A Heart at Hell's Gate - Birmingham Animal Action

Updated: 15 hours ago

I saw a notification on Facebook for a ‘Close All Slaughterhouses’ event. I decided I wanted to go and support it. You may want to stop reading this story already because it’s linked to animal welfare. Maybe you consider closing slaughterhouses an impossibility in a world that believes it ‘needs protein.’ Perhaps you just don’t want to look at what you feel you can’t really change. I’ll be honest, the latter thought has occurred to me many times. I push past it when I can. However, if your heart is opened to continue reading, I am grateful. I am telling this story, not to make you feel bad, though there are traumatic events in it, but to consider what makes us feel our heart and how to decide what to do when that happens. These are urgent changing times. We are trying to regain our connection to feeling. But opening the heart presents us with dilemmas. This story is an example of that. When it comes to animals, what do we desire more? Their well being, or the meal?

I was intrigued by the invitation to help close a slaughterhouse. I travelled into town and then out of town, a winding journey up Stratford Road in Birmingham, eventually arriving at an awkward corner of a busy and frankly chaotic road to get to the location of the vigil. I expected a crowd of devotees to be there because the word, like the bulls, herds of sheep, water buffalo and other beautiful creatures, had got out. The story of animals escaping from behind its ten-foot black gates and running for their lives had made it into the newspapers. Some found it funny seeing a cow trotting along next to the number six bus, snorting heavily, eyes wide. Children were enthralled by the unique chaos. Not me, I lay fetal position on my bed and cried.

Sadly, the truth behind the escapade was that an assortment of beautiful creatures was being ingloriously and illegally trafficked, thrown from hot lorries, and forced into a scruffy back yard next to a care home to their end. They tried to resist. There were no safety measures in place, or food or water for them, and certainly, no easy way for them to die.

They were to be trodden upon into submission while having their throats cut enough to pass away slowly and painfully in front of one another.

It wasn’t the law-breaking that had captured the heart of locals however or even the bellowing and screaming of the soon to be deceased. It was the smell of hundreds of animal heads and skins thrown into a skip near the street, creating a river of blood that flowed out onto the pavement that had inconvenienced them. I wondered; do we confuse inconvenience with passion when we consider action? Isn’t there a more effective inspiration? This event was on a Sunday, I was looking forward to going to lunch at my mother's. The sun was shining. I already don’t eat animals. I wasn’t suffering, so why care about animals that are? Because my heart opened. I believe that’s the best reason why.

There wasn’t a crowd of supporters at the vigil, there was one, petite, very articulate and beautiful lady named Jennifer. She had turned up on her own, single-handedly dealt with the business owners who did not want her there, put up a stand and filled the street with posters of information. It turned out I would be the only person who came to support her. My reward was her gratitude and that she asked me to place the roses around the site for the dead and to make the remembrance speech for them. It was a special moment in my life. We both knew we had each other; that we weren’t alone in wanting something better.

I asked her how she continues to do what she does, creating events for Birmingham Animal Action. I said it must be painful to choose this when she is so sensitive. She replied that she doesn’t dwell on the fear or terror anymore, she just wants to continue to be a heart at hells gate. I was deeply impressed. I saw in her that powerful decisions, which can also be painful, can at least open the heart. And opening the heart to that which causes the least harm, is perhaps the best pragmatic first step to feeling again.

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