As an activist, I’ve seen a lot of animal suffering.
From starved dogs during my work in a rehabilitation animal shelter, whose bones protruded from their skin after having been abandoned for weeks by their human adopters; to young cows running bewildered among a crowd of noisy onlookers as they were chased by a stranger with a lasso, during nights spent capturing the barbarity of animal ‘entertainment’ on film.
Most of what I have witnessed has been through the lens of those in the front-lines taking footage of what they have experienced first-hand. But among all the violence and blood, there’s one image that has always stuck with me. An image that without any graphic content, carried with it something just as pervading, if not more.
And I’d like to share it with you;
Inside a dark, cramped concrete factory, a row of mother pigs were laying on their sides, each in their own metal crate. Bars surrounded their exhausted bodies so tightly that they would press into the pigs’ haggard skin. Only recently had this same skin given birth to another generation of piglets who would one day end up in this very position. Forced pregnancy – creating life in order to take life [for human consumption] – proves to be one of the greatest abuses of my fellow female companions and their bodies.
I had my focus set on a particular mother pig who had a faint spotlight on her amidst the grainy camera footage. Following a noise, she suddenly started trembling and shaking her feet. A man entered with what looked like a crow bar in hand. He approached each pig one by one. Just out of my vision, I realised that what he was doing was using this crow bar as a tool to violently prod the pigs so they would stand. If the pigs don’t stand, their muscles become lame and they’re unable to access the food that keeps them fattened for later human consumption, nor are they able to ultimately walk to their slaughter. Every so often, this man enters & forces the pigs into standing using this metal prodder. But with an entire day, week, and almost lifetime spent laying on concrete, unable to move let alone play, insanity creeping in along with helplessness, standing is an immensely difficult task.
This particular mother pig, I noticed, began scrambling in desperation. Having been through this trauma before, her mind knew that the man approaching meant that she needed to stand. If she didn’t stand by the time he reached her, she would have to endure the same suffering that lead to her traumatic response. Despite knowing this, she couldn’t get up. Her legs, lame from having had no opportunity for movement, were becoming too weak to hold her weight. Every time she tried to rise, they would slip on the concrete and she’d fall.
You could see the desperation in her body, the terror in her face. At this point, standing up was the most important task she could possibly achieve, regardless of the pain that came with it. The closer the man got, the more frantically she tried.
And she tried so bloody hard. But she just couldn’t stand.