As an animal rights activist in Canada, I was familiar with meeting pigs in transport trucks outside slaughterhouses. We’d be there bearing witness in the freezing cold of winter and then the boiling heat of summer as part of the Save Movement, whose Anita Krajnc has become a hero with her shocking prosecution for giving water to a pig bound for slaughter. If you’ve never met a pig, it’s shocking. They have human-like eyes. They do look you in the eye. You can feel their plight.
Recently, I decided to take a step further and go inside a farm as part of a practice — open rescue — in which advocates openly investigate farms and rescue animals from harm. What I saw shocked me. I’d learned about Open Rescue via the animal rights network Direct Action Everywhere, whose investigations into so-called “humane” farms have made headlines from the New York Times to the Huffington Post. I longed to rescue a little soul and to find him or her a loving forever home. It sounded like an undertaking that would be a joyous project for an activist. Yes, we did rescue Madison, but what I’m left with is flashbacks and nightmares. I wasn’t prepared for the conditions inside a factory farm.
From the outside, it’s just a big white shed in the countryside. Go inside and there’s a cacophony of deafening sounds of machinery, unbearable smells and pigs screaming. Coming face to face with rows upon rows of mother pigs, caged and unable to turn around is truly heartbreaking. The system is efficient for the human operators, with automated food and water and waste removal, but that efficiency comes at a price.
I move a little closer. I focus in on one individual. I look her in the eye, I can see she’s not violent, not dangerous, so I reach out and stroke her face. I break down and find myself saying sorry. She’s standing in her own filth, on a concrete slatted floor, where she has to trample in her own waste till it falls through to the pit below. She has nothing, no enrichment, no greenery, no windows, no sunlight.
Before my visit, I’d printed off the industry booklet geared towards school kids. One of the pages was for the kids to color in. It showed pigs lying on grass, with kindly looking people carrying baskets of food. The animals are pictured contentedly wandering around in the drawing, and a smiling truck driver waves. On the farm, smiles were lacking.
I next visited the area where the mothers had their babies. This was even worse, in terms of noise and smell. Baby piglets and mothers were all in individual pens, known as farrowing crates. I again focused in on one mother. She couldn’t even turn around to reach their babies. She just had to lie there as the babies fed from her. She’d given birth very recently, perhaps that very day. I looked closer and was sickened, as dead piglets surrounded her backend, including a dead piglet still encased in the birth placenta.
In all my encounters inside this hellish place, I’m struck by the end product that consumers see — neat packages in the supermarkets, wrapped in cellophane. If only those still buying their holiday ham, their bacon, their pork chops, could be allowed inside to see this mother and her babies. If they could experience what I was going through — my runny nose, streaming eyes, the assault on my senses — I like to believe they’d never purchase this ‘meat’ again.
I’m Canadian, and while our country is admired worldwide, we have some of the worst animal protection laws. It’s like our dirty little secret. All we want to do as AR activists is bring you into this hidden world, to help you see the truth in modern animal agriculture.
So we did rescue one lucky piglet. We named this little soul ‘Madison.’ To us and those who have seen our investigation, Madison is a symbol of what is happening behind closed doors while governments and corporations hide it from us. Madison is not the victim of any one person’s choice — she is the victim of corporations and governments that have systematically deceived us into thinking that killing her is okay.
Killing her — and putting her through all that I saw — is not okay. Luckily, we can get involved. We can spread awareness. We can write to our politicians and ask our supermarkets to stop selling products of violence. Please, you can become involved too, help us spread awareness. Write to your politicians, speak to the supermarkets.
We can save more individuals like Madison. I’ll do it again, I’ll save a little animal soul despite the nightmares. Will you?
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