shock (pig kill, part 1)


Today, I witnessed the killing of a pig. I participated in the processing of the dead animal, preparing it for tomorrow’s butchering. Of my many swarms of thoughts and feelings about today, I keep returning to how I didn’t feel sad for the pig that got killed. My response wasn’t troubling to me as I believe we all use different coping skills to survive difficult experiences. But, this didn’t feel like denial of something tragic or painful. I simply felt void of sorrow for the animal. Am I some kind of monster? How did I not care about this pig?

During the killing—which was not at all what could be described as a “clean kill”—I was moved nearly to tears. A few times, I heard myself quietly moaning like a mother comforting her injured child. But it wasn’t the pig who was being shot and cut that was causing this deep sorrow.

The man who did the killing and the second fully living pig were the focus of my grieving. They were alive and experiencing the horror.

“You came at a bad time, Heather,” said one of the farmers, apologetically, referencing the required brutality of the messy kill. I said, “I think I came at the right time.”

Why did I feel so disconnected from the pig’s experience of a slow death?

In many circumstances, people use feelings and intuition to make choices. They then tap into logic and rationality to explain the emotional decisions. Most people tend to think this isn’t the case, preferring to believe their informed decisions are made based on reason and critical thinking. I’m comfortable with the fact that most of my life is guided by intuition but that I may want to (or need to) explain my choices in ways that seem rooted in reason or rationality. This evening I’ve been reflecting on today’s experiences, trying to piece together the whats and whys of all that I felt. Moments ago I remembered shock.

In 2001, I was in a car wreck. I ran a red light and was “double t-boned.” That means as I was crossing the intersection, one car on either side of me (those that had the right of way) crashed into my car. A t-shaped crash.

Since that time I’ve had some “flashbacks” or memories of the experience that mostly I can’t put into words. The only part of the experience that made a big impact on me was the silence. Not really silence, but, the absence of sound. There has never been a more quiet time in the history of time than those moments when the cars made impact, my car spun around (I was told), and it slid to a crashing stop against (a stop sign? a parked car? I don’t know) something. Even when I was awake enough to interact with the police, everything was still so quiet.

Today I believe I was intuitively aware that the pig who died an unfortunately slow death was likely hardly aware of what was going on. Not because I think pigs don’t feel. In fact, the emotional impact of the second very living pig’s presence continues to bring out very strong sorrowful and maternal feelings in me. But because I believe after that first shot, the one that didn’t kill it, the chemicals in that pig’s body probably kicked in like the ones that made my car wreck emotionally survivable for me. I’m not suggesting there wasn’t pain, terror, confusion, desperation, or a whole range of possible feelings this pig was having. But because of my own experience with what should have been a life/death terror, I think the dying pig probably didn’t suffer. I can’t know this, of course. And I hear the voices of PETA people or others who object to killing animals, such as the author of Eating Animals, saying I’m making justifications for what was actually cruelty. All I know is my own experience. It is my experience, and my gut tells me, that this animal didn’t suffer from what might seem like a horrible death. Based on my experience and my intuition, this pig had the chemicals of “shock” raging through its body and if it had survived much of the experience would go unremembered or, at least, not be easily recalled.

The intention was to kill the pig quickly. The intention was to avoid all unnecessary suffering for the pig. When the pig’s body was giving the last heaves of life or audible and visible physiological functions, the group gathered with arms around each other and most members sang a song of gratitude. There were tears and hugs and quiet gestures of comfort shared among the group.

With the dead and still bleeding pig at my feet, my focus continued to be on the living beings around me. I found scraps of vegetables from around the yard to give to the obviously distressed living pig. I watched to be sure the man who did the killing was finding support among his peers. I didn’t take pictures of the killing or immediately following. There was a feeling of privacy and respect in those moments I would not tarnish by clicking pics with my iPhone.

The ethics of eating meat is complicated. So many people need for things to be right or wrong. Simple is preferred, even if it’s not honest. Much of today I was struck by my emotionally removed intellectual curiosity. Tonight, I’ve settled into the awareness that I was and am feeling a deep and true sense of awe.

5 thoughts on “shock (pig kill, part 1)

  1. “So many people need for things to be right or wrong. Simple is preferred, even if it's not honest.”

    Yes, this definitely. I don't know how I feel about eating meat. Pigs seem wrong … I hardly eat anything pigly, except (except!) for the very occasional strip of two of bacon. I don't eat much beef either, even though cows seem too dumb to care about … pigs seem so much smarter. Chickens, I can't get worked up over, except for the idea that it might be unhealthy for me to eat THEM the way they're farmed, so again … not a lot. Fish I don't worry about eating except for the complication of dolphins.

    Anyway, very interesting, the detachment, the care for the second piggy. He had to be feeling something.

  2. Thanks, Paula. These questions started getting bigger for me when Maya was about 2 or 3 and I'd already started referring to our meat as “cow” (sometimes “cow meat”) or “pig” but when she asked me about the lamb chops we were eating I had a heck of a time saying it was lamb. I did. We did keep eating, but, there was a definite disturbance in our whole pattern… eating a baby sheep. A cute, adorable, like that little stuffed animal lamb…

    After mulling over some of the things I wrote about in this post, I realized that it really isn't even the horrors of the factory farm killing systems that is most problematic for me (though Eating Animals was so disturbing I'm not physically able to buy supermarket meat (or hardly any at all in any form, in a large way, except for… (eggs, cheese, food at restaurants…))). It's the misery of their lives. The long-drawn out horror of their deaths, too. Those experiences I don't feel, in my gut (intuition), would be wiped away by the chemicals of shock if the animals were to survive. The slowness of the torture (the torture of their lives) is what I find impossible to bear. Chickens included. Even, after this god damned seriously effective while PREACHY and MILITANT VEGAN book, I feel oogy about fish. I really got hit by the thing because I don't WANT to be uncomfortable with all of this. It's inconvenient as all fucking hell. It's also so stereotypical of someone “like me” that it makes me want to make it clear that I like taking chunks of raw beef and eating it just like that (home-made steak tartare). I like meat, god dammit. And, I believe very seriously that while our earth would benefit from more people going all or nearly vegan, I think humans as the kinds of animals we are are meant to be omnivores and our domesticated animals would all die miserable horrible deaths and economies would collapse and… the chain reaction of chaos that would follow… oh, it's complicated, but, if it was suddenly impossible for humans to eat animal flesh it wouldn't just be “now all non-human animals have great lives!” Anyway… yes, thank you for reading, friend. :-)

  3. This is Deb… for some reason, your blog wouldn't accept my livejournal credentials!

    I was an animal science major for my first year of college. As I was UC Davis, the ag school in CA and at the time the premiere vet school in the country. Most of the prevets majored in animal science, and a required course for the major was the freshman class, Animal Science 1.

    About midway thru the quarter, we had a slaughter lab. The prof said that most of our patients were destined to be slaughtered, so we should know what was involved. The animal science department not only raised meat animals, but processed them for sale, so it wasn't like this activity wasn't happening on campus already.

    We saw two kills that day: a aheep and a pig. The sheep was the one that got to me. As it sounds like happened to you, the sheep was not a clean kill. The bolt went to its head, and it stood there, stunned. Every fiber of my being was screaming RUN!!! but the poor thing just stood there. The second bolt dropped it, and the processing began.

    Still, like you, I didn't really feel bad for what was happening to the animal initially. I was disturbed when it didn't drop and had blood coming out of its head… I thought that should be some sort of get-out-of-jail-free card. Ooops, our bad, we frakked that up, off you go. And once they processed both animals, I found the whole thing fascinating.

    The thing was, there was this one horsey girl who always sat in the front row at lectures and went on and on in labs about how she was going to work with horses and yadda yadda. Poor thing… the minute they put the bolt to the sheep, she ran from the room and couldn't come back til the lab was over. She was crying… her entire career was over. “I can't handle the blood and the death.” DUH girl, that's what being a vet is ABOUT. And it was her stupidity to not find that out BEFORE choosing to major in pre-vet at UCD that made ME drop my pre-vet emphasis and change majors. Yeah, weird.

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