Toronto Pig Save inspires global animal-rights activism

Activist Anita Krajnc’s weekly vigils at Toronto-area slaughterhouses have inspired an international movement to save animals

After five court appearances and a failed attempt to have the charge against her thrown out, Toronto Pig Save activist Anita Krajnc will finally stand trial August 24 on charges of criminal mischief – for giving water to a thirsty pig in a truck on its way to Fearmans Pork Incorporated in Bur-ling-ton on June 22, 2015.

Krajnc’s lawyer, Gary Grill, believes the Crown has been unduly influenced by “big meat” (Fearmans is Ontario’s largest slaughterhouse) and has argued that “it is not in the public interest to proceed. This isn’t criminal in nature, and it should be left to other ways to resolve differences.” Several petitions in Krajnc’s defence have circulated online, including one that received more than 150,000 signatures.

In December, however, the Crown announced that it intended to proceed by summary conviction on the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail, a $5,000 fine or both. 

The alleged crime – interference with the use, enjoyment and opera-tion of property – was captured on video. It shows pigs on the lower deck of the truck panting with mouths agape and Krajnc reaching in to give one of them water from a bottle while the truck is stopped at a traffic light outside Fearmans.


The act of kindness – giving a thirsty pig water – that led to a mischief charge against Anita Krajnc. 

It shows the driver getting out and telling Krajnc not to put water in the truck. She responds by quoting Jesus: “If they are thirsty give them water.” To which the driver counters, “You know what? These are not humans, you dumb frickin’ broad.”

The pig that drank from Krajnc’s bottle came from Van Boekel Hog Farms in Otterville, Ontario, about 100 kilometres west of Burlington.

Canadian regulations allow pigs to go without food, water or rest in transit for up to 40 hours. 

Fearmans Pork Incorporated is the oldest continuously operating pork processor in Canada some 10,000 pigs are killed at the plant every day. They are suffocated into unconsciousness by breathing carbon dioxide, then their throats are slit, they are shackled upside down to bleed out, and they’re dipped in a tank of scalding water. 

Birth of the Save Movement

Krajnc, who founded Toronto Pig Save (and soon after that Cow Save and Chicken Save), has been holding thrice-weekly vigils at Toronto-area slaughterhouses since 2010.

The first time I reported on a vigil at Fearmans, in May 2015, Krajnc told me, “Someday we’ll stop these trucks.” Only two other activists had joined her that day. Their numbers have since swelled, and the activists have become emboldened enough to block the trucks. However, playing chicken with 18-wheelers is a dangerous game. Horns blowing, the big rigs often barrel through the intersection, scattering the activists. 

When a truck is successfully stopped, activists rush to its side to observe and make contact with the pigs, soothe them with words, stroke their faces and offer them water and take their pictures for social media. 

“I see animals imploring with their eyes for help. They’re sad, they’re scared, they are concerned for each other, the other animals in the truck,” says Krajnc. “They know that we are their friends.”

Happily Ever Esther

More than 650 million animals are slaughtered every year in Canada. To slice it another way: the average meat eater consumes roughly 26 chickens, one turkey, nearly half a pig and more than a 10th of a cow every year. 

The farm-animal sanctuary movement seeks to educate meat eaters by introducing them to the few animals saved from agriculture. These animals have become ambassadors for the billions of their species who were not so lucky. 



Happily Ever Esther, a 25-hectare sanctuary in Campbellville, is named after Esther, a 317-kilogram sow with more than 230,000 Insta-gram followers. 

Steve Jenkins and Derek Walter received Esther as a gift in 2012 from a friend who got her via a classified ad on Kijiji. 

“We were told she was going to be a little pot-bellied pig, so we don’t know where the lie began,” says Jenkins. “We don’t know and don’t care, to be honest.” A month or two later, Jenkins and Walter stopped eating meat. Pork, of course, was first to go. 

As Esther grew, so did her celebrity, which allowed her human caregivers to crowd-source more than $400,000 to move from a suburban house in Georgetown to their current pastoral digs. Jenkins and Walter eventually left their jobs as real estate agent and professional magician, respectively, to run the sanctuary full-time.

Esther’s story is the subject of their New York Times bestselling book Esther The Wonder Pig, which comedian Ricky Gervais has called “the greatest love story ever told between two men and their pig.”

The sanctuary has since taken in rescued pigs, cows, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, cats, a donkey and a horse. Unlike the other farm animals, Esther lives inside with Jenkins and Walter and their two dogs.

Sanctuary volunteers clad in Esther’s Army hats and T-shirts bring watermelons, berries and bouquets of fresh organic kale in hopes of winning her affection. But their gifts are to no avail: like a true diva she pays the hopeful volunteers scant attention. 

When Krajnc and I visited the farm last November, Esther, followed by the dog Reuben, headed over to the Enchanted Forest, where she likes to root around in the moist soil for grubs, bugs, acorns and other edi-bles. 

Rubbing Esther’s belly, Krajnc says, “People are never as happy as they are when they are with animals, who are living in the present and fully expressing themselves.” 

Selfies with Meadow

Krajnc took part in delicate negotiations with the manager of Newmarket Meat Packers during an Easter weekend vigil in 2015. That ended in the donation of a lamb, Meadow, to the Pig Save group, which took it to the Wishing Well Sanctuary outside Bradford. Alice Freitas’s Grade 10 drama class from Harbord Collegiate visited last December.

Lightning the llama greets the students as they enter his pasture. A volunteer warns that Lightning is pooling saliva in his cheeks and will spit on them if he feels threatened. The kids befriend him and start taking selfies. 


Meadow, Mercy, and Chickpea

Some sheep arrive and begin interacting with the students. Unlike the others, Meadow is recognizable because of her tail, which hasn’t been docked. 

She’s beaming as she tilts her head and allows the students to stroke her thick coat, give her hugs and snap more selfies. 

“My family always makes meat, and I dunno… it makes me kinda regret eating lamb,” says Sebastian Cunti.

“Ham is my favourite for sandwiches,” says Jota Michael. “Now I see what happens to them in real life, I’m going to eat less meat, but I’ll eat a little still – you need it to live.” 

“I rarely eat meat. I’m trying to be vegetarian, but my mom sometimes makes me eat meat cuz I’m still growing and she says I need the iron,” says Ayla Mueller. 

Lunch is Pizza Nova pizza with Dai-ya, a non-dairy cheese made of tapioca and pea protein. 

The students’ reactions are mixed. “It doesn’t taste real,” says Evan Campbell. 

“The cheese is slimy,” says Jessica Car-valho. 

“I love pizza, preferably pepperoni,” says Jesse Nobriega, “but I’m all for veggie. Being here, it is nice to see the animals free. I’ll think twice before eating certain meat products. It’s a whole new perspective.” 

“We don’t proselytize,” says Wishing Well owner Brenda Bronfman. “What we do is help people see the connection between ourselves and the animals.”

Mercy from Maple Leaf

Mercy the chicken was given to Toronto Chicken Save by a Ma-ple Leaf Foods worker at an all-day vigil held August 12, 2015. She now lives at Ce-dar Row Farm Sanctuary outside Stratford in a barn with her best friend, Helen, also a broiler hen several egg-laying hens and Bits, a potbellied pig who prefers the company of chickens over other pigs. Mercy loves to have her breast feathers ruffled while she coos and clucks.

Since broiler hens are bred to mature quickly, Mercy and Helen are not supposed to be this big. “They slaughter them at the age of about six weeks,” says sanctuary owner Siobhan Poole. “They’ll eventually die of a heart attack,” Poole says while feeding them grapes, their favourite food. 

Chickpea and Charlie 

Cedar Row’s Chickpea was rescued from a dairy farm as a premature calf who would have been euthanized. She is not milked because unlike other dairy cows she doesn’t endure continual forced impregnation. She is the matriarch of the barnyard. The goats take their cues from her. They groom her by nibbling hay out of her coat. As I take a selfie with Chickpea, she licks my ear, and her tongue feels like wet sand-paper.

Charlie, also at Cedar Row, was rescued as a small veal calf while running on the side of the road. He now weighs 1,000 kilos and stands over six feet tall at the shoulder. Poole describes him as a mischievous but gentle pre-teen. He’ll carefully nudge you with his massive face and neck to the point of almost knocking you over.

Cedar Row evokes all the emotional resonance of happy animals on a family farm, but without the killing. 

“We can’t save them all,” says Poole, “but we can change the world for these individuals, and that’s what keeps us going.”

Krajnc sees the Pig Save vigils as “a very partial and frustrating form of witnessing. If you were in the truck, what would you want people to do?” | @nowtoronto

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