The following is reprinted by permission of Pam Ahern of the Australian farmed animal rescue Edgar’s Mission:

Two incidents will stay with me forever. We were (running a campaign stall) at a market just north of Geelong. Bur, the sanctuary pig, was having a little kip after a heavy morning, campaigning so I was “working the crowd solo” so to speak, although Bur did have the courtesy to flake out on his bed in full view of everyone, thereby still attracting a crowd.

On asking a man with his young daughter of about 10 or 11 by his side if he was concerned about animal cruelty, he replied, “Na, I kill ‘em, I’m a slaughterman”. “Oh well you’d be interested in our campaign against the live export of sheep and cattle to the Middle East”.He looked at me as if I was mad. “Are you aware that they are also exporting jobs just like yours, abattoirs have even had to close as a result of this trade”, he stopped in his tracks, paused and thought a second “Ok, I’ll sign”, he said. He was a huge man, at least 6ft 6, I had to crane my head back to look him in the eye. As we walked to our information table, I asked “So where about on the line do you work?” “I knock em”, he punched the words out as if to offend me.

“Oh I see, so what species do you kill?” At this point he just looked at me, a little puzzled I felt by my polite interest. “Sheep”. I probed: “Oh right, gee that must be tough, I bet you have to go fast”. “Yep, 4500 a day I knock”. “That’s a hell of a lot, do you ever miss?” “Sometimes”. “It must be tough on you, do they get scared?” By now the rough façade was dropping and he was staring me right in the eye, “Shit, yeah mate, they are shit scared and I hate it, I really hate it”. “You poor thing, I really feel for you”. I didn’t know what else to say. Here we were, what many would consider the natural born enemy of the other, but somehow I didn’t hate this guy; like him, I hated his job. If our circumstances were different, who knows?

“Yep, you should see their eyes, they’re terrified,” he sniffed, wiping at his nose with his sleeve “but I gotta feed my family, what else can I do, I gotta feed my family”. I wished right then and there I had the answer; I wished I could have offered him a job. He stood there a second longer, his chin quivering, his eyes glazed, sniffing. I looked away, as did the young girl. “Hang in there, mate”, was all I could offer, as I gently touched his elbow; he sniffed again and quickly hurried off before I could get anything else out. Sometime later I saw the same man leaving the market. He looked my way, his eyes still misty with remorse. I looked at him and nodded, “Hang in there, mate”. He reciprocated the nod and was gone.

Clearly this was not the first time he had really thought about what he was doing. It obviously troubled him greatly. I guess it would have been easier for him had I been rude or abrupt; it would have justified his façade. But I was kind, all day I thought of him, I still do, I can only imagine his pain. I remember well reading people do not change because someone is rude to them. I guess it is one of the challenges of what we do; I can sympathize with those who would have loved to have told him he was a jerk, a paid assassin, but what would that achieve? Where was his escape? It’s easy for us to condemn him and God knows I hate what he does. I mentally imagined the speed at which he would dispatch my beautiful ovine friends, all forty three of them, I later worked out would be dead in less than 5 minutes, providing his figures were accurate. This guy is sitting on the cusp of change, he is struggling with his conscience and I pray he has the courage to keep listening to it, for there is never a point in a person’s life where they cannot say “I am not going to be a part of this any more”. Steve Hindi, the founder of SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, a USA animal rights group) is proof positive; a one time shooter, he had his epiphany at a pigeon shoot.