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Tonight, I attended the Toronto Cow Save 24 hour vigil outside the St. Helen’s and Regency-Ryding Slaughterhouse. I was there for a total of five hours but it only took 5 agonizing minutes to change my life. The smell of death, blood, shit, violence, chemicals and fear hit me like a sledgehammer as I stepped out of the car. The stench is indescribable. Gathered between two slaughterhouses, on a small public road, I joined a small group of friends and fellow activists, many of them present since 6 am.
I was not expecting to see any cows. I was under the impression that the death plant shut down in the early evening and most of the cows arrived for slaughter during early morning and daytime hours. We were all surprised when around 8pm a truck pulled in and parked on the road. A new driver who’d never been to this facility had to stop and find someone to open the gate. His truck and trailer full of terrified young steers sat on the road while he searched for someone to let him in.
I approached the open slats of the trailer with tears already forming, dreading, knowing that what I would see would crack me open. I peered inside. Two scared and beautiful faces backed away slightly, the whites of their eyes showing, their mouths foaming with thirst. I don’t know how far these young beauties travelled today, crammed into a hot truck, sliding around in their own excrement with no relief from the heat of the sun and the noise of the highway. I do know they were dehydrated and scared, standing 8 inches deep in shit, diarrhea sliding down the backs of their legs and splattering the trailer inside and out. As I tentatively reached my hand inside, one brave boy approached the opening and allowed me to touch his nose for a brief moment. Tears of despair, hopelessness and sorrow poured out of me. I felt paralyzed with grief. To witness these gentle children in such a state, with the knowledge of what was to come in a few short hours, was almost unbearable. But bear it we must. These boys were young. Their fear was palpable. They should have been rollicking in a field somewhere and nursing at their mother’s side.
Their blood may not be on my hands but tonight I feel like Lady MacBeth. The shower I took upon arriving home washed the odour of death from my skin but I feel tattooed with pain and sorrow. You may ask, why do this? What purpose does it serve to be there? Why put yourself through the pain of witnessing the last terrified moments of an innocent life? Who or how is this helping? All I can tell you is that through my experience this evening, I was profoundly changed in ways I can barely yet articulate. My spirit is not broken, in fact my resolve is strengthened.
When I awake in the morning, I know those gentle boys with the big, brown eyes and soft noses will be gone and more will be lining up to suffer the same violent fate. I can only share what I witnessed and my belief that we all have the power to affect change. I believe our world is created from the inside out and the transformation must begin with each one of us. Open your eyes, open your hearts, bear witness to the pain and that transformation will begin. Peace to you all.