The Save Movement: What To Expect at a Slaughterhouse Vigil

The Save Movement is a global organisation which holds peaceful vigils outside slaughter houses. The movement was started in Toronto with the formation of the Toronto Pig Save. This group was founded by an activist named Anita Krajnc, who made headlines last year when criminal charges were brought against her for offering water to thirsty pigs at one of the Save vigils outside an abattoir. She made headlines again when the case against her was dismissed, in what was seen as a great victory for animal activism.

The key objective of The Save Movement is to ‘bear witness’ to farm animals in their final moments before they enter the slaughter house to be killed. This idea of bearing witness to the suffering of others is inspired by the writings of Leo Tolstoy, an ethical vegetarian whose philosophical essays included discussion of the morality of eating animals.

“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 him who suffers, and try to help him.”

My Personal Experience

The Save Movement appealed to me because of its message of peace and non-violence, so I decided to go along to a vigil organised by Bristol Animal Save in the UK, to learn more.

I was picked up by one of the organisers, a woman named Josephine, who greeted me warmly and told me all about Bristol Animal Save on our drive out to the slaughter house. It’s hard to estimate how many group members there are in total, there’s over 2000 people following the Bristol Animal Save Facebook Page, but nowhere near that many attend the vigils. Josephine told me that usually around 10 people show up to the weekly vigils (there was 8 on the day I came). There are Save groups located all around the world, most are in America and Canada but there are over 50 in the UK (check here to find your nearest).

We arrived at the abattoir and set up our space on a patch of grass by the main entrance gate. A table was erected and filled with hot water urns, tea and coffee, plant milks, and some homemade vegan cake. The other group members arrived in ones and twos, Josephine greeted everyone as if they were old friends; with a hug and an offer of a hot drink and a snack. It felt a bit like any other vegan Meetup I’ve been to.

That is, until the trucks started arriving. Everyone else had attended vigils before, so I followed their lead. When the first truck was spotted slowly weaving its way down the small country lane towards us, we took up placards and stood in a line in front of the gate. The truck rolled to a stop a few metres in front of us, and one of the group leaders went to the driver and asked if they would mind stopping for a few minutes so that our group could say goodbye to the pigs before they went to be killed. Pretty much all of the truck drivers are aware of the Save group, and none of them seemed to mind pausing outside the gates for 3 minutes.  We filed down the sides of the truck and peered through the slats at the pigs inside. I was worried that the pigs would be frightened by our presence, but on the contrary, many of them approached us (as far as the cramped conditions would allow) and inquisitively stuck their noses out of the gaps left for ventilation. I tentatively reached in and scratched one behind the ear, and they seemed to like it as they pushed themselves towards me.

As I stood stroking this curious, intelligent being in front of me I could not help but contemplate the fate that awaited them. The company that owns this abattoir proudly claims on its website that they “process” almost 50,000 pigs every week.  I found out that this particular abattoir uses carbon dioxide gas as a stunning method: The International Coalition For Animal Welfare, which includes groups such as the RSPCA, IFAW, and Compassion in World Farming, released a statement last year condemning this technique as “aversive” and “distressing” to the animals involved. It has been reported that it can take between 33-47 seconds for pigs to lose consciousness, and during this time pigs are often observed “jumping and gasping”.

As I interacted with these animals, I was replaying the videos I have seen of carbon dioxide stunning in my head (for example, see here [WARNING: distressing content]). I overheard another group member gently talking to the pigs, telling them she was sorry they had to go through this, and my eyes started to well up. As the truck pulled away, bearing the victims to their final destination, I felt a deep sense of helplessness that I could do nothing to stop this needless killing.

What impact can The Save Movement have?

Everyone at the vigil I attended was vegan, and the abattoir was down a quiet country lane, with very few passers-by; which made me wonder why how much impact we could have. Other Saves hold their vigils in more public areas (The Toronto Pig Save, for example, is held on a busy intersection where activists have the chance to speak to the public). However, the power of social media should not be underestimated; everyone present (including myself) documented their experience with videos and photos to help raise awareness. Being present at such a moment may inspire more passive vegans to take action to raise awareness of the cruelties present in the industry. For the Save Movement to be successful, activists should share their experiences; by posting images online, talking to their friends and family, and perhaps even persuading non-vegans to come to a vigil and experience it for themselves.

A unique feature of The Save Movement is its focus on peace and non-violence; There is evidence that non-violent resistance can be more effective than violent protest. This may give the Save Movement the advantage of longevity as it is less likely to be shut down or receive negative press compared to other activist groups.