THE STANDOFF took place outside a slaughterhouse, and the air hung heavy and hot with the stench of livestock.

On one end was a vegan, a woman who believes that the worldwide slaughter of animals for human consumption is akin to a "holocaust."

Across from her was a young man dressed in black, an employee of the Madina Live Poultry Co., in Upper Darby, who said that "animals were put on earth for us."

The vegan, and other animal activists, had come for a cow, the one that momentarily escaped the slaughterhouse Saturday night only to be captured after ramming a police cruiser.

The employee, Taj Burton, had come to work.

"You don't know what the consequences are on a spiritual level," Kim Slama, of Wynnewood, told Burton.

Slama and Marianne Bessey, of Animal ACTivists of Philly, claim that they made a verbal deal with Burton on Wednesday night to pick up the cow yesterday. They had a wad of cash - $800 - and a livestock trailer was barreling down the New Jersey Turnpike to take the cow to a sanctuary in Woodstock, N.Y.

"I never promised you," the soft-spoken Burton said several times.

The conversations turned to culture, religion and even slavery, and Burton, 20, was threatened with lawsuits and animal-cruelty complaints. He seemed overwhelmed by it all but remained insistent. Madina Poultry does not sell cows, at least not alive.

"Yeah, so that's the situation: I can't sell you the cow," Burton said.

"You're going to need a lawyer," Slama said back.

Madina may need a lawyer, because Bessey left to file a civil complaint, claiming breach of contract and $10,000 in damages for her day off work and the trailer coming from New York.

When she got back with the papers, Burton and other employees had left, having never opened for business. Bessey, an attorney, called 9-1-1 to report animal cruelty, believing that no employee actually went in to feed and water the animals before they split.

"Now I'm mad," Bessey said. "Now I'm really mad."

Upper Darby's animal-control officer and a representative from the Delaware County SPCA arrived, but neither was able to get in touch with the owners. Upper Darby officials said previously that Madina was permitted to have the live animals on the premises and had only minor problems during a February inspection.

No one answered a call yesterday afternoon by the Daily News to the Upper Darby home of Madina's owner, Sultan Bhuiyan.

Neighbors and onlookers complained of the constant stench that emanated from the business, and of the bright-red barrels filled with "leftover" parts out back. Rats crawled beneath garage doors, they said, and goats and chickens always busted loose. One chicken pecking at the dirt under a rusty forklift bolted right past this reporter in the afternoon as the crowd tried to scoop it into their loving arms.

Confused customers kept driving up to Madina, looking for fresh meat and poultry and finding only strange, new faces and strange, new opinions. One angry woman claimed that the meat was "slaughtered by the hand of God."

"We don't need to get into a philosophical discussion," Mike Stura, a volunteer at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, told her. "It's just a business deal. We're here to buy the cow."

Stura, who had driven the trailer hitched to a pickup truck, had the phrase "Show mercy for animals" tattooed on his forearms. Another woman, with a pink rope, was with him.

As the hours wore on and sweat stained everyone's shirts, it seemed clear that Burton and Madina's employees were not coming back.

The roosters crowed inside every now and then, but the cow beyond the brown garage door never made a sound all day.