Vegancouragement - You Can Be Vegan

Peter Swissdorf

Becoming Compassionate

Peter and Ann Swissdorf Peter and Ann Swissdorf

Kill Floor To Activist

These situations are what made me a compassionate vegan man.

I remember taking many walks in the woods, alone as a child. I liked the animals. During one of those walks I found what I thought were puppies. The mom of the puppies did not seem to mind me petting them. Thinking the mom was thirsty, I put baling twine around her neck and walked her home. I tied her to the tree in the back yard so I could get her some water. Before I got back, she bit my big sister. Dad pulled my sister and me into the house. My dad shot the mom. Why I had a connection with the mom and puppies I will never know. My dad told me many years later that the "dog" that I was getting water for was a wolf.

Looking back upon my childhood, we were very poor. To help feed our family, I had a trap line, muskrats mainly. I had ten traps and big ideas to have many more. There was money in fur. I remember the first time my trap drowned a beaver. My trapping days were over. But I still ate animals.

When I socialized with friends there were usually five of us, hanging out around a creek. A beagle approached us, obviously friendly. Before I could pet the dog one of the guys kicked the dog making him go airborne into the creek. I helped the dog out of the creek. My plan after helping the dog was to inflict some pain on the person who kicked the dog, but he left immediately. We were never friends after that. In my environment, empathy and compassion for animals was somewhat okay, just don't overdo it.

My dad and I went on numerous hunting trips. I liked hanging out with my dad. I did not like him shooting deer. I liked deer. Because my dad was deaf, he never heard the noises I made to scare away the deer. To this day I don't think he realized that he never had an opportunity to kill a deer when I was with him. I felt bad because I know my dad was just trying to feed us, his family. I was so confused. But I still ate animals.

I worked on a local mink farm. Every year I was involved with killing thousands of mink. There was good money in fur. Murder of choice was suffocation by poison gas. The mink fought for their lives while they were being suffocated. The few that got out I would help get away if the boss was not looking. There were countless 50-gallon steel barrels overflowing with skinned mink carcasses. But I still ate animals.

I worked on a small rendering facility which picked up downed and sick cows. I remember the look in the downed cows' eyes when the driver would wrap the steel cable around whatever extremity was available and drag their huge bodies off the ground and into the truck. I can still hear the painful cries the cows made and the sound of breaking bones. I did not understand why they were not just shot immediately to put them out of their misery. We ground up these cows and fed them to the mink. This was killing animals so that they could be ground up to feed other animals we eventually were going to kill. But I still ate animals.

I decided to quit school. I ended up in Galveston, Texas working on a shrimp boat. I remember each time the huge net of dead sea creatures was pulled on board. There were some animals left alive like crabs and shrimp but most of the catch was dead, suffocated by the sheer weight of their fellow sea beings. How awful it was to keep a few pounds of the "golden catch" shrimp and throw back/discard the thousands of pounds of dead sea creatures. I worked this job for four months. And I still ate animals.

While I was in high school a new meatpacking plant called "Packer Land" opened in the town next to us. My dad quit his job as a hired hand on a local farm and started working the kill floor at the meatpacking plant. This was the most money he had ever made. I think he felt better about himself because of the increased money he was making. He arranged a job for me, and to make him proud I started working at the same plant. My first job was on the kill floor.

My job was to squeegee the coagulated blood down the hole in the floor. The blood was not to exceed more than three inches deep. I remember the smell, the uncontrollable shaking, and the fearful cries of the cows while they were waiting their turn at death. I know they knew death was near.

I remember one cow who escaped the chute where she was to be stunned by a bolt to the head. This cow was one of the many who survived the bolt in the head and remained conscious. The steel cable was wrapped around her back leg, and she was being hoisted up so that her neck would be exposed for her turn at death. Before being hoisted she aborted her calf, and the sound that came out of her was something I never heard before or since.

Her neck was slit, and as the blood was draining from her, the last thing she saw was her baby on the floor. Being a man, I dared not say anything or get emotional. A coworker picked up the aborted calf and held it like a football and proceeded to stroke it like it was his pet. How the kill floor team laughed.

During the next break I had a conversation with someone who accused me of claiming to be a cow whisperer because I dared to say that I now knew what a fearful cry from a cow sounded like. After that shift I never went back. Yes, she was a cow but her cry of what I believe to be a mother losing her baby while dying is what I hear in my head every day of my life. But I still ate animals.

I don't remember much of the rest of high school. I partied way too much and dealt drugs. I was on a crash course with death. During this fog my trouble with the law escalated. A judge told me to go to jail or join the military.

I spent 15 years on active duty in the Army. This is where I met and married my soul mate, Ann, now of 30 years. We both ate animals. During my time in the Army, I was the strongest I have ever been, into power lifting. But I was always sick. I carried pockets full of Tums, Maalox, whatever antacids I could get.

This is the time period when we started to connect the dots about animals. The more Ann read and told me about what I already knew about what the animals go through in animal agriculture, the more animals we quit eating. It took seeing the horror through my wife's eyes before I finally got it. We quit eating flesh, and within a month my need for antacids stopped.

I have killed thousands of animals during my earlier years on this planet. I never liked it. But I still ate animals. As my awareness and involvement with animal rights grew, the fact that I still ate animals affected my ability to protest at fur stores, circuses, rodeos, etc. I felt like such a hypocrite.

We went vegan 19 years ago. Now I am proud to be a vegan advocate for the animals alongside my hero, my wife. She has taught me it is good for a man to be compassionate.

And now I no longer eat animals!

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