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Animal Save Movement has chapters around the world with activists doing fantastic work. In pouring rain, in ice and snow and in heat waves, activists are standing up for justice and bearing witness at slaughterhouses. Many of these animals are seeing the sky for the first time in their life.
Regan Russell was one of them. A committed activist who was compassionate, faithful, and stood up for justice and animal liberation in any way she possibly could. She attended vigils weekly until her tragic death in 2020. She inspired her father too, the 93 years old Bill Russell, active in Toronto Pig Save.
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Toronto Pig Save: A pig sees daylight for the first time in their life on their way to the slaughterhouse.
Bearing witness is changing lives
“I am trying, I don’t know if it does any good, but I know doing nothing does no good.”
The quote is written on Regan Russell’s tombstone. It was her motto and something her father, Bill Russell, has followed as well.
For him, the animal activism all started in 1987. He and his wife Pat Russell were going to England for a two-week vacation. At the airport, Regan gave him a book to read, a book she had read herself in her early twenties. It was “Animal Liberation” by Peter Singer. It changed him completely.
“I left Canada still eating meat, coming back as a vegetarian. That was it,” Bill says.
Regan Russell regularly joined Toronto Pig Save vigils outside Fearmans Slaughterhouse in Burlington.
Since then, Bill has been an animal rights activist. He recalls the first protest Regan took him to; a silent sit-in protesting fur in a city mall. They were all arrested and questioned at the police station. At the time, Bill was almost 60 years old. After that, there have been many protest marches and demonstrations for the animals. Today, he is 93 and still a committed animal rights activist, trying to attend vigils run by Toronto Pig Save as often as he can. Every week, like Regan, when possible, even if it is an hour for him to drive.
“To stand by the slaughterhouse and show placards of the pigs is to put a thought to a person’s mind. Who knows, I had never heard of Peter Singer, when Regan gave me that book. But it was a wake-up call for me, and it changed my life. People who do vigils are showing others that this is how we think, and you could too. It is a very strong message. Take it or leave it.”
“Regan always loved animals. I remember when she was just one year old, a toddler, and how she connected to our neighbor’s dog, with her arms around his neck. Animals, when they were around her, seemed to feel that they were her friend. She rescued animals and worked at sanctuaries. She was one of those individuals that, when she put her mind to something, it always worked,” Bill says.
Regan Russell had been an animal rights activist for 40 years when she was tragically killed during a vigil, in June 2020, by a truck carrying pigs in Burlington, Ontario. The whole animal rights movement was in shock and activists all around the world held tributes in Russell’s honor. Her compassion and commitment to the animals continues to encourage many to stand up for the animals trapped in the food system.
The name Regan was chosen from Shakespeare's play, King Lear. “She loved her name even as a teenager, and she could not have had a better one; “Regan the vegan”. The name was really meant for her. It was such a loss when she died. It took a long time to believe it.”
Regan Russell’s parents Bill and Pat Russell with Regan’s best friend Katherine Whiteman at the cemetery.
When Bill has been at the weekly vigil, he drives to the cemetery, to Regan’s grave. “There I tell her all about it. That is marvelous for me, going first to the vigil and then to Regan. The whole act is like going to church. I have tears in my eyes of all the memories of her, but it is also marvelous that we have these beautiful memories, because no one can take that away.”
Bill Russell braves the wind and -17C temperatures to join the weekly Toronto Pig Save Vigil.
Last Wednesday was windy and -17 degrees Celsius when Bill came to the vigil at the slaughterhouse in Burlington. The cold was hard to cope with. “A woman stopped her car at the red light, pulled her window down and said how she has been driving by frequently over the last year and seen us with the placards. Now she has taken our message to heart and wanted to tell us that she and her family don’t eat pork anymore. I was impressed by this woman, that the vigil meant something to her and her family. It gets to you. We need to keep up the good work.”