By Duncan Strauss
Hey, did you hear the one about the woman arrested for giving water to a truckload of thirsty pigs on a sweltering day as the truck was pulling into a slaughterhouse?
I guess this has the structure of a set-up to a joke. But it’s hard to imagine where you would expect to hear this sort of grotesque gag. Maybe at a comedy club owned by Donald Trump?
Either way, there’s certainly no punch line here, because this isn’t a joke. Darkly absurd? Sure. Highly improbable? Absolutely.
But definitely not a joke. Not by a long shot. I mean, it should be a joke. Heck, it’d be nice to have this utterance play as something that could make us laugh, rather than make some of us cry.
Yet, this is a true story. All too true.
Getting arrested for giving water to a truck full of pigs on a blazing summer day, as that truck was about to enter a slaughterhouse–that really did happen.
And it happened to Anita Krajnc, a Toronto-based animal rights activist who co-founded an organization called Toronto Pig Save.
We’ll circle back to the specifics of this incident in a moment.
Anita Krajnc outside a slaughterhouse: ‘Pigs cannot be prohibited from drinking water’
But it’s safe to say the chief reason this episode has generated so much attention, and resonated internationally, all comes down to Krajnc (pronounced like it starts with cry and ends rhyming with Heinz.)
Which is to say we really need to hear something of the Anita Krajnc story, and the Toronto Pig Save story, before we truly have a shot at understanding the scope and profound impact of the arrest story.
Unlike the background of many animal rights activists, Krajnc grew up in a home devoid of animals–her mother, wanting the house to remain neat and clean, exercised an extended veto of critter companions.
But when Krajnc headed off to college, she recalled in a Talking Animals interview, animals became enormously important, even if she still wasn’t living with them.
“I saw a film called The Animals Film, narrated by Julie Christie, and it changed me completely. I became vegetarian, and then also an animal rights activist,” Krajnc said, adding that she became president of the University of Toronto Students For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, and later went vegan.
Indeed, education–education she received as a student, education she rendered as a professor, education she still provides herself daily as a supreme autodidact–represents a central theme of the Krajnc saga, and plays no small role in her emergence as an understated heroine worthy of the social movement icons she has studied so intently.
“I did an undergraduate degree in peace and conflict studies,” she said. “Then I did my masters in political science and environmental studies. I worked for Environment Canada, a government agency, on climate change issues.
“I worked for a member of Parliament, as a legislative assistant. Then I went back and did my PhD in political science.
“My dissertation was on green learning, how learning takes place in social movements. And I looked at the early American labor movement and the civil rights movement, for lessons for the environmental movement.
“So I was always interested in things like the role of art in social awareness and activism, adult education and media, and all the different channels for learning about progressive social change. Animals rights was just one of many interests that I had.”
“I always was interested in animal rights, because I feel that animals are the underdogs. They’re among the most oppressed on the planet, [whether it’s] factory farming or the crisis of species extinction.
“I always felt that they didn’t have a voice, and so when I finished my PhD and taught courses, I would always incorporate animal rights into all of my courses.”
Anita Krajnc is being charged for giving water to exhausted pigs on a scorching hot day in June 2015
Krajnc’s regard for animal rights was hardly just academic, as evidenced by embracing that passion (and a leadership position in an animal rights group) as a college kid–and, more dramatically, launching Toronto Pig Save.
Fittingly, an animal played a role in the birth of that organization, and perhaps not coincidentally, during the Talking Animals conversation, just before we delved into the history of Toronto Pig Save, there was a string of loud dog barks in the background.
“You just heard from the founder of the group,” Krajnc said, laughing. “That’s Mr. Bean.”
With Mr. Bean having said his piece, Krajnc took over and related the story about her mother eventually dropping her resistance to living with animals. So she adopted Mr. Bean (a beagle whippet mix) for her mom. The mother moved into the daughter’s Toronto house, and it often fell to Krajnc to take Mr. Bean for walks.
“I lived in an area near a slaughterhouse, ” she said, “and I knew about the slaughterhouse. And I thought ‘Boy, somebody should do something about it.’
“I even contacted an active group in another city, Hamilton, to see if they were willing to do leafleting or something at the slaughterhouse. But nothing ever came of it.
“But when I adopted Mr. Bean, I would walk along Lakeshore every morning and we’d see eight or nine transport trucks in the rush hour traffic. Sometimes, they would slow down in the rush hour and I could see the pigs looking at me.
“They’re incredibly expressive and beautiful–they had worried looks, fearful looks. And that changed me forever. It was an epiphany. It led me to talk to other animal activists, and together we formed Toronto Pig Save, just over five years ago, in 2010.”
I ask Krajnc if the expressions she saw on the faces of those pigs explain what transformed her position from “Somebody should do something” about the slaughterhouse to “I’m that person”?
“Right,” she said immediately, noting that this slaughterhouse went out of business, and now their efforts are aimed at a slaughterhouse outside of Toronto, in a city called Burlington. “There’s nothing like bearing witness first hand, and seeing the animals, instead of through the medium of a movie or a photograph.
“You feel that you’re part of them. You empathize very strongly. And this is true for any social justice movement-if you witness injustice first hand, it has a huge impact on your life. And so that’s what happened.
“I was also reading a number of books by Romain Rolland, who was a Nobel Laureate in the early part of the last century. He was a vegetarian, and he wrote books on people that he thought could serve as role models.
“He wrote a biography on Tolstoy, Gandhi and others. What I found interesting in these biographies is that all these people took action when there was injustice in their community.
“So a famous writer like Leo Tolstoy took two years off his life, in 1892, when there was a famine in Russia, and he and his family organized more than 200 soup kitchens.
“And the same is true for Gandhi and Ramakrishna. From reading those books, what was clear is that if there’s an injustice in your community, it’s up to you to organize.
So she did.
Toronto Pig Save, the 24-hour vigil. Toronto Pig Save hosted a 24-hour vigil, starting at the Fearman’s Pork slaughterhouse in Burlington, Ontario and continuing to cow and chicken slaughterhouses in Toronto. An astonishing 32 trucks arrived at these gates on the morning of November 5, 2015, each being detained from entering by representatives of local law enforcement — all except for this one. It is important to note that bearing witness is a lawful practice, whereas intentionally driving into pedestrians is an illegal and violent act.
Krajnc helped launch Toronto Pig Save (which has spawned The Save Movement, consisting of nearly 40 groups worldwide), and reflecting the strategies of some of her organizing luminaries–Gandhi, Cesar Chavez, Saul Alinski–she felt it was important to present an intensive, consistent ground campaign.
In this case, that meant regular vigils. “When I first bore witness to the pigs,” she said, “I personally promised the pigs that I would do a minimum of three vigils a week. And we’ve kept that promise.
“It’s very easy for people to participate, because they know we’re there every week, multiple times….
“So that’s what we’re doing. We bear witness of the pigs, we’re there for the pigs, they’re important, and we’re also there to tell their story, to try to intervene, to speak up for them, and to help people empathize.”
Anyone looking at photographs and video footage of the vigils would be hard-pressed to not experience emotional ripples of some kind.
Even the most ardent meat-eater might find the photo of someone offering a bottle of water into the truck toward a thirsty pig to be a moving and powerful image.
And if you watch a video clip or two of the vigils–where the participants assembled are providing comfort to the passel of pigs, and saying “I love you,”–it may seem reminiscent of the wrenching scene at the veterinarian’s office when the time has come to euthanize the family pet.
Except that instead of trying to provide some peace, love and comfort to an animal in its final moments, that same sort of effort is directed towards truckloads of pigs by a faction of vigil participants.
Which brings us back to the fabled incident of June 22 that led to Krajnc’s arrest, charged with “criminal mischief.”
Noting that Toronto Pig Save began giving water to the pigs two or three years ago, that the vigils are always peaceful and that the organization has a good relationship with the Toronto police, Krajnc explains that June 22 started off seeming like any other vigil day.
Until–as Krajnc was offering water to the pigs, as she had done countless times before–“the truck driver jumped out and started recording us,” she recalled. “And we were recording the incident as well. He asked me not to give water, and then I quoted Chapter 25 of Matthew.
“He said ‘They’re not human.’ But I continued to give water, and he said he would call the police. No police officer came that day, so I thought that was the end of it.
“About six weeks later, Toronto Police showed up at my door, saying I was charged with criminal mischief. And I was really surprised when he told me the date of the incident. Because, basically, giving water to the thirsty is a version of the Golden Rule. I think that’s why it’s resonated so much.”
She may well be right. But I think this case–which, after a few hearings, is slated to have its formal trial in August–has resonated internationally because Krajnc is at the center of it.
Exceedingly intelligent and eloquent, resolutely nonjudgmental and selfless, Krajnc projects a singular grace–she reads Tolstoy every day, noting that much of Tolstoy’s writing and social activism has shaped the Toronto Pig Save ideology, which exudes kindness, love, and compassion.
So it’s hardly surprising that all kinds of people are pulling for Anita Krajnc, ranging from the two vegan attorneys representing her pro bono, to random folks incredulous upon just now hearing about her situation (“she got arrested for what?”)
“I’ve been amazed,” she allows, “at the amount of support from the entire cross section of society: vegetarians, omnivores–everyone. They understand that when someone’s thirsty, you give them water. So it’s been an issue that’s been a bridge between the different communities.
“When Leo Tolstoy was working on famine relief, the police tried to outlaw the creation of new soup kitchens. And he said, ‘ People cannot be prohibited from eating.’ And I think you can say the same thing: pigs cannot be prohibited from drinking water.
“Everybody can understand that. To me, working on these types of issues is the meaning of my life. It’s the purpose of my life. It’s living a life of service.”
Follow this link to the Feb. 24 Talking Animals, featuring the interview with Anita Krajnc: http://www.talkinganimals.net/2016/02/anita-krajnc-activist-co-founder-of-toronto-pig-save/#more-5274
About the Author: Combining his passions for animals, radio, journalism, music and comedy, Duncan Strauss launched Talking Animals at KUCI in California in 2003. Since late 2005 the show has aired on Tampa’s WMNF. Producer-host Strauss lives in Jupiter Farms, FL, with his family, including four cats, two horses and one dog. He spends each day talking to those animals, and maintains they talk right back to him, a claim as yet unverified by credible sources.