Thursday, August 30, 2012
It all started while driving to work. I'd left early, and I was looking forward to being extra productive. The traffic was starting to slow along a road where the speed limit is already 25 mph. Each car in the small, gathered clump of traffic was swerving away from the curb in somewhat the same manner as when a biker is on the road, except these swerves were more deliberate, around a tighter circle, and faster, with less of the courtesy and care that usually comes with avoiding something moving on the side of the road.
When I came close enough, I could see it was a fawn. It was frantically trying to get up, but it was against the curb, and its hind legs weren't doing what they were supposed to. It was then I realized just how careless and callous a human would have to be to drive past this wounded, clearly terrified, baby animal, especially in such a deliberate manner.
Full disclosure: I considered doing the same thing myself. As I've said, I was running early, a rarity for me. And probably like everyone else, I didn't really know what I could do. Based on what I could see, there was nothing I could do to actually save the animal. My next thought was, if I chose to do anything at all, I'd better get it off the road. This fawn was a wild animal, and though I didn't fear that I'd get hurt, I was sure I'd get dirty. I don't dress up for work, but I wouldn't even pick up my own dogs wearing the shirt I chose this morning unless there was some emergency to handle. I'm not vain, but I dress nicely for work about as often as I'm early, and I didn't really want to ruin either.
All this went through my head in a second or less, nearly enough time to keep driving and go right past. I'm not a heartless man by any stretch, but I've done this before in comparable situations, as recently as this past weekend (though I'm sure that racoon was dead, and someone had already stopped to 'help' it). Today, it was most likely my initial thought about the other drivers who'd gone past that motivated me to actually stop my car next to where the poor creature was struggling on the road.
Just a warning, the story doesn't end well. I followed through on my good intentions and moved the fawn off and away from the road. Sure enough, my hands and forearms were filthy, not only with dirt, but the fawn's hair and sweat. Like my own canine confidantes, deer apparently shed when they're nervous.
The fawn still couldn't stand. Its futile struggles to get up only made it more of a danger to drivers should it be left there and end up back where I'd found it, where I'm sure it wouldn't be so skillfully avoided as before. I hadn't helped; though it didn't seem to be in pain, it was obviously scared, especially when I came near, touched, and carried it, so after setting it down on the ground, it fought even more to get up.
I've had first aid training, and though I was under no illusion that I knew what to do in this particular situation, I looked its body over for signs of injury. I felt its bones, an easy task with this small and lanky animal. Even though its hind legs weren't working, I felt no breaks or sharp turns in the legs or hips, or anywhere along its back. None of the joints were bent at an odd angle. I touch its head, but more because I was trying to soothe it than diagnose its injury. I thought to take its picture, but for some reason that seemed cruel.
It bleated weakly, softly, not necessarily because it was weak or wounded, but because it was young. Deer bleat, like sheep, did you know that? I'd heard it was true, but sometimes, though you may not question them, things like that don't make much sense until you experience them. I've actually heard a doe bleating loudly in a northern Michigan forest a dozen or more Novembers ago, probably having been shot by a bad hunter (good hunters try to minimize or eliminate their prey's suffering, and aim to kill instantly with their first shot). That sound was one of frantic terror; the doe knew she was going to die, and probably knew she was being tracked. It was haunting. This morning, the sound the fawn made was one of a simpler feeling: confusion. It clearly had no idea what was going on.
Looking between the fawn and the road and imagining the worst, I made my next goal to move it to the other side of a wooden fence surrounding the adjacent property. Assuming the animal could eventually stand and walk away, I thought it unlikely it would try to jump the fence to go back across the road. I picked it up--it weighed less than my dog, not more than 50 or so pounds--and tried to lower it onto the ground while standing on the road side of the fence, but I'd only lowered it a couple feet when it jerked its body and fell. Looking back now, if the fawn's injuries had been some kind of broken bones, I would have only made this worse. It's scary how easily the best of intentions to solve or soothe a situation can make it worse, or even push it over the line beyond recovery. Fortunately, that wasn't the case today. As I climbed the fence to straighten out its back legs, which had become crossed, again in the hope that it would somehow recover if left alone, another car had stopped, and a woman exited. She came over and climbed the fence, too.
I was glad for this woman's presence. Though neither of us really knew what to do, nor were either of us comfortable with the idea of leaving the wounded fawn alone. I was already invested, whatever the outcome, but she still had the choice. It is because of her that I started to seriously consider that I couldn't handle this, that I'd have to call some civic authority. The woman told me she'd recently watched her horse suffer in the same way, struggling to get to its feet, but unable to because its hind legs wouldn't work. This memory was obviously painful to her. The woman left, and I decided then I had to make some kind of phone call.
I moved my car off the main road and onto a dirt street along the other side of the property. I called home and had my daughter look up the phone number, then got in contact with the police. They'd already had calls, but I knew the address of the property, and so provided it. I tried to see if someone was home, but less than a minute after ringing the bell, a police motorcycle had arrived. I showed him where the fawn lay, still struggling, still confused. I should have known what was coming. In truth, I would have been surprised if the cop had said anything but, "I'm going to have to shoot it." But that's what he said.
I accepted this, not knowing any other alternative. I crouched to touch the fawn one last time, in some effort to express regret. It was still afraid of me; my touch did not soothe it. I made whatever spiritual expression I could, but there was no recognition, no inter-species barriers were broken between us. I turned to walk away as a police car pulled up, and I knew the first cop was unholstering his weapon. I heard the shot and looked back just in time to see the upper half of the fawn's body that could still stand fall.
I was neither shaken nor numbed, and this confused me. I felt, and still feel, sadness, but this was tempered by the short reach toward a better solution where none existed. Most assuredly, I was as dirty as I feared I'd be, but not enough that I needed to go home to change, and it no longer concerned me anyway. Back in my car, I continued driving to work, but I did not continue my radio program, and I could not continue to eat my mobile breakfast. Something had changed, but I couldn't tell what. My only thought was that I, and the woman who'd stopped to help, would really be the only two people in the world who would mourn this, if that's the right word for how you feel about a wild animal you can't help save. We'd encountered it, I'd carried it, and just like that, in one policeman's shot, it was over.