It’s a scenario that repeats itself many times during my day: the phone rings, a desperate caller seeking my assistance, and one thought runs through my head. Just one thought; “what I choose to do next could save a life”.
I don’t man the phones at 000; I don’t work in a doctor’s surgery; nor am I an ambulance officer. My name is Pam Ahern, and I am the Founder and Director of Edgar’s Mission, a not for profit haven for rescued farmed animals. But what is at the core of who I am is just the same as what is at the core of all the people who sign up for those roles. An individual with power, so much power. Despite my diminutive pint-size of 54 kg, that power is played out daily, never more so than just after the phone rings.
A call from a pound worker seeking a refuge for an escapee farmed animal; from a distraught parent whose child lovingly brought home from a kindergarten chicken-hatching project chicks who have just morphed into a dozen testosterone-charged and vocal roosters; or from a kind-hearted yet naïve adolescent who bought two bobby calves to spare them being killed as surplus to the dairy industry’s needs—the list is as endless as the number of animals who need sanctuary, and whilst my thought remains the same, so does the reality. I cannot save them all.
While these calls send my stomach into turmoil, it sets my brain into overdrive.
And whilst the logistics are enormous, seemingly insurmountable, almost dauntingly impossible, I believe we can make the most serious impact if we not only address these everyday symptoms we see, (which is noble, kind and makes us feel good) but go for the jugular of the root cause of these problems. In a world where billions of animals routinely suffer both physically and mentally and are killed way before when nature intended they would pass from this earth, I believe this can be halted. But this can only come to pass with the recognition that we all have enormous power and what we choose to do next can save a life.
In a world where industries have five- and ten-year-plus plans, and work to ever-expand their operations, increase profitability and secure their tenure, I yearn for the day of obsolescence, the day sanctuaries such as Edgar’s Mission are not so desperately needed. However, until then we will work to save those we can and empower others to save those we cannot, bearing in mind that sanctuary work alone, without its bigger advocacy picture, is a Band-Aid measure at best. The greatest tragedy is the innocent victims: living, breathing, feeling, beautiful, individual animals.
However, this is not a story without hope or a solution, for both lie in all those scenarios described above. The goodness of the human heart – ignited by the the face to face encounter with an animal in peril. The domino effect being the recognition that what the individual chose to do next could save a life. Whilst the calls remain my greatest challenge, they too are my inspiration and daily remind me of why sanctuaries are not the sole answer to creating a better world for animals, just part of it—a very much-needed part of it.
What is so desperately needed is for people to “see” farmed animals. Not everyone will have the encounters described above, and they do not need to , what is needed is to “bring” farmed animals from factory farms and pastures to foremost in the thoughts, hearts and minds of those whose choice will determine their fate.
We need, as a society, to become proactive to the plight of animals, not reactive. To prevent farmed animals from being viewed as commodities, production units and as a means to a culinary or wearable end. In looking for the solution, we need to go back a step and look at how we have come to this. How right thinking and good people have become so seemingly, acceptingly, powerless to save lives, or worse not even realising or questioning what is happening on our watch to animals.
Through the humane education work of Edgar’s Mission with young people, I routinely witness a culture of powerlessness, teased out in answer to a simple question, “Hands up who votes?” Rarely do I see a hand shoot up, but instead the muffled words, “But we’re not old enough to vote” become audible.
“Ok, here’s another question: Hands up who had breakfast?” and the hands start popping up and voices proffer an array of choices that each tell a story: “cornflakes and milk”, “toast and vegemite”, “McDonald’s”, “boiled eggs”, “porridge”, “bacon”, and more.
I remind the students what they had for breakfast was a vote, and even those who abstained made a vote also—voting being based on two simple premises: facts and our own personal values.
Whilst the facts will always remain the facts, what comes next, I explain, is the flexing of our power muscle.
This can be anything from what we have for breakfast to what box we tick at election time and all points (and menus) in between.
Now these are kids who clearly love animals; social justice is their buzz word and wanting to make a difference their thought for the day. Yet in their very breakfast choices is something so at odds with their beliefs. And they are not the only ones.
Author and activist Vandana Shiva describes what has descended upon modern societies as a “reductionist science” that has seen an “ethical anaesthesia” engulf our compassion and ethics, causing us to see living beings as inert parts. So many people are working hard on a daily basis to make the world a better, safer, kinder place for all, yet somehow into the mix we have become desensitised to the most vulnerable and voiceless among us: farmed animals. And not only do they pay for this but we do too with our anaesthetised sensibilities.
And so amongst the daily tasks of running Edgar’s Mission and fielding those life-determining calls is our mission of reminding others that they—like me, the 000 operator, medical receptionist and ambo—have power. We all have so much power to shape the world into the one in which we wish to live—because what we choose to do next could save a life. It really is that simple.