Warning: This article describes graphic scenes of animal violence.
A window into slaughter
On a hot summer’s day in Toronto, Canada, a window at Ryding-Regency Meat Packers is left open, giving Save Movement activists a chance to secretly film what is happening inside.
The first thing you notice watching this secret footage is the blood. It is so vivid and thick, it is almost pink. It is pooling on the floor, and splashed up the walls. A cow is thrashing on the floor. Her throat hangs open, and blood is pouring from the gash. She still thrashes.
Another body hangs from above on a hoist, throat slit and raining down blood. She writhes, thrashes, and appears to be conscious. Despite this, flesh is carved from her body. There is yet more blood.
All the while, there is the sickening background noise of machinery, and men herding more cows along.
Len Goldberg, a Save movement activist, captured this footage alongside other activists. He claims that the hoisted cow in the video was still alive. Canadian law says that before an animal is slaughtered, it should be “rendered unconscious in a manner that ensures that it does not regain consciousness before death.”
“In that video, what you see is fully conscious animals being torn apart,” Len says.
“You see these struggling, flailing animals, their eyes wide open, their legs thrashing madly, hoisted up onto the kill line, seeing all of their friends and their family dying.”
He says that animal welfare legislation is never enough, and that the only answer if you want to protest against such cruelty is to go vegan.
Toronto Cow Save has now launched a petition, asking the Canadian Government to withdraw Ryding-Regency’s federal licence, and shut the company and its slaughterhouse operations down for good. The petition has reached over 95,000 signatures since it launched four weeks ago.
The Save Movement
Outside another slaughterhouse in Toronto, the first truck of the day arrives. Inside, there are about 200 pigs, stacked on three levels. It is -12 C in Toronto, and the steam from the pigs’ breath is pouring from the lorry. Their snouts are purple and frostbitten.
Toronto Pig Save activists put down their placards, and run to the truck. They make eye-to-eye contact with the animals. Some apologise for what the animals are about to experience; some take photos of the conditions they are in; some offer the pigs water.
James, one of the activists, says the pigs are about six months old, and that there will be up to 50 trucks a day arriving at this one slaughterhouse, bringing 10,000 pigs to slaughter.
Toronto Pig Save has a special arrangement with certain slaughterhouses, where the truck drivers will stop for a few minutes to allow the activists to bear witness, an activity which involves acknowledging the animal lives that are about to be lost. Some drivers respect this unofficial agreement, others drive straight through as activists attempt to halt the trucks.
There are now over 300 Save Movements across the world, but Toronto Pig Save is where it all started.
Back in 2010, Anita Krajnc (already a vegan and an activist) was walking her dog, when she saw a pig truck heading towards a slaughterhouse. She formed a group, and together they decided to approach the issue by holding vigils for the animals. The movement, Anita explains, comes from a place of love. Now, Toronto Pig Save holds three vigils a week for pigs, cows, and chickens.
Outside the Ryding-Regency slaughterhouse, where Len Goldberg captured the covert footage, we talk to Anita about the Save movement. Our conversation comes in fits and starts, as trucks arrive steadily throughout the morning.
“Our main strategy is to bear witness. That means when an animal is suffering, you have a choice. You can either look the other way, or you can come close and try to help,” Anita says.
She wants to change the culture around the world, so that everyone chooses to bear witness, an act inspired by the words of Leo Tolstoy who wrote: “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to him who suffers, and try to help him.”
There is another purpose to the vigils. As the trucks carrying pigs, cows, and chickens pause outside the slaughterhouses, activists take photos inside the trucks to document any suffering the animals experience.
Anita has thrown everything into this movement. She is a full-time activist, and faced the prospect of a prison sentence when she was arrested for giving water to pigs on the way to slaughter - pigs which, it was argued, were private property. The charges were eventually dismissed, and Anita walked free. The activists continue to give water to pigs to this day.
Anita’s dream was for the movement to spread around the world, and it has. However, she says this needs to be just the beginning: “We want to have hundreds of thousands of Save groups, and we want people to do vigils at every slaughterhouse around the world.”
As the first truck of cows arrives, I think I am emotionally prepared. I am not. This is the first time I have seen animals on the way to slaughter. I do not expect the cows to be stacked on two levels in the truck, I do not expect them to look so directly at me, and I do not expect to see fear and panic in their eyes, begging for reassurance. I wonder how Anita manages to do this three times a week, and still remain so strong.
Joining the movement
When it comes to how the world treats animals, the first step for the Save movement is for everyone to adopt a vegan lifestyle, and for people to boycott the animal agriculture industry. In a step beyond veganism, Anita says that people need to commit to activism.
“There’s nothing like going to a slaughterhouse and seeing the victims eye-to-eye, face-to-face. It changes you forever,” she says.
She explains that bearing witness made Animal Rights the number one priority in her life. Anita asks people to join their local Save group, or set up their own.
“When you see the victims you want to do everything possible to try to help them. The best thing you can do is to join us and bear witness,” she says.
The way Anita sees the world, there is hope, and that lies in mankind’s collective power to do good, and to come together as a collective force. In the meantime, animal rights advocates everywhere will be awaiting the result of Toronto Cow Save’s petition.