Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sin of omission

If you are squeamish, or very sentimental about animals, this post will distress you. Read at your own risk.

I was driving back home from the park yesterday when I came upon a rabbit that had been hit by a car. Nothing unusual about that—the roads around here are a carrion-eater’s smorgasbord. Except this rabbit wasn’t dead. The back half of its body had been crushed, but its head was erect, and it was trying, futilely, to use its front paws to propel itself forward. Its eyes were open and alert, its ears twitching. It was clearly panicked by all the cars whizzing by. I thought of the stock nightmare, which I’ve often had myself, where you try to run from some bogeyman only to find that your legs are stuck to the ground. Bunny was living the nightmare.

The rabbit was right in the middle of the road, lying across the yellow line, so it was unlikely that anyone else would come along and inadvertently finish him off. Eventually he'd get exhausted and die, but it looked as if that was likely to take a while. I drove past him, already debating with myself: Should I or shouldn't I turn around at the next opportunity, and go back to put him out of his misery?

I didn't do it, and what troubles me is that I can't see any good reason why. It was clearly the most humane thing to do. I could have ended his life in a second and saved him any further torment. Given the nature of his injury, I suspect he was not really in pain, but he was obviously terrified. And absolutely doomed.

I'm not happy to say it, but I suspect my reluctance was nothing but a childish fear of death, and aesthetic revulsion for the act itself. I hate that. I hate being one of those people who can't face up to things. I hate the way we work so hard to insulate ourselves from the messy facts of life, and thereby starve our sympathy for the people (and other animals) who don't have the privilege of that insulation.

I know, I'm making a big deal out of a dead rabbit. I just can't quite get past the idea that I got a glimpse of my weak character yesterday, and it wasn't pretty.

Roadkill avoidance


Anonymous said...

I killed a bird once. I just happened to be passing by where there was an enclosed cement courtyard of a hospital, and all these people (15 or so) were standing there staring at a pigeon that had apparently broken its neck. Its head was flopping around, and it was backed up against the wall, trying as hard as it could to get away but unable to move except for shuffling with great effort, and its eyes were wild with terror. Everybody was afraid to pick it up. I asked for a plastic bag and someone brought me a biohazard bag and everybody left, and I put the bird in the bag and held it on my lap until it stopped struggling, and then I put it in the trash. I remember the sun was going down as I held it. It was one of the more surreal, nightmarish things that's ever happened to me. Based on that experience, I'm gonna say I doubt you would feel any better if you had killed the rabbit. The thing with me and the bird was more than 10 years ago and it still pops into my mind regularly and causes me to grieve, and I wonder if I did the right thing.

BitterGrace said...

For what it's worth, I'd say you did absolutely the right thing. But you're probably right about not feeling any better even if I'd done it. I don't know--there's always something horrifying about the deliberate act of killing, and knowing that the rabbit was fully conscious would have bothered me, I think...Anyway, I'm sorry the bird's death haunts you. Yours was a merciful act.

helg said...

That's so sad....that you had to witness this, that the roads are a smorgasboard for dead/dying animals and that you have doubts about doing the right thing.
I know it can be hard and easthetically repulsive. I wish there was some easy, elegant, painless way to put living things out of their misery.

We had hit a quite large bird once on a crowded road with our car. It was completely unavoidable as the poor thing was dazzed by the lights and went straight ahead on us. The bird lived and flew away, but the shock was very real, I can tell you.
Don't know what we would do if we had injured it beyond reversal of damage, though. I would like to think I would be brave enough to get out and put it out of its misery, but I am not so sure I'd have the necessary stamina :-(

Juvy Santos said...

Maria, I thought for a little while about how to answer this post, and the only thing I think I can say without sounding trite is that we're all human, and we're all allowed to be afraid. So many people would not even have noticed.

And I'll tell you this one thing--when we were kids--I was nine, my sister 5, my cousin 7, we came across a baby bunny that seemed to have been injured in our back yard. It was on our concrete pad underneath the patio. I told my sister and my cousin to hold on for a little bit, I'd get a shoebox and maybe some lettuce for it. It was alive, shivering, and afraid, but its leg was distended in a weird way. I left. When I came back, my cousin had put it into a newspaper bag--you know, the yellow ones newspapers used to come in. And before I could say 'stop,' he swung it around and around and then finally hit the concrete with it. I didn't really know what to do. I left, went upstairs, and pretended it didn't happen. A little later on I went downstairs and the bunny was lying still inside the bag, and it was in the trash. I saw a bigger bunny off in the grass, and I really did wonder whether it was the baby's mother.

I don't really know why I'm writing about this on the web, when I've spoken about it to no one but my sister (who doesn't remember) or my cousin (who only vaguely remembers). He wasn't a cruel boy, and he ISN'T a cruel young man now, but I don't understand why he thought to do that. I'm not even sure he meant to kill it. I think he just wanted to wake it up. My family has never really allowed us to have pets, and we were all suburban kids that only ever saw rabbits sprinting away.

I KNOW I didn't do the right thing. I KNOW I should have stopped it all, and even when it had already hit the concrete I should have stopped them, gotten it out of the bag, and at least seen what I could have done.

Juvy Santos said...

Maria, I'm sorry about the previous post...

BitterGrace said...

Juvy, honey, sorry for what? This sort of thing touches a nerve with all of us--just look at Renee's post, and Helg's, too. I don't know if you looked at that column of mine that I linked to on the original post, but I mention there that I once hit a deer. I make light of it, in a way, but it was actually extremely traumatic for me at the time. It was a doe, and her face hit the windshield right in front of me. You can imagine how awful that was.

I understand that you feel bad about the incident when you were a kid, but it strikes me as just one of those strange things that happens sometimes. The animal was probably doomed even without your cousin's assistance. There was nothing you could do.

It occurs to me that there is an embarrassing irony in the juxtaposition of yesterday's posts. I'm all freaked out about the rabbit, while people are being killed by the thousands in this war our government created and helps continue. I keep flashing on an interview I heard several months ago, in which a soldier talked about watching a young woman being run over by a succession of vehicles on an Iraqi street.

I do think it's important not to turn away from things--but I have a tendency to wallow , so if anybody should apologize, it's me.

Now, off to think of something more beautiful and uplifting to blog about...

chayaruchama said...

Someone asked me, not too long ago, where GOD was, during all his suffering.

I told him that I could only relate my feelings, and that perhaps it would make some sort of sense...

I feel that the Divine is our partner in suffering.
One particular appellation, used during the Days of Awe, is Avinu Malkeinu- Beloved Parent.

I rationalize, that , not unlike a loving parent, the Divine has to bite his / her tongue, while we stumble through our lives...

And, like a parent, wishes dearly that he/ she could take away our pain.
But we need that pain to grow.

There IS no right , or wrong, here.
Only coping, and our frailties.

I love you, and Renee and Juvy.
I feel it.

BitterGrace said...

Chaya, your words bring tears to my eyes. Yours is a very beautiful way of seeing the world.

BitterGrace said...

Count on my beloved brother John for some down-to-earth wisdom on such matters. Here's an excerpt from his email to me last night:

"And on the matter of the battered bunny dilemma, forget about it. I commute an average of 150 miles a day to work and back every day on all kinds of roads. I encounter the same thing that caused you so much distress many, many times a year. It bothers me each and every time, but I've rationalized in my mind that turning around and going back to end the suffering to whatever injured creature that it may be, by whatever means I might have available to me could potentially create another tragedy. This time on a human scale. Especially on a busy highway. Just let Karma be Karma (I learned that from Earl)."

rockinruby said...

Maria, your post struck a chord with me. The exact same thing happened to me a number of years ago. I mean the EXACT same thing. Bunny on the road. Hind quarters squashed. Front legs trying in vain to pull the body. Alert head. And I had all of the same response as you. I drove past. I wrestled with going back to end its suffering. I ultimately decided not to, and then went through hell over why I was so weak and squeamish over such a simple and cut-and-dried sort of thing. Questioned what sort of person I was to choose to let an animal suffer instead of making myself uncomfortable momentarily. Oy. Your post brought it all back in awful relief....

BitterGrace said...

Hello, Jill. What a sad coincidence. I hope the words of Chaya and John help a little.

*Note to self: No more roadkill posts.*