February 12, 2013
It’s no secret that my heart is a few sizes larger than most when it comes to my love for animals.
It became apparent when I was a child that the compassion I feel for those creatures, the ones with fur and feathers and hoofs and gills, tails and snouts and wings and shells, is a bit out of the ordinary. I would secretly release the butterflies and moths and lightning bugs my friends collected in mason jars, and I'd beg my grandpa to throw back all those fish he snagged with that poor wriggling worm he had impaled on a hook.
I’m older now, but that compassion continues to burn in my heart — stronger than ever, I think. If there’s a mouse in the pantry, I catch it with a no-kill trap and release it outside. I can’t stand the thought of animals, pets or otherwise, living their entire lives in cages. And my heart still aches when I pass a dead animal on the side of the road, yet another casualty of someone’s front bumper.
It’s unavoidable sometimes, I know. It’s just a part of life. Animals wander into the road and get hit by cars. I get it.
What I don’t understand is the type of person who can hit an animal with a car and barely even tap the breaks. Even worse is when these people leave the animals in the road, where they are over again and again, their bodies mutilated, the asphalt stained with their blood.
I’ve seen this happen more times than I wish to recall: a mother doe and her two fawns, bleeding from their mouths, dying in the roadway — and the driver of the car, pulling over about a mile down the road only to check the damage to her SUV, while my mom and I struggle to pull the frantic deer out of the path of oncoming traffic and comfort them in their last moments alive; someone’s pet cat or dog, crumpled in a heap atop the double-yellow line, waiting for its owner to discover his or her best friend has been killed and left in the street like a bag of garbage; a beautiful red fox, whose monogamous mate most likely never again will breed.
Most recently, I drove up on one of these crumpled furry masses one night last weekend. It was lying directly in my path, so I swerved in an attempt to straddle its body.
I winced. My heart fell to my feet. It was larger than I expected; large and deep brown, with a long tail. Was that someone’s dog? A brown lab, maybe? I wondered if its owners lived in the house just across the street. What if they had kids? What if their kids
found their puppy like this?
I came to a stop sign, closed my eyes and thought of my two pups. I imagined how heartbroken I would be, not only to lose one of them but to find her in the roadway, hit by some motorist apparently too busy to stop and pull her out of the road, lacking the decency or the courtesy (or the guts) to knock on my door and tell me what happened.
I made a U-turn and drove back to the animal in the road. I put my car in park, my lights beaming directly down on the huddled mass. That’s when I realized it wasn’t a dog at all, but a beaver
— a beautiful brown beaver, with a body as big as a dog. It had tiny little ears and front feet, and its charcoal gray back feet were webbed and wrinkly, still wet from the pond it was headed away from. I picked up its soft body, limp and heavy, and gently laid it in the grass. Besides a little blood on its face, it looked as though at any moment, it would wake up and waddle away, snapping those sharp little teeth at me.
I had a good, hard cry driving home that evening. I had looked into the eyes of death, and it wasn’t easy. Still, I was grateful for the opportunity to give the little guy a slightly more proper send-off and remove its body from the threat of further disfigurement, something the driver of the car that took its life inexplicably didn't have the courtesy to do.
My compassion may be a bit out of the ordinary, but I’m not asking anyone to be like me. I’m just asking that everyone recognize a basic respect for all kinds of life, even in death — and I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Linsay Cheney is the editor of Connect Statesboro. Get in touch with her at email@example.com.