Last Week, My Husband Rescued A Bird From Our Front Yard, And Then A Kitten In A Parking Lot: On Animals And Compassion

There's discussion of animal death and also animal rescue here. So it might be a mixed bag, emotionally speaking.
Publish date:
January 21, 2014
pets, compassion, animal welfare, stray animals, empathy, indoor pets, outdoor pets, animal rescue

We were on our way to dinner when we saw the cat in the road.

It was one of the neighborhood cats; we'd seen it nearly every day for over a year. The cat had a color and looked well-fed. It hung out in our yard but was obviously someone's outdoor cat.

I gritted my teeth and Ed said, "I hope that cat's not dead" -- but we both already knew. He parked the car in the middle of our residential street and went to check.

Ed was gentle when he moved the cat out of the road. I could tell that the cat's neck was broken. He checked the collar, which didn't have a tag with an address, before coming back to the car.

The cat was still warm. Whatever had happened, it had happened recently -- probably a car speeding down our road as a shortcut, and they hadn't stopped after hitting the cat.

We got a neighbor (I didn't want to just leave a dead cat in someone's yard), and she knew to whom the cat belonged. We drove off as she knocked on the door, already in tears, some of them in relief that it wasn't her own cat.

It's the kind of event that underscores why our cats are indoor-only cats. And it's the kind of event that also makes me feel powerless and slightly nauseated because, yes, accidents happen, but also there are a lot of people who don't move through the world with care.

Ugh, that manages to sound both hella judgy and hopelessly naive, straight out of some hippie parody. I have to own it though -- I think if you're speeding down residential streets without paying attention and then you hit an animal and don't stop, you are probably not moving through the world with attention to spare for others. I always have to caveat -- I get it, maybe there's a reason why, sure. But it seems like, all too often, the response to that kind of thing is, "Hey, it's just an animal."

Animals are not, to be fair, more important than people to me. I think people have to take care of themselves and sometimes that doesn't leave a lot of room for getting teary over animal welfare. I also support ethical hunting (and not just because my family used to depend on it themselves).

But I think animals have less capacity for self-representation -- people do a lot of heinous shit to animals that animals are powerless to comprehend, much less counteract. I can't make any blanket statements about how animal rescue work teaches compassion for everyone, how small lives valued translates into other lives valued, because that isn't how to the world works but, man, I wish I could.

And I do wonder if being desensitized to the value of a small animal's life is part of being desensitized to human life as well.

It felt awful to find and acknowledge that dead cat in the road. It felt respectful -- and yet still awful -- to move it out of the road and to help track down the owner. Ed and I were both sad and vaguely miserable about the world for a couple of hours there, and it's days later and I'm still thinking about it. I can understand why folks don't want to feel that -- but those sorts of "negative" emotions can also be pretty important. Feeling bad about something can help motivate people to change things after all.

The next day, I got a text message from Ed. I was still at work and it made me stop all of my rushing around for a few minutes. He'd rescued a robin in our front yard -- there was a freeze warning for that night and he didn't want some poor flightless bird to freeze to death. We called around and found a local wild animal rescue and our evening was partially spent taking the bird to them for care and release.

They figured the bird was just exhausted from migrating but that anytime you can catch a wild bird, there's an issue.

It was a small thing to do, and it's just one robin. But it's also that kind of compassion that makes me love Ed in the first place.

The next night, I got another text message from Ed. He'd finished class early -- and he'd rescued a kitten.

Literally, a kitten had followed him through the parking lot on campus, meowing until he stopped and found it and picked it up.

This is basically how we acquired not one but two of our current cats. I was suddenly full of fear that we were going to have yet another pet in our house full of pets. That didn't stop me from thoroughly snuggling the undersized little creature in our spare bathroom (quarantined from the other animals for safety's sake).

We took the kitten -- we refused to even give her a temporary name -- and got her checked out and on a dewormer. And then set about finding a good home. For a week, everything was kitten focused; it was all very sweet but also nothing else got done. And we'd have done it regardless of the events of the weekend but there was an extra feeling of balance.

Compassion has this painful, bittersweet edge to it -- it isn't pity, because it's not about feeling sorry yet superior. It's that sometimes the world absolutely sucks and all we can do is try to soften it a little bit.

The kitten has a home now, with some good friends. She's already being spoiled and loved up. She's worm-free and putting on weight and has an appointment to get fixed. Her world is better.

My world is better because of that.