“When I think of participating in Animal Save vigils, I think of the freezing cold temperatures that the animals endure in transport, as well as the sweltering heat,” the photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, the founder of We Animals Media, tells me. “When I put my camera to the openings in the truck walls, I’m hit with the smells from inside, which are particularly bad on hot days. The conditions are crowded. The lens fogs up. The animals are panting, or wide-eyed; often both.”
McArthur has been part of the Animal Save Movement, a global network co-founded by Anita Krajnc, since its inception. It began in 2010 as Toronto Pig Save when Krajnc, an animal activist and friend of McArthur, saw truckloads of terrified pigs carted into a slaughterhouse on her morning walks with her dog, Mr. Bean. Today, their goal is to hold a vigil at every slaughterhouse until they’re shuttered for good.
“It’s been incredible to see it grow from the commitment of one person who wanted to start vigils, in solidarity with animals, so that people could bear witness,” McArthur says. “Anita has been greatly influenced by activists and writers like Gandhi and Tolstoy, who believed in bearing witness, being at the front lines, and helping. Now, there are chapters globally, and millions of people are drawn to see, to learn.”
At Animal Save vigils, everyone knows that the animals in the transport trucks can’t be rescued, but learning about their suffering and educating the public can help save future generations from their fate. The animals in these trucks are usually crowded together, forced to stand in their own waste; pigs might stand on top of one another, screaming in pain and fear. It is legal to transport animals without access to food or water in unbearable heat; according to Animal Justice, 1.59 million animals arrive at slaughterhouses in Canada dead or dying each year.
For participants, the vigils provide a chance to peer into the eyes of individual animals during some of the most frightening moments of their lives. On sweltering days like the ones McArthur remembers so vividly, activists might also offer water to thirsty animals while the trucks stop in traffic. Pigs are known to push their snouts to the holes to receive water and bits of watermelon, squealing with stress but also momentary relief. They enjoy being stroked on the nose, although the trucks are so crowded that not all can reach the holes for that moment of contact.
The vigils, and the vegan potlucks that sometimes follow, also foster lifelong connections within the community, strengthening the resolve of people working on the frontlines on behalf of animals. As a community, they’ve weathered losses and tragedies side-by-side. In June of 2020, social justice activist and animal advocate Regan Russell was killed by a transport truck in front of a Fearman’s Pork Inc. slaughterhouse. The driver was charged with careless driving causing death. Animal Save activists continue to fight for justice and honor her memory by attending vigils.
Seeing people come together as part of the Animal Save Movement makes McArthur proud and hopeful. “It’s mind-boggling to know that all of this suffering is unnecessary,” she says. “All of this ‘farming,’ growing, producing, antibiotics, fear, transport, violence, eating. There are other ways for us to be, more harmonious ways to be with others, treat others. Better ways to be on this Earth.”
Earlier this year, activists at Foggia Animal Save in Southern Italy showed us what a better world might look like when they collaborated with a local sanctuary, La Fattoria di Nonno Peppino, and other volunteers to rescue a pig found on the side of the road between Canosa and Minervino. The pig, whom rescuers named Mariarosa, had likely thrown herself from the truck carrying her to slaughter, severely injuring herself on a guardrail in the process. She is now safe at the sanctuary when she can be found nibbling on veggies and taking mud baths. They hope she will survive to lead a long life there.
This story is part of a series of articles about the We Animals collection, a world-class stock site comprising more than 10,000 images and videos from animal photojournalists working around the world. You can support their work by making a one-time donation here, or you can become part of We Animals Allies here. Stay tuned for more.