We drove through beautiful wheat fields set to the backdrop of deciduous trees showing off their flashy fall foliage. It would have been simply a lovely ride in the country if we didn’t know where we were going.
I had never been to a slaughterhouse before and was a little nervous but felt that our anxiety about it should take a back burner as we wanted to participate in the change that we want to see in the world. And so we drove on.
The Conestoga building in Breslau, Ontario looked like any other factory building I suppose and looking at it from the outside you would never suspect that such horrors were going on behind those walls. We met Bethany, the organizer from Toronto Pig Save, and while we were expecting to demonstrate in front of the slaughterhouse (I had imagined holding up signs near the entrance peacefully encouraging those who entered and exited to consider veganism), the venue had been changed to a pig vigil, where we were to bear witness.
Then the Pig Trucks Came…
When I saw the first truck coming down the road we had just traveled to make the turn into the building my reaction was surprisingly of joy…I was so happy to see pigs again. I naively awaited the arrival of the truck, hoping to get a glimpse of beautiful pigs that I had come to love. When the truck came closer though, I was able to see their faces, their beautiful faces, but they looked different. They were terrified! Suddenly, I remembered where we were and my knowledge of their fate came rushing back.
The only veteran among our small group of six approached the truck as the driver was backing up to turn around and put her hand up to the one of the holes and two pigs rushed to smell her. I thought of rescued pigs I had met before, who were always curious and liked to push their snouts against my hand. The truck quickly backed up out of our reach however, as we had to stay behind the gate.
Getting the Pigs off the Truck
Once the truck parked, the back was opened and the pigs were pushed outwards. The driver used an electric prod on the pigs that did not move into the slaughter house fast enough. Each time a pig was hit, we could hear screaming. Little did we know that this would not be the worst of what we would witness.
The door to what is appropriately called the “kill floor” had been left open and although we (thankfully) could not see what was happening inside, we could hear it. We heard constant screaming from the 100 pigs we had just seen as they went through the slaughter. The smell of burnt hair filled the air and the screaming just kept going and going.
I covered my ears and bent over feeling like I had just been punched in the gut. I tried to remind myself why I was there and that bearing witness is important to help people come to see animals and food differently. I thought of the sanctuary we want to open and how learning information is very important. So, I pushed myself upright again and starting asking questions that may help with our sanctuary. The screaming continued.
One of the things I asked was about survival rates of the pigs if they were to be rescued at this point. The organizer told me even after having been through all that they had been through at the farms, they could still go on to have quality lives if they were saved. They would not live as long as they could have, but they could lead a good life if they were well-taken care of.
That being said, the organizer told us that sometimes a truck pulls away with one or even two pigs dead, having not made the drive from the farms. Those were the lucky ones, she told me and so with each truck we saw pull away I hoped to see pigs that had died on the journey, sparing them from the horror that awaited inside. What a thing to wish for!
Confrontation with a Pig Truck Driver
At one point a driver came over to us and was quite angry about the possibility of making it into our pictures. Wanting to keep the demonstration peaceful we greeted him and talked with him a little while about veganism and why we do not want to kill animals. We thanked him when he told us that he didn’t turn the electricity on in his prod.
He went on to tell us that he liked meat and that “eating meat is a personal choice” to which Bethany responded, “But it isn’t a choice if you are hurting someone”. The driver answered, “But I’m not hurting anyone”, while the very pigs he had just brought in were screaming right behind him. Mindy and I, who had stayed quiet the entire time except for a “good morning” were both shocked at his detached response and so, pointing to the building behind him we both moved to speak. Mindy beat me to it and said, “That sounds like suffering to me”, with tears in her eyes.
I Can’t Stop the Screaming
I tried to stay as long as I could, but there came a point after several truck loads of pigs arrived and were prodded off to a brutal death that I just could not hear anymore screaming. I thought I might actually be sick. I covered my ears and walked back to the car away from the loading gate. Along the walk I felt incredibly guilty and selfish because I could simply walk away; whereas the pigs were bearing witness to other pigs being ripped apart knowing that they were about the share the same fate.
But still, I could not get away fast enough! I finally arrived at the car and although the volume of the screaming had been turned down, I could still hear the pigs scream. The smell was also still in the air. Trying to calm myself I chose to turn my back to the plant all together and look out onto the beautiful field across the street.
It didn’t seem to help. I could hear when a new truck arrived because the screams got louder again. I waited for about an hour until Mindy, who had stayed longer, finally came to the car. I was relieved to see her and we hugged each other and burst into tears.
Eager to get out of there, we got in the car and closed the doors, but I could still hear the pigs screaming. We drove away and I could still hear the pigs…we got back on the highway, well out of earshot and the pigs were still screaming. We arrived back to Toronto, over an hour’s drive away and the pigs were still screaming in my ears. I wonder if it will ever stop.
I Did the Math
In the course of an hour and a half that we were there, we witnessed five trucks carrying approximately 100 pigs each being brought into the slaughterhouse and heard them get brutally murdered. Five hundred in 1.5 hours! And this was only at one slaughterhouse in Ontario. I looked it up and there are almost 100 slaughterhouses just for pigs in the province. Assuming they are all running at the same rate, in 1.5 hours across the province, a staggering 50,000 pigs are killed. Keep in mind that this is only in 1.5 hours and in only one province of one country out of 196 countries worldwide. And this is not even including other animals, such as cows and chickens that are also killed on an hourly basis on a global scale.
During my 3 year stint of living in Berlin and volunteering for a German organization to help Holocaust survivors, I read lots about this horrible time in German history and even spoke with several survivors who told me what it was like for them in various concentration camps. Mindy and I also read her great uncle’s manifesto that he wrote shortly after he was liberated from Auschwitz. During my time in Europe, I also visited numerous former concentration camps, now memorial sites, throughout Germany and Poland.
Catching me off-guard, memories of my visit to the Auschwitz/Birkenau Concentration Camps in Poland, as well as the faces of the survivors with whom I had spoken, came flooding back to me as I stood in front of the Conestoga slaughterhouse. The trucks backing up right into the slaughterhouse where they will be killed reminded me of the efficiency of the Nazi system where the trains pulled up in between two gas chambers at Birkenau. The smell of burnt hair and the blood-curdling screaming reminded me of the accounts I had read from members of the sonderkommando, those forced to work by clearing and cremating the bodies. And finally, the total disregard for life was present in both places.
Going to the Grocery Store will Never Be the Same
When Mindy and I saw pork in the grocery store in the days that followed, we wondered if this could be one of the pigs we had seen and heard screaming for her/his life. Seeing pigs’ body parts packaged on the shelves only strengthened the pit that had formed in my stomach and the screaming resonated more loudly in my ears.
Never have we been more committed to opening an animal sanctuary as we are now, having had this experience!
14 thoughts on “Standing Vigil at the Conestoga Slaughterhouse”
An unbearably sad story. This is the price we pay, as vegans, that we feel and hear and smell the suffering, always. I would love to have some words of comfort, to say the screams in your head will lessen, but in truth I cannot. Bearing witness sears the heart and drives us to activism, because silence is not an option. Deep respect and love to you both.
Such horror. I have not been to a slaughter house, and in not sure if I could. Thank you for sharing your experience, and thank you for your commitment.
i cried as i read this, you are both incredibly brave xx
Thank you for attending this and bearing witness.
We are very honoured to call you two friends <3 <3
This is the other side of the world that we often forget to think. Thanks for reporting, this must have been a difficult one for you. Lots of hugs!
Camels & Chocolate
Ahhhhh this breaks my heart =(
A terrible thing to witness and why I don’t buy commercial pork. I do think for meat eaters there are alternatives. In PEI I shot a video of visiting the last small abattoir on the island. I walked into a room where a pig was sniffing around and had no idea what was coming. The kill was quick and the animal didn’t suffer. It’s why I don’t buy meat from a grocery store and why I will pay more to small, local businesses who wish to treat the animals humanely for the last moments of the lives.
For me, the size of a business doesn’t matter when it comes to slaughtering an animal. The kill room you visited was still stained in blood and I’m sure the pig you saw smelling around could pick up the smell of death. I’m tired of people trying endlessly to find the “right” way to do the wrong thing.
Ayngelina, if you care enough about their lives to buy humane ‘meat’ you already hold a vegan-like ethic, you recognise that animals feel, they care about their lives, they are individuals. But to see them ‘less than’ you, does’t entitle you to slaughter them. The act of killing is a brutal one. You can’t be against animal cruelty and then pay for it to happen.
You are exactly who the industry relies on: a consumer who cares enough to pay more but not enough to change their behaviour.
Many vegans were exactly where you are now, thinking we could never be vegan, it’s too hard, too extreme. And then we awaken to the realisation that deep inside we know that murder is unjust, and we change our behaviour accordingly!
Hi again Ayngelina, I’ve just seen your video on the abattoir you refer to. Perhaps I misjudged you. Anyone witnessing that and still believes that style of murder is an act of kindness and compassion doesn’t hold a vegan like ethic. Your mental gymnastics in justifying this shows that you are absolutely ok with being an active participant in slaughter for the taste of someone’s flesh. Shame on you.
Bounding Over Our Steps
Ayngelina, I completely echo the others who have replied to your comment. I would also like to add that taking a life at 6 months (when most pigs are killed for their flesh) when they live from 10-15 years is not ethical. So many animals are being killed simply because we are the most arrogant species on earth thinking that animals are somehow beneath us. For this reason the very domain name for your website is offensive. There is nothing magical about what I witnessed at the slaughterhouse and frankly nothing magical about the killing you witnessed at the slaughterhouse you visited in PEI, as per your video. The nice music you put to it doesn’t soften the murder of a being way before her/his time and for what? To think that someone’s life, someone with a mother and a father, siblings and possibly even children is worth taking simply for palatal pleasure. I consider this selfish.
Ayngelina, would you say the same thing for humans? Would it be OK to slaughter a human, just so long as it is in a ‘humane’ way? Just so long as they didn’t know it was coming, and it was quick, right?
Killing of anything or anyone can never be humane. Especially if it is for our own, selfish and greedy consumption.
What gives us the right to ‘humanely’ kill animals? Actually, animals are nicer creatures than humans, they are innocent and do not destroy the world we live in.
Instead of killing in the ‘humane’ way let animals live, as they deserve to, and just eat vegan food which tastes way better anyway. 🙂
Giselle and Cody
Ayngelina, we’re curious to know what makes you think that the pigs didn’t suffer? Is fear not suffering?
Do you truly believe that they had no idea what was happening to them? Dogs can sense what is happening to them and pigs are exponentially smarter than dogs.
We think humans underestimate animals. Animals have instinct far greater than humans. We don’t believe for one second that the pigs in PEI could not sense what was happening to them. The words “humane slaughter” are made up words to ease the guilt of people participating in the oppression, and killing of all animals. There is no such thing as humane slaughter. Pigs are sentient beings, they can fully communicate with us and we clearly know that they do not want to die.
So to take a life, or billions of lives for that matter, for palate pleasure is ethically wrong.
The fear in their eyes that we have seen first hand, tells us that what society teaches is lies. They suffer, they feel, they desire to live just like us. The “right” we have to murder billions of animals for nothing doesn”t come from right, it comes from power. It is unjust no matter how you want to word it.
Instead of squealing for their lives, would it be different if they begged for their lives in English?