Monday, July 7, 2008

Tragedy


I took a life today. It had been my plan since yesterday, but she slipped away. And today blood was spattered on the inside of our home and garage. I was shaking and breathing convulsively, approaching shock.

The blood wasn’t from the one whose death I planned; it was from Shiloh, our Lab.

My friend had called at 8 a.m. to say he’d be late to set more fence posts on my property, so I read the paper, then tossed the ball for Shiloh. My last throw was sloppy, poorly aimed. As Shiloh grabbed the ball, he landed on our neighbor’s metal edging, which had no protective cap. It was so sharp, it could slice a tomato.

Shiloh grimaced and limped over to me with his sweet enthusiasm. Though he was obviously in pain, he climbed the three stairs to go into the house. Reluctant, yet knowing I had to check, I reached down and touched his back leg. My hand came back wet and warm with blood. The edging had severely cut into him and ripped a huge piece of flesh that still hung from his leg.

I typically black out when I see too much blood—the fainting started when I was nine—but somehow I gathered the first-aid kit, wet towels, antiseptic, triple antibiotic, and courage, and became a para-paramedic, hands shaking as if I had delirium tremors.

It was while I gathered the health-care patching tools when I glanced into the backyard and saw the one whose death I was planning. I felt more ill, dizzy.

Necessity overcame frailty, and I began to cleanse, apply antibiotic into, and tape Shiloh’s wound, over which I placed sterile cotton and an Ace bandage. I spoke to Shiloh calmly, praising him, still shaking uncontrollably. Rugs and the garage floor were covered in red.

My daughter had stayed overnight at my ex-husband, Jonny’s, house. When I called him to ask for help, I realized I was in shock. I stuttered, spoke each word slowly, pronouncing each syllable. I couldn’t complete my sentences and stumbled through tears. I simultaneously wiped blood from the hallway. He said he’d awaken our daughter and come over.

I went back into the garage to nurse Shiloh and saw that he was still bleeding, from another foot. One of his front pads was cut in half, so I resumed rinsing, applying antibiotic, and taping the open pieces back together. My body still shook. I called Jonny again with more urgency and sobs, saying we needed to take Shiloh to the vet.

As I comforted Shiloh and tried to stabilize myself, I called the Division of Wildlife’s district wildlife manager with whom I’d spoken yesterday, hoping I could keep the wounded doe in my yard until he could shoot her. I knew there was no chance of repairing this badly broken girl. “Off duty today” is what I heard, thinking he was just blowing me off. But he said he’d contact another wildlife manager. I wouldn’t hold my breath. I know they receive multitudes of calls, so I explained in detail that this young doe needed to die.

I asked my neighbor Greg to stay abreast of the wounded doe’s location while we took Shiloh to the veterinarian. We couldn’t lose sight of her today.

The day before, I had carefully followed her to learn where she migrated, so we could do the right thing. Though badly injured, she had already adapted to her trauma by pulling herself with her front legs while maneuvering her hindquarters in a walking motion to propel her. She moved out of sight, so I had told the DOW manager not to come on that day, the Fourth of July. Could she even endure another night? a terrifying night of shots, barks, lights, and noises?

She’d been hit. Knowing teenage drivers, I presume he or she was speeding for no good reason but testosterone and ran over the yearling as she tried to cross a street. But it could have been any inattentive driver. She was emaciated. Her right leg’s bones were shattered inside a bag of skin and fur on which she landed with every stride. She dragged the leg at the knee. The skin had broken and infection was eating her alive. Her left leg wasn’t much better. That’s why I made the call. She needed to be quickly saved from an inevitable, painful, agonizing death.

But her eyes were alert. That’s the hardest part about taking a life: looking into eyes that indicate life beyond them. As dumb as a lot of these deer appear, her eyes glowed a will to live.

Soon Jonny and our daughter arrived. We placed Shiloh’s bed into the back of the car and carefully lifted him upon it. Amazingly, the wildlife manager called to say he’d be at my place around 11. At the animal hospital, I learned that Shiloh’s injuries were worse than I thought: the edging had cut his right leg’s tendon and muscle. Guilt overwhelmed me. If I hadn’t thrown that last sloppy shot. It was all my fault. I can throw better than that. I signed papers and left Shiloh with the veterinary team.

Back at home, my neighbor told me where the doe had laid. I put Shiloh’s bloodied rugs into the washer and began hosing out the garage.

At last the DOW district wildlife manager, Jeremy, arrived, apologizing for his lack of timeliness. He told me that killing a wounded animal is a last resort. Sometimes animals heal. I know this; I’ve lived this. But the DOW receives calls like mine all the time, so they doubt the severity of an animal’s injuries—people can be so compassionate—except when they drive fast, carelessly, and don’t think seconds into the future. I assured him that we needed to end her pain.

He walked slowly toward her in the backyard behind Greg’s. She spooked and dove onto a concrete patio five feet below her, falling on her broken body. Jeremy turned to me and nodded, “She’s pretty bad.”

When he loaded his rifle with a telescope, my past slammed me. I lost it. Covering my ears, I walked away sobbing in the middle of my street. I didn’t want to hear the shot, see the jolt, the shock, the fall that I had seen so many times before. A neighbor saw me. I waved her away, sat on the side of the street trembling.

The wildlife manager eventually came back to his still-idling truck in my driveway, saying he needed to get a tranquilizing kit. Why didn’t he have one with him? The doe was still too mobile, and though he didn’t like to waste the meat, he couldn’t risk shooting something other than the deer.

I felt relief not to have heard the shot. I felt an agonizing pain in my gut for the bright-eyed doe.

Forty-five minutes later, the DOW guy returned. I couldn’t watch this hunt. Other neighbors came out of their homes to watch the kill as if it were a public stoning. I was appalled. There was no dignity in this already tragic situation. After about an hour, another wildlife manager came to assist the first, to hold the yearling down while injecting the euthanizing fluid in case she kicked.

I later walked up the street to the yard where she had fallen and bleakly asked Jeremy what the status was. She was down. He explained that it was necessary, and they hadn’t initially responded to calls about her because of the volume they receive. The keywords to use, he explained, are emaciated, dragging leg, inflamed area by an open wound. Once infected, there’s nothing one can do to help them survive.

Empty relief flowed through me. It was over. She didn’t have to fear anymore. I felt responsible, yet someone else had hit her and run. Not a care, not a call occurred afterward. The result of his or her recklessness was death, and someone else had to strike the final blow. And today, it was the DOW and me.

(Puzzle piece number 14 of 38.)
copyright © 2008 by Auntie Eartha. All rights reserved.

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