of what’s going on, where they are, or why they are being beaten and yelled at. This happens to 6000 individual pigs a day at Quality Meat Packers. When we can no longer hear them, it is because the door has gone down on the loading dock and these innocent beings are on their way to a worse fate than anything they have experienced so far.
Slaugherhouse workers will tell you they are surrounded by the screams of animals all day long. Stunning is notoriously inconsistent in its efficacy and many of the piglets will be conscious as they are shackled by one leg to hang upside down as they move along the slaughter line. Some will still be conscious when they are dropped into the scalding vat that will remove the hair from their sensitive skin. Some will be still be conscious when their throats are slit.
I have a problem with that. I have a problem with sentient beings, who are not significantly different than the cats and dogs many of us live with, being treated like inanimate objects incapable of feeling pain and fear, being treated with such callous disregard and often with deliberate and casual cruelty. And why? Because people love “their” bacon. Because line-ups for a “rib-fest” will be half an hour long, as though the people in line haven’t eaten for a week. Because bacon has become a national fetish. How could any taste possibly be worth the price these sweet and gentle animals pay?
Not rushing to the loading dock to ask the workers to have some compassion and treat the pigs more gently was incredibly difficult. Imagine seeing an animal in distress and being powerless to help. Had I rushed to the loading dock, the police would have been called, I’d have been escorted off the property, charged with trespassing and fined — and most likely the animals would have been no better off. But I will be back, because when there is an opportunity to reach the pigs while they’re still in the truck, whatever touch or creature comfort we can offer them may be the only kindness they will ever know. They deserve so much more.