News & Media > Investigator Diaries > The Lives we Couldn't Save - Pedro, Barnsey and Owen

The Lives we Couldn't Save - Pedro, Barnsey and Owen

Tue 8 August 2023

They were quiet as we approached, standing back from the fence, in deep mud which covered their hooves. I stopped by the pen to look in on them but didn't let myself linger for long at that point, my heart twinging as I averted my eyes and moved on to check on the cameras we'd installed the previous week.

I've always had a soft spot for cows. I grew up surrounded by them, in a part of Victoria where the roads are lined with paddocks and where dairy is as much part of the local identity as the ocean. I love their gentle gaze, their curiosity, the warmth and affection they hold for each other and, occasionally, for humans who earn their trust. These cows were no different. They were small, still young, with little horns and coats swirled with brown, black and white. They huddled together in the dark, occasionally making soft noises and trying to pick up their feet to avoid the thick sludge which clung to them and sucked at their hooves.

As we finished our work for the night, I looked down at them from where I was perched up high and saw that all three had lain down and were sleeping, their heads resting against each other. Once again, I felt that twinge. I looked at my phone to check the time. 3am. Four hours until they would be killed. 

When we went to leave, I stopped by their pen. They stood up and approached me, one leading the way. I reached out my hand and he sniffed at it, not interested in the fruit strap I offered but still curious about my smell. I reached out my hand further and scratched him behind the ears, in the place liked by the horses I grew up with, and he leaned into me, angling his head further to help me reach more spots. I named him Pedro. His friend approached next and I offered the same, scratching and patting them both as they pressed against the fence. Him, I named Barnsey.


The third was clearly the loner of the group, pushed away by the others when he tried to approach or when we tried to get footage of him. He seemed more shy. Gentle and timid, he didn't resist when Barnsey nudged him or blocked him. I named him Owen. 

After a while, another investigator cleared their throat. I knew it was time to leave but I struggled to pull away. How was it fair that they would die in just a few hours? How was it fair that their intelligence, personalities, kindness, and beauty offered no protection. I thought about how the next humans they would meet would drive them to their deaths, shooting them in the head with a rifle before slitting their throats and dismembering them and I felt sick as I imagined them approaching those people with the same curiosity they'd shown to me. But there was nothing I could do. This wasn't a rescue mission. It couldn't be. It was a mission to record their violent deaths in the hope that maybe we could give their lives some kind of meaning.

These were just three of the animals whose brutal, bloody deaths we filmed. We did it so that the dark secrets hidden inside farms and slaughterhouses would not stay hidden. We did it to tell their stories. I wish we didn’t have to. I wish we could take them all away instead, that there was enough space and money and people to take care of all of them. 

So that night, like many other nights, I turned my back and I walked away into the darkness, leaving my new friends to their fate. I left them with only a small moment of kindness and the promise to remember them and tell their story. I wish it was enough. 

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