The Ghosts In Our Machine

To Know A Pig Is To Love A Pig

Sasha and Dennis the Menace. Photo by Tracey Shepherd Davis

 by Tracey Shepherd Davis

I am sitting on my front deck surrounded by country peacefulness.  A special soul is curled up beside me snoring and grunting. This is my happy place, My Little Piece of Heaven!  There was a time when my daily life was filled with pigs … but only as dead and rotting flesh rolling by me on a line. With only a glimpse occasionally of the live terrified animals.

A factory job was once a certificate of hope and a better life for my family but it has become a representation of all I want to forget and what I now want people to know! A strange predicament to be in to say the least but it drives me to continue to spread the word.

Being a certified meat cutter was supposed to be a step up for my family but it has left me with lasting physical and mental scars. Some would think that my experiences in a slaughterhouse were what drove me to go vegetarian and eventually vegan. But growing up in a family whose livelihood depended on the pork industry we were programmed to believe that what we were doing was a service for others. We were doing the job no one else wanted to do.  After all, we all have to eat meat to be healthy, right? I never questioned it and my background reinforced it and the mainstream media backed it. Meat was Healthy! I believed that eating animals was necessary for good health, an unfortunate fact of life.  When my family needed the extra income I decided to take the job. It was the easiest place to find employment in the early 90s with little to no education and having family already working there made the decision easier.  I knew the hours were guaranteed and regular. And there was opportunity to make more money with training. Training that would eventually take me to the kill floor and the horrors that happen there …

So how does an ex-slaughterhouse worker do a complete turn around and become an animal rights advocate years later?

Tracey with photographer Jo-Anne McArthur

Beside me lies a roly poly grumbling, snooting, rooting, snoring lump of love!
She lies here peacefully and content and her desires in life are what we all want: Love, Nurturing, Companionship, Empathy, Understanding and a life free from pain and suffering. Something she can take for granted along with all her other rescued brothers and sisters here. She is the real superstar and she doesn’t even know it! I have always believed that animals name themselves and she was definitely the queen! Cleopatra!

Cleo has her dislikes and likes, she gets moody around her “time of the month”, there are people she adores and those she would rather not deal with. This philosophy also applies to her animal friends. She can figure out how to manipulate to get attention and she definitely lets you know when she has had enough!  Her most impressive skills are her ability to manipulate you into getting a treat with some of the most complex problem solving skills I have ever seen in an animal.  Of course I didn’t know all these things about her in the beginning. She has taught me so much about what pigs are truly capable of. I was shocked at her interaction with my elderly shih tzu and how she imitated the play behavior of a dog! She learned to sit in less than a day and within a day she was house trained! But her intelligence was not all that made me reconsider all I thought was true about pigs. It was her interactions with a particular abandoned kitten that touched my heart and made me truly understand the depth of a pigs ability to love and nurture. Only about 4 weeks old she showed up at our doorstep and immediately attached herself to Cleo almost knowingly.  I watched Cleo tiptoe gently around the tiny fur ball and lie gently singing like a true mother pig to the puffy baby. She watched over her little charge and threatened anyone with her growls and fake charges if she felt anyone was a threat to her new baby. They were inseparable and are friends to this day. Since then we have had numerous litters of kittens and the occasional abandoned one and Cleo is always the same with all the babies that make their way through our doors. Always an adoring, loving foster mom to all the babies who end up here.

I look to the south and see the “crew”, my rescued goats leisurely grazing in their paddock . Beside them surrounded by the singing crickets is Dennis landscaping his paddock grazing on the green grass big floppy ears flapping as he munches and roots around in the moist soil. It is hard to imagine him only a few months ago as a tiny piglet in our bed. Or curled up with his best friend Sasha (a shelter rescue).  He has grown into such a handsome young boy.  A farm pig who stole our hearts and the hearts of hundreds in the short time he has been here. We don’t know his past really we can only speculate. But with the tell-tale docked tail and the lack of tusks and testicles it doesn’t take much to know where his life started. As the barn swallows fly around him my thoughts wander …. What a sharp contrast to what his life may have been like for this sweet boy.  At 6 months old and 300 lbs he is has reached slaughter age and weight.  But he will never know the horrors his cousins face. He and Cleo and all their tortured cousins are what keep me going and doing what I do. They are my daily reminder of all that is wrong in this world and all that is right.

As a child I always wanted to make a difference in this world after years of hopelessness and wondering what is wrong in this world and thinking how could I possibly make a difference and what is right? Sometimes the Universe answers you in the strangest of ways. Maybe it is fate that brought Cleo to me and started me on this path. Maybe it was chance but I do believe things happen for a reason.

Am I healing from the sights and sounds that I experienced in the slaughterhouse?

I am not sure ..

I guess in the way that time and distance heals, I am, but I only have to attend a vigil and hear the screams and witness the terror to be reminded of their torment. Their lives hopelessly caught in a barbaric machine of birth, suffering, abuse and death.

For the Pigs
For the Animals
A Voice for the voiceless always in love


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Dennis and Sasha.                                                         Cleo and a kitten rescue.
photos by Tracey Shepherd Davis


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  1. Rosemary Foos November 27, 2012 at 8:02 pm

    Tracey, this is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it and giving us a glimpse of your heart, and how you turned your life around. It’s so inspiring to know, that you were in “the thick of it” and depended on a slaughterhouse income…if someone like you can do it, there is so much hope. Please keep posting videos of Dennis and his menacing….
    For the Ghosts~!
    xo Rosemary

    • Tracey November 30, 2012 at 9:22 am

      Thank you so much Rosemary!
      I have been so fortunate to have had unwaivering support from people in this movement!. I have always felt welcomed with open arms. it really wasnt hard surrounded by such wonderful people like you! All heroes in my eyes! I feel so fortunate to be in touch finally with what my heart was telling me for so long!
      Thank you for all you do

  2. Louise November 27, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Thank you Tracey, for your sharing your journey with us. This shows us how much we need to reach out to people who work in this industry and help them. You are a beautiful person with a beautiful heart.

    • Tracey November 30, 2012 at 9:24 am

      Louise xoxo
      There is so much hope!

  3. Danielle Legg November 28, 2012 at 11:25 pm

    Tracey, I remember the day I met you, I remember before I met you, just typing back and forth on the Toronto Pig Save site. Thank you for sharing your story, for opening your heart, and for helping to remind all of us that you were, and are, absolutely human, and that it’s not only the animals that are hurt by big ag. I love you with my whole heart, and I’m so very glad to know you!

    • Tracey November 30, 2012 at 9:30 am

      Danielle <3 thank you for being such a great friend! And Dennis sure would like to give you a big snooty kiss! He would love you! He is just a funny and adorably cute as you are!

  4. Tracey November 29, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Thank you to everyone for your loving support. This experience of sharing is freeing for me in so many ways! It allows me to slowly start to forgive myself and come to terms with the part I played in this picture.
    And yes if I can change so can anyone. I know in this movement we can feel overwhelmed and often feel we aren’t making a difference. We want people to open their eyes right away and see what seems so obvious to us.
    I know from my own personal experience and from the stories of others who all had that “defining moment” when everything clicked. And for me it was a personal relationship with a pig that broke that barrier. And it can be so different for everyone.
    There is no right way or wrong way to reach people be it sharing pamphlets or attending a vigil or just talking to family members , remember you are planting seeds, you are creating ripples in the pond. For me I try to recreate for others what really had me question all that I believed. I just share cute funny videos that highlight what these animals are like and I hope I plant a seed. I guess in way that they don’t even know that I am. If they question once what they do then I have won! I may not know personally that I have. But this journey in an inner one. And no one can make you do it. You have to want it! For whatever the reasons be it health, the environment or animal rights There are so many GOOD reasons to do it and so many ways to help open peoples eyes!
    But I believe love and acceptance is the key. I thank all the special people I have encountered along my way and they all have played an important role in my change! Use your gifts to spread the word in love!
    Every single slaughter house worker is REACHABLE just by virtue of their experience they KNOW. But if they feel attacked, blamed or the villain you have instantly created a barrier. You just get back what you give.
    Like Jo-Anne McArthur believes “we are all innately compassionate beings given the chance” I believe that is so true!
    I wonder if people would like to share their uniquely “defining moment”? It can be so personal for everyone!
    Thank you for taking the time to share and read and I am open to any questions you may have!

  5. Jaime November 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    I live near the CNE and every time I walk to work, the trucks pass me. I hear the pigs screaming. And I can see their snouts poking out the holes to get a breath of fresh air. And I feel completely powerless. Thank you for sharing your story. It makes the future more hopeful.

    • Tracey November 30, 2012 at 9:45 am

      Jaime I can’t imagine having to endure that day after day. It must be torment for you. I can relate so well to those feelings of helplessnes. It was something i felt all day everyday when i was in the slaughter house. i just prayed they didn’t suffer and that they at least had a good life before they came to that fate. Of course that was a lie. It wears you down it shuts you down i am so fortunate to have happy pigs around me. Take time to take care of yourself.
      Don’t lose hope because there is lots of it!! Xoxo

    • Tracey November 30, 2012 at 10:08 am

      Jaime have you always been veg? Was there a time you had that defining moment? Or was it a gradual thing? What worked to change the way you thought about eating animals?

  6. susan morris November 29, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    Tracey, I remember you asking me to introduce you to Anita (Toronto Pig Save) & others involved in the AR movement. Such a turning point in your life and ours as we heard your story & got to know you & your wonderful animal family. Sometimes great things come out of bad beginnings. Yours is a story of strength & change .

    • Tracey November 30, 2012 at 9:58 am

      Thank you so much Susan! That was an amazing weekend for me! I was so anxious and worried! It was huge step!
      The first time I shared my story with the group! So happy I took that first step! I met the most amazing people that weekend!
      And I have created so many wonderful memories at Snooters! I love all you do!

  7. Tracey November 30, 2012 at 10:18 am

    The change to veg for me didnt happen all of a sudden. I had to take the time to evaluate all I was seeing and learning until the truth tips the scales and you have no choice but to face it whether you want to or not! As painful as it is to know you were somehow apart of the Machine you either go into denial or deal with it.i just tried to let my heart guide me with every step I took.
    I finally took the blinders OFF

  8. Donna Oakes December 1, 2012 at 8:17 am

    Tracey, I think that you are especially brave to have examined your life in such detail – and shared your discoveries and feelings with us. Your insight about how painful it is to know that we are part of the machine is spot on. Sometimes that veil has to be lifted a little bit at a time – sometimes people are able to whisk it right off. I do believe that once there is some kind of acknowledgement in our hearts, the journey will begin – it is a lifetime journey. I am still on mine even though I became a vegan many years ago.

  9. Rena December 9, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    The word slaughterhouse says it all. We are totally disconnected from our foods sources, contrary to our ancestors who were farmers or living off the land. We treat everything as a commodity and big business treats the ordinary citizen the same way!