Sandra Kyle and Kirsty Thompson do regular weekly vigils outside two slaughterhouses in Whanganui, New Zealand as part of the International Save Movement. To look for a vigil near you, or to start your own Save Movement group, go to thesavemovement.org
WE SAW an enormous black steer making a panicked attempt to climb over the top of a slaughtertruck today. He was probably standing on another steer, perhaps a downed one, but he couldn’t get over and fell back. Straddling the animals on the top tier was the truck driver. I had watched him for some moments beforehand electrically shocking the animals to try and get them off the truck. He was roughly jabbing them in short sharp movements, and it looked as if he was shocking the same animal several times. I was nearly choking with anger, and screamed out at him to stop electrocuting them. He didn’t react. He was also yelling at them and making movements with his arms: ‘Go! Get!’ or something similar. It took nearly ten minutes before the animals started to unload and during a lot of that time he was using his electric prod.
SEEING THAT STEER suddenly rise up out of the half-hidden, anonymous cargo, seeing his large ears, his open mouth and wild eyes, seeing his legs hanging over the side, has haunted me in the hours since. He could have hurt or bruised himself in the attempt also, and to suffer electric shocks and be yelled at, on top of that, set my heart beating faster with disbelief and anger. When I moved up closer to the truck. the groundsman told me to get off the pedestrian strip. I pointed out the symbol painted on the ground. He said ‘I don’t give a rat’s a*se, get the hell back.’ When I told Kirsty what he said she was furious and marched up to where I had been standing. He told her to move too, and then with a huge voice that boomed out of her small body she told him where to go. ‘We are ALLOWED to stand here….. This is not about YOU.’ He was quite taken aback, as usually Kirsty doesn’t say much. On the way home I congratulated her on her megaphone voice and she said she was so angry that he was throwing his weight around as usual.
THERE WERE MORE toots today, mostly positive but some negative too, probably as a result of the publicity this week. When we had just arrived someone passing us in a car veered towards me as if to run me down (he was just making a point). A car stopped over the other side of the road and I went across to talk to the two young women. ‘We want to become vegans too’ they said. Another two women on a motor scooter stopped and one said she only ate chicken, was that alright? Kirsty and I spoke to them for a while, then the pillion passenger started to get a bit aggro. ‘That’s just your opinion’, she said as they moved off.
EVERY TIME I APPROACH THESE HELL HOLES my heart sinks and then starts beating faster with anxiety and sorrow. It felt worse today, maybe because of the steer and the driver hurting the animals, but also because I am reading a book by Gail A Eisnitz called ‘Slaughterhouse’. Gail sent it to me to read ahead of my interviewing her on my Animal Rights radio and podcast show, ‘Safe and Sound’. I have copied an excerpt below that shows how cows are killed and processed in most western slaughterhouses. Gail’s investigations and sources proved that it often doesn’t happen according to plan and this could be for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons include a foreman pushing cows through at speed to increase profits, or because of dilapidated equipment, or poorly trained operators. Sometimes the animals are skinned while still alive. Don’t read on if you haven’t the stomach for it.
‘Cattle in a slaughterhouse are prodded along a chute to a ‘knocking box’.. The stun operator or ‘knocker’ shoots each animal in the forehead (they see it coming… my note) with a compressed air gun that drives a steel bolt into the cow’s skull and then retracts it. If the knocking gun is sufficiently powered, well maintained and properly used it knocks the cow unconscious or kills the animal on the spot.
The next man on the line ‘the shackler’ wraps a chain around one of the stunned cow’s hind legs. Once shackled the animal is automatically lifted onto a moving overhead rail. The cow, now hanging upside down by a leg, is sent to the ‘sticker’ – the worker who cuts the throat….. Next the cow travels along the ‘bleed rail’ and is given several minutes to bleed out. The carcass then proceeds to the ‘head skinners’, the ‘leggers’ (who chop off the legs, my note) and on down the line where it is completely skinned, eviscerated and split in half’.
IN MANY PLANTS it takes only minutes to turn a warm, breathing animal into a ‘split in half’ carcass. This is why Kirsty and I, and the SAVE groups in Wellington and Auckland and all over the world do vigils outside slaughterhouses. To say goodbye to the animals, to bear witness to their suffering, and to dig deep to find that power within us to continue working until we’ve put a stop to the carnage once and for all.