Category Archives: factory farming

LIVING AND LOVING AT HAPPILY EVER ESTHER FARM SANCTUARY

Who could have guessed that gawking at a pig emptying her bladder would be the highlight of my recent visit to the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary? My Toronto Vegetarian Association travel companions and I had been warned that we might not even glimpse Esther, the so-called Wonder Pig who shares the Sanctuary’s comfortable house with her dads, Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter, and her dog buddies, Shelby and Reuben.

“Esther is unpredictable,” we were told. “Sometimes she comes outside when we have visitors. Other times, she just feels like lounging around inside the house all day.”

Esther’s story is well known, shared in documentaries and television interviews and a truly beautiful book, Esther the Wonder Pig: Changing the World One Heart at a Time. In 2012, when Steve succumbed to a friend’s plea to adopt a four-pound micro-piglet, he had no inkling that little Esther would gain several hundred pounds, the genetic fate she shares with millions of other pigs raised in factory farms and destined for slaughterhouses.

Esther_as_piglet.jpg

Long before she reached her present weight of six hundred and fifty pounds, it was too late. Steve and Derek had made a lifelong commitment to care for their huge, loving and deeply loved pig. That commitment extended far beyond Esther, to all farmed animals. In 2015, Derek and Steve left their suburban lives behind and moved into Cedar Row Farm, now home to the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary.

And so, on that sunniest of Sunday mornings, as the majestic pig ambled down into the garden, I joined the throng lining the fence, gazing at her. Esther paid us scant attention. She took a few careful steps forward and then, standing stock still, began to release a deluge of liquid. As the minutes passed, she turned by slow inches in a semi-circle, her rear hoofs tap-dancing up and down as she moved.

We were astounded at the seemingly inexhaustible volume of urine she was pumping out. “Esther would shame a gang of boys lined up in a pissing contest! If she weren’t housetrained, the furniture would be floating around the living room!”

“But she is housetrained,” Steve Jenkins assured us. “She goes outside whenever she needs to. She can even open the door to let herself in and out.”

Esther and watermelon

Finally, the flow trickled off, the slow motion tap-dance ended. Now Esther was focused on the mini-watermelon Steve held out for her and which she quickly dispatched, leaving only one red-fleshed rind for her best friend Shelby, who shares her love for melons. As the old dog ripped off the juicy fruit, Esther made her way back up onto the deck and into the house.

Oh no! Was that it? Won’t we get to see her again?

“Not to worry. She just wants a smoothie.” And Steve disappeared behind his pig, and soon reappeared carrying a large stainless steel container. Esther followed, nimbly picking her way down the rubber-covered deck stairs and over to the giant smoothie, which she proceeded to slurp up until there was more froth on her snout than in the dish. Then, casting a sly sideways glance at her admiring audience, she began to walk around the backyard toward her bathing pool, which consists of four swimming pools inserted one on top of the other to provide this hefty pig enough strength and stability.

Esther and smoothie

We were in for a treat! Esther tromped into her pool with all four hooves, sank heavily down onto her side, and had a lovely, watery lie-down. Another messy, splashy turnaround, and she plunked herself down on her other side. Finally, with all but her mid-back soaked and dripping, Esther laboriously heaved herself up and out of the pool, shook herself mightily, and made her way back up to the house.

Esther in her pool

Suddenly we heard a crashing sound, and Steve and Derek, who had just arrived, exchanged shocked looks and then raced into the house. They emerged a minute later, laughing. Uh, what had caused that concerning noise? Was everyone and everything still alright?

Derek chuckled and explained. Esther knows her status here, and so when she went inside and found Shelby and Reuben sleeping in her bed, she asked them to move. But Shelby, sixteen years old and hard of hearing, slept on. Reuben, too, did not stir. Esther was not pleased, and took action, ramming her bulk into a chair and slamming it onto the ground. Esther's Shelby doesn't hear well.jpg

Success! Shelby and Reuben woke up and scrambled out of Esther’s bed, freeing it for their bossy sister to flop down into.

Relationships! That was the underlying theme of our visit to the Happily Forever Esther Sanctuary, Esther’s with her canine siblings and human dads first and foremost, but not her only ones. How does Esther relate to the pigs, goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, rabbits and fowl who live nearby in barns and coops in her Sanctuary?

Mostly, Esther pays no attention to animals other than the dogs she was raised with, and the humans who did the raising. The main exception is pigs, whom she dislikes and perhaps even fears. If curious pigs come over to the fence to investigate this beautiful, familiar creature strolling around the Sanctuary, Esther runs away and has zero interest in greeting them.

Does she think she is a dog like Shelby and Reuben? Quite possibly, Steve and Derek concur. What is certain is that she loves them, and they love her.

We snap photos, ask questions, take notes. Will Esther make another appearance? Not likely. She’s fast asleep in her bed, dreaming of watermelons and smoothies and hanging out with Shelby and Reuben. And we can’t linger, our bus is waiting to return us to the big city. So sleep soundly, Esther and friends, and we’ll see you soon, because this is surely just the first of our many visits to your wonderful Sanctuary.

Esther's farm motto.jpg

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The Lucky Pigs Died First

An early morning transport run to Fearmans Pork Inc. gave 37 of its 180 porcine passengers the first and only lucky break of their short, miserable lives by killing them just outside the slaughterhouse. When the truck, driven by an unnamed 25-year-old now charged with careless driving, flipped over and smashed into the pavement, the luckiest pigs died instantly. Others took longer, their high-pitched screams piercing the air as they flailed and gasped and struggled despite broken limbs and internal injuries to free themselves from the weight of scores of other pigs crushing them.

         Overturned truck Fearmans Pork Inc. Oct. 5, 2016

Steve Jenkins, director of Happily Ever Esther Sanctuary in nearby Campbellville, Ontario, declared that “In the four years I have known Esther, [his four-year-old, 600-pound house pig, rescued as a piglet] I have never heard the noises I heard coming from those pigs today. It was sheer terror, and I will never forget it.”

Esther lives with two humans and several dogs

Esther lives with humans, dogs and cats

Some pigs fell off the downed truck and wandered, at first tentatively and then joyously as, for the first time in their lives, they felt the dew-dampened grass under their hooves and the warmth of the rising sun on their bristly backs. The grievously injured simply sank down, helpless. One mottled brownish pig, downed but still curious, raised her snout up to touch that of a pink pig who hovered beside her, nuzzling her.

bonnie-at-fearmans-oct-5-2016

Bonnie is comforted by pink pig

 

“Bonnie,” as Toronto Pig Save witnesses named her, also inspired a slaughterhouse worker to commit the same crime of compassion – giving a drink of water to a doomed pig – that led to the charge of criminal mischief against Toronto Pig Save founder Anita Krajnc, whose trial is ongoing.

While Bonnie lay there, dozens of emergency responders worked to remove the pigs still imprisoned in the truck. Though the police reported that the process was performed “safely and humanely,” Animal Justice lawyers argue that videos of the tortuous process suggest otherwise. The bloodied and traumatized pigs were prodded with long paddles to step over and around downed and dead pigs and down a short ramp to the ground, and even those with visible injuries including rectal prolapses were swatted along into Fearmans  slaughterhouse. A very few, revelling in the miracle of grass and sunshine, trotted innocently toward impending slaughter.

During the hours-long extraction from the truck and the death march that followed, downed pigs suffered unattended under the hot sun though animal advocates     repeatedly urged that they be given veterinary care.

More egregiously, Fearmans rejected Steve Jenkins’ offers of sanctuary for Bonnie and other pigs deemed no longer “viable for processing.” Instead, slaughterhouse staff improvised cardboard barriers around the injured animals to thwart witnesses. One worker, accused of being heartless, exclaimed merrily, “That’s me! I don’t know how I can live with myself!” as she draped cardboard over a fence.

Nudging pigs to slaughter

But the cardboard sagged and swayed, and protesting witnesses watched a man shoot a weapon later identified as a captive bolt gun into Bonnie’s head. He had more difficulty with another pig whose limbs jerked convulsively and who appeared to be suffering. Three other grounded pigs were shot and then shoveled into the bucket of a forklift and carted away for disposal at Fearmans.

Earlier, another drama had unfolded. Anita Krajnc had crossed a yellow police tape to investigate what was happening behind the cardboard but was ordered away. Desperate to observe how the pigs were being treated, she crossed the tape again. The police swung into action, cuffing her hands behind her back, nudging her into a police cruiser and charging her with obstructing police and breaching her bail conditions. Afterward, they released her and Krajnc resumed her mission of witnessing.

The suffering pigs died on October 5th, just a handful of the 10,000 Fearmans slaughters daily. But they left a legacy of more than pork loins and bacon. Animal Justice lawyer Anna Pippus has announced that her organization is calling for criminal animal cruelty charges to be filed against Fearmans. Citing  Sections 445 (1) and 446(1) of Canada’s Criminal Code prohibiting causing unnecessary suffering to animals, and injury to animals through wilful neglect while they are being driven, Pippus argues that the pigs should have had veterinary treatment and, if needed, prompt euthanasia.

Pippus adds: “Twice now, police have laid criminal charges against the wrong person. Once again, animals lay suffering and dying without any medical attention, while police arrested the woman who came to their aid rather than those who caused the animals to suffer in the first place. Abusing and neglecting vulnerable animals is both morally wrong and a criminal offence. The only logical course of action is for police to drop the charges against Dr. Krajnc and to instead charge Fearmans Pork for animal cruelty.”

Spurred into action by the public outcry, the Ontario SPCA has now announced an investigation into how the pigs were handled after the truck accident. And, so that they will never be forgotten, PETA president Ingrid Newkirk has proposed erecting a five foot high memorial tombstone at the crash scene, commemorating all the pigs killed at Fearmans. This time, witnessing and recording and photographing and videotaping has not been in vain.

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Filed under Anita Krajnc, factory farming, Fearman's Pork Inc., slaughterhouse

Judging Compassion: the Criminal Trial of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Krajnc

Judging Compassion: the Criminal Trial of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Krajnc

The young pig at the outer edge of the immobile transport truck bearing him to slaughter was so terrified and parched that his mouth was foaming. But when the truck stopped at a traffic light and animal activist Anita Krajnc thrust an open water bottle through a ventilation opening, he raised his snout and slurped until the traffic light turned green and the truck revved up and veered around toward Burlington, Ontario’s Fearman’s Pork Inc., the slaughterhouse across the road.

Pig en route to slaughter foaming at mouth from terror and thirst

Pig en route to slaughter foaming at mouth from terror and thirst

This happens often during Toronto Pig Save slaughterhouse vigils, and other activists also tip water bottles into the gasping mouths of frantic pigs. Twice, I have been one of them, holding out my water bottle and crooning through tears the mantra that encapsulates our mission as well as our despair: “We see you. We’re trying. We’re sorry. We love you.”

What was different and unexpected on the June 22, 2015 vigil was that the truck driver, Jeffrey Veldjesgraaf, stepped down and, in a heated exchange captured by a Toronto Pig’s Save videographer, asked Krajnc to stop giving water to the pigs he was transporting to their death. Krajnc refused with a biblical reference to giving water to the thirsty. “Have some compassion!” she urged.

Veldjesgraaf snapped, “You know what, these are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad,” and later added, “You do it again and I’ll slap it out of your hands.”

But in face of Krajnc’s defiance to his threat to “call the cops” – “Call Jesus!” she retorted – Veldjesgraaf climbed back inside the truck and hauled his cargo of hundreds of pigs to slaughter at Fearman’s.

Anita Krajnc gives water to pigs en route to slaughter

Anita Krajnc gives water to pigs en route to slaughter

The next day, the pigs’ owner, Eric van Boekel of Van Boekel Holdings Inc., filed a complaint against Krajnc and on September 9, 2015, she was charged with criminal mischief. Her trial began a year later, in Burlington’s Courthouse, with van Boekel and Veldjesgraaf’s testifying. On October 3rd, the proceedings were devoted to Krajnc. The courtroom was so packed that the judge invited journalists to move into the empty Prisoners’ Dock, which he said he’d temporarily dub the ‘Press Dock,’ and when every seat was filled, permitted people still waiting to enter his courtroom to sit on the floor to accommodate the overflow crowd that included Ingrid Newkirk,  President of PETA, the world’s largest animal rights organization.

In her testimony, Krajnc confirmed the accuracy of the prosecution’s description of what happened on June 22, 2015. Then, in response to her lawyer James Silver’s questions, she gave detailed accounts of Toronto Pig Save, which she co-founded in 2010, and of the burgeoning Save movement it spawned, that now numbers more than fifty groups in Canada, the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

Krajnc could not save the young pig who sipped her water, but she transformed her legal defense into a powerful platform to not only justify her small act of mercy but also to elaborate on Toronto Pig Save’s mission. She identified herself as the group’s full-time organizer and defined its three goals: to promote a non-violent vegan world, to promote activism, and to promote a cultural shift so that everyone who sees suffering of any sort bears witness, thereby helping animals, people and the planet.

Culturally savvy, the Save Movement uses social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, websites, Vimeo and YouTube – to show the realities of animals going to slaughter and to connect supporters. A Save Response Team is mandated with finding homes for animals who fall off slaughter trucks and are reprieved. There are a plethora of related groups: vegan outreach, poster and postcard campaigns, climate/vegan groups, an SOS squad that issues placards and distributes PETA and vegan starter kits, and a program that pays students $10 each to watch the documentary Earthlings. Dozens of virtual headsets, recently purchased, are being distributed worldwide to render the viewing experience more authentic and compelling.

And, at the heart of the Save Movement are slaughterhouse vigils where supporters bear witness to the terrible suffering of doomed animals being trucked away into local slaughterhouses. At Fearman’s Pork Inc., Krajnc testified, ten thousand pigs are slaughtered daily, and videos of pigs being slaughtered by the same methods used at Fearman’s and elsewhere were entered into the trial records as Exhibits relevant to her defense.

Pigs comfort each other as they await slaughter

Pigs comfort each other as they await slaughter

“We want everyone to see what we see,” Krajnc said. “As Leo Tolstoy said, “When the suffering of another creature causes you to feel pain, do not submit to the initial desire to flee from the suffering one, but on the contrary, come closer, as close as you can to her who suffers, and try to help her.”

The Save Movement is also guided by the reasoned non-violence of Mohatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King. These two icons also strove to change the system that permits the violence afflicted on other creatures, and to go to the darkest sites of injustice and to bear witness there.

Kindness to sheep on cattle train - 1870

  Kindness to sheep on cattle train – 1870

In 1870, popular American author Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) described with words and illustration how two young girls offered buckets of water and freshly picked clover to distressed and panting sheep on a cattle railroad car, an act of compassion that deeply touched her. A century and a half later, in Canada, Anita Krajnc risks jail time for performing that same act of compassion.

The trial continues on Nov. 1st.

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Filed under Anita Krajnc, factory farming, slaughterhouse, Uncategorized