Once upon a time I looked after a young lad who had a cat named Ginger. Early one winter Ginger gave birth to six tiny orange and white kittens.
A few weeks later I arrived at the house one Saturday morning and the boy said he wanted to show me something. He approached the kittens who all scattered from their mother in fear. However the boy moved quickly, snatching one up by the scruff of its neck. He carried it around to the side of the house where there was a noose made from an old rip-cord hanging in a tree. He said he’d been playing with the kittens, watching them struggle. I asked him to stop and he tried to insist it was fine, that he wasn’t going to hurt it because “they wake back up”. I told him that it was wrong and illegal. After a short argument he threw the kitten down and we left and got on with our day.
A few weeks later I arrived at his house to find that kitten lying in the grass with its head split open. The boy wouldn’t talk about it but his grandma said that the boy and the kids next door had started playing football with the cat until its head cracked. This only made it clearer in my mind that there wasn’t much I was able to do. This boy needed help. Early the next week I implored his social worker once again to find the right people who would be able provide that help.
The next Saturday when I arrived I saw another dead kitten lying on the strip of grass between the footpath and the road. The remaining kittens were shivering in a huddle around Ginger by the front door. Although still fearful of my approach, this time they only snuggled in closer.
The grandma has a mild intellectual disability. When I asked her, she said that it’d been a very cold night and that one of the kittens hadn’t made it. I asked what was going to happen and she said not to worry because the council would pick it up. Now, it was a long weekend meaning the council wouldn’t be working until Tuesday and even then it was unlikely they were going to be out collecting hard rubbish and kittens.
I explained that it wasn’t at all appropriate for the kitten to be on the side of the road. They didn’t have any boxes so I took a plastic bag and wrapped up the little kitten and placed its cold stiff body in the rubbish bin.
Some years prior to this I was doing some work for an electrician. One morning we headed out to a piggery to finish installing heat lamps and cooling fans in the sheds. It was the middle of summer and it had been fairly warm for a few days. On arrival we saw one of the workers in a front-end loader collecting the dead sows into piles at the end of the sheds. The heat inside the sheds was killing them.
It was a calm hot day and as we were unloading the equipment from the back of the truck the smell was so potent I started to dry retch. A minute or two later as we were waiting to get started, the pigs in the shed behind us were being moved out into the arterial passage which ran between all of the sheds. One of the corrugated sheets keeping the pigs in their chute was a little dog-earred and as they were trotting down their track one of the sows jumped at the opening and burst through.
Immediately a farmhand vaulted the barrier and chased the pig down. He was screaming at the pig and started kicking its hind legs with his large steel-capped gum-boots. The pig was confused. She tried to move away and then tried to turn around but the beating continued and she was overwhelmed. Then as she turned back towards where she’d come from the man put his boot into her head. His second swing hit her again in the temple and the pig cried out in pain as her head spit open. There was now fluid flowing from the sow’s head but the man continued to kick her in the gut and rear as she hobbled back towards the chute.
We started working, climbing into the sheds and running wire through the ceiling. Looking down you could see the pigs were kept in individual cages. Each cage was only a couple of inches wider than the sows with a small annex attached to each cell which held the piglets.
While running the cable we had to jump down into the chutes where you had a clearer view of these animals. Walking the gangways I saw dozens of dead piglets, accidentally crushed by their mothers. Their siblings just scurried around the dead bodies which were turning a dark purple-black as the flies settled in.
The survivors were a product of this place. Recently the young piglets’ tails had been docked because in such cramped surrounds they would gnaw at one another. Those who were injured couldn’t effectively compete for food and were not going to survive much longer. Those who did would follow in their mothers footsteps; locked in one of these cages unable to move and pumped full of food. When they were moved it would be through the narrow concrete corridors spurred by a steel capped gumboot or with a rod or cattle prod. This is how they would live, moving from cell to cell until they reached the desired size.
The treatment of the kittens is criminal and rejected by everyone I know. Living in fear, they were disregarded, mistreated and frozen. On the other hand, the law only disagrees with the way the man kicked the pig. The cages were small but the current legislation has not been made retrospective because it isn’t cost effective. While most people are appalled by the way the pigs were treated, they keep funding this industry of torture and death.
The food chain is a natural mechanism. Practically everything that cannot photosynthesise needs to kill to survive. However, caging animals so that they cannot move and binding them to a life of high stress where they maul one another or crush their young is not natural. While the piles of dead pigs and the sow with her split head were repugnant, it is more important that the industry… the long-term, large-scale abuse must stop. We can do better.