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!