One scene in the film brought back strong memories of my time in Liverpool in the 1980s. This was a time when my kids were young, when I was involved in all sorts of activism - and involved in what might best be described as “this and that.” The film shows a cow who had escaped from a slaughterhouse and who ended up at an animal sanctuary. What was remarkable about the animals in the film was the difference in an individual’s demeanour as they were filmed arriving somewhere shortly after being saved from some dreadful ordeal. They would look deflated, somewhat defeated, and generally down and depressed, and yet, when we see them six months later, when they have slowly come to understand that not every human in the world is going to try to exploit and abuse them, they appear altogether different.
Cows, for example, on feedlots and other places of exploitation, as seen in the film, are in the main huddled, crowded, perhaps jumpy, and pretty obviously scared. Once at a sanctuary, after extended periods of careful attention to their needs and desires, they seem calm, peaceful, and serene - and for the first time in their lives they appear to be confident in themselves. It is quite a transformation and a wonder to see.
The film threw me back in two senses. First, I had witnessed the sight of other animals experiencing their first hours of relative freedom and non-exploitation. During the time when I was the Northern spokesperson for the Animal Liberation Front Supporters Groups, I met with activists who took me, hooded, to one of their “safe houses” somewhere in Merseyside, therefore in a manner in which I did not know where I was.
I was led into a basement which itself led out into a walled garden. I was present when newly rescued rabbits arrived after being “stolen” from a farm that supplied the fur and vivisection businesses (after all, rabbit persons are items of property, don’tcha know?) They were removed from the boxes in which they were liberated and placed on the grass in the garden. This was the very first time in their entire lives that they had contact with the ground – the actual earth - until then, they had “lived” in wire cages suspended in the air.
When they were placed on the ground, these small animals pressed their bellies down and then, as they grew more confident, reached out with their arms, their paws expanding and contracting as they felt and experienced the earth beneath them. It is no exaggeration to say that this was a magical moment which I will never forget. In the eyes of these baby rabbits was a look that can only be described as pure joy.
Returning to the scene in the film of the cow escaping from the abattoir, this reminded me of a time when a pregnant cow broke free from a slaughterhouse in Berkenhead, Merseyside, England, and became something of a celebrity in that weird way that they do. Many members of speciesist societies, and especially the tabloid press, seem to revel in stories of “brave food animals” who escape slaughter. A tacky British tabloid newspaper made much of the story over a few days and then, we learnt, proposed to sell the cow back to the very farmer who had initially taken her to the house of slaughter.
At this point, the Freshfield Animal Rescue Centre contacted the paper and demanded to be given “legal custody” of the cow, and this arrangement was eventually agreed to (well, as you know, cow persons are also items of property).
I was living in Dungeon Lane, Speke, Liverpool, at the time and a few animal activists were renting three connected cottages for next to nothing near what is now John Lennon International Airport. We made one of the cottages into stables for the cow and she and her child lived there after the newspaper gave her up. What reminded me of the Liverpool experience in the film was, once again, the transformation in an animal who knew nothing but that of being bullied and exploited to one who comes to realise that some humans mean her no harm.
A Vision of No Harm.
John Bryant’s 1982 book, Fettered Kingdoms, made a big impression on me in my third year as an ethical vegan, and I remember being particularly struck by the author’s vision of other animals, such as foxes and deers, perhaps joining humans for a few steps on a pleasant walk in the countryside, before they would go on their separate ways. They would voluntarily join us on a brief walk because they had lost their fear of the previously aggressive and violent apes who they used to encounter, and now see us vegans as posing no deliberate threat to them…
…how cool and wonderful would that be?