In Honour of Chickens
Category : Uncategorized
Of the billions of land animals killed for food each year, most of them are chickens. Saturday May 4th was the International Day of Respect for Chickens and, as a lead up to this day, Liberation BC held morning vigils all week outside the chicken slaughterhouse, Hallmark Poultry Processing, at Commercial and Hastings.
For me, this was the first time I had done any kind of animal rights work so close to the actual animals. I wasn’t sure I would able to handle the sadness of it all – knowing that thousands of helpless birds would be so close and I wouldn’t be able to help them. The slaughterhouse certainly is an eerie place. Trucks loaded with hundreds of caged chickens pull up at one end of the block and unload the terrified birds into a storage warehouse. Cages and cages of birds are stacked up to the roof where they wait for their short, terrible lives to be over. It will be a long wait as the slaughtering takes place at night, probably because the birds are calmer and easier to deal with.
The first morning, we arrived at 7 am, and were unprepared for how bitterly cold and extremely windy it was. It was all we could do to hold onto our signs against the wind with numb fingers. But we were determined to let everyone who drove past us know exactly what goes on behind the big grey wall. Soon, we were rewarded for our efforts when people began to wave and honk in response to a sign that said “Honk to show compassion for chickens”.
Each day our numbers grew and we became stronger. More and more cars were honking but most importantly we could see people reading our messages and then looking up at the building behind us. The slaughterhouse workers noticed us too and, from day 2 on, security people kept an eye on us. On a couple of occasions I noticed the driver of a little black sports car taking photos of us as he drove by. When workers came out, we greeted them. One day, as I was leaving I passed one of the workers. He knew who I was and saw my signs. I looked at him and said, “Have a nice day.” There was a pause and then he said, “You too.” I can’t even imagine how miserable he must feel doing what he does every day.
By Friday we had 11 people show up! It was starting to feel like home and we had all developed a strong connection to the little lives behind the walls. I know that I was also feeling a strong connection to my fellow activists – despite the sad situation, I felt joyful. And the horns were honking louder than ever! I’m sure many of the drivers had been by every day and their support seemed to get stronger each day!
Several of us managed to get some glimpses behind the walls of the slaughterhouse. Emily and Danielle were brave enough to walk down the alley on day 2–an emotional experience for both of them. When I was leaving on Wednesday, the garage door opened as I walked past. Even though there were hundreds of birds stacked up to the ceiling, it was very quiet and still–then suddenly I saw the flap of a single white wing. I was able to take some photos of the inside of the warehouse and a truck hauling hundreds of babies to their deaths.
It was a beautiful morning and it struck me as the truck pulled away that those little beings were probably experiencing the warmth of the sunshine for the first time – on the last day of their lives. I hope the caress of the sun comforted them and let them know that not all humans are so cold. One of the most amazing photos I’ve ever seen was taken by Alissa who took a tour of the area with her camera and managed to capture a beautiful close up shot of one little angel asleep in her jail. While it might be hard for some people to empathize with a truckload of anonymous birds, it seems impossible to not connect with this incredible image. Thanks for that Alissa.
On Saturday, the official International Respect for Chickens Day, eight of us gathered at Grandview Park, just a few blocks from the slaughterhouse, to hand out 450 United Poultry Concerns leaflets to passersby. Most people were familiar with the slaughterhouse and interested in learning more.
As the week came to an end, I was feeling a little sad and a little guilty – I didn’t want to leave those birds alone in the big grey building. For too long I have avoided this building because it is so depressing. I’m sure this is exactly what the operators of the facility want – no one seeing what they do -but I think it’s time we take ownership for this building and expose the cruelty. As it turns out, everyone in the group was feeling the same way so we’ve decided to keep the vigils going!
For now we will meet every Friday morning at 7:00 am at Hastings and Commercial to keep the message alive – ‘Compassion and Respect for chickens!’ Everyone is invited to come down whenever possible. Bring your own sign or use one of ours!
For the first week of vigils, I would like to thank everyone who came out (if I’ve missed anyone, please let me know!): Emily, Danielle, Ashley, Jackie, Alexandra, Alissa, Sinead, John, Joe, Miriam, Marv, and especially Sophie and Andrea who were there every day.