A few nights ago, I nearly hit a deer. I saw him in my peripheral vision, reflected eyes and a brown form, small antlers perched atop his head. Slowing down, I paused feet from him. I flashed my brights at him which I regretted the instant he blinked in confusion and tried to take a step forward, then stumbled. Dimming my lights, I rolled down my window and yelled. He moved on his way, away from asphalt and death.
The driver behind me honked, annoyed.
I almost refused to move forward. The person behind me was so caught up in their petty impatience that a mere 30 second delay seemed to herald impending doom. To me, the deer was worth a 30 second pause. I can only presume the deer agreed.
Before I drove on, my mind wandered...as it is wont to do. A flash of white bone exposed, the scream of a dying animal.
A few months ago, I witnessed the violent death of a yearling doe.
The most potent memories I carry with me are painful reminders of helplessness. They involve the needless deaths of nonhumans, deaths I witnessed firsthand and either did not or could not prevent.
The doe is one of them.
She was struck at night by a white sedan, the same color of her front leg bones jutting from pink flesh. I can remember my sharp intake of breath, then forgetting to breathe as I hoped against hope that she had evaded impact.
The driver stopped, exited his vehicle, looked at the deer, then his car. He shook his head, got back in his vehicle and drove away. I will never forget that moment. Never. His fading tail lights disappeared, the car in front of me swerved around the deer, and I was left alone with her.
I got out of my car and approached her. I could see the whites of her eyes, which scanned the dark fields. When they met mine, I could only see unending layers of pain. She began to panic, which is when I noticed her front legs. Not because I saw them, but because I heard them. Splintered bones scraping against asphalt and road. It is a wrong sound. It is a wrong sight, bone outside of skin.
Backing away quickly, I frantically started calling people. I called a colleague. I called several wildlife rehab centers, all of whom told me to call the police. No one wanted to help her. I felt so alone, so unable to do anything but watch. I called the police.
That night, I was the only one who stopped traffic for a dying animal. I was the only one who stood between her and another driver who wanted to drag her by her broken legs off the road. I was the only one with my heart fluttering, my lungs breathless, my whole body wanting to fix, repair, heal the broken being in front of me.
For what seemed like hours, I watched the doe. She was so quiet, her side heaving in pain, quick breath in, quicker breath out. Her pupils became large black holes in what should have been soft, gentle eyes. Some moments she would try to stand, not comprehending why her normally supportive, lithe legs kept failing.
And then she would cry. This is how I knew she was still a baby. Or I assume so. Maybe we all call for our mothers in these moments. That was the cry she made - a baby sending forth an SOS in the night. A scream followed by a heart-wrenching whimper. I wanted her mother to come out of the dark, to groom and soothe and give her comfort.
When the police arrived, I finally pulled off the road. The officer got out of his car. He did not approach the deer but instead peered at the front of my vehicle, presuming I had hit her.
Doesn't look like your car is damaged.
I must have had a confused expression, for I had not processed the statement. Oh. He thought I hit her.
Not knowing what happened next, I sat in my vehicle as the officer approached the doe. He nudged her with his boot, trying to get her to move off the road (goodness forbid the human world slow down for one dying deer). I heard a small wail and realized it was my own whimper of shock and sadness. Couldn't he see how broken she was, how utterly impossible it was for her to get up and walk off the road. Of course he could. Of course he has dealt with many deer and of course he has become indifferent to their suffering.
Finally, he roughly grabbed her by the head and dragged her off the road.
I wanted to drive away. I wanted to lunge from my vehicle and shove the officer away. I wanted to cradle the deer, or at least cover her head in a towel so she couldn't see the creatures causing her so much pain. I wanted to scream. Oh god, I thought, is he just going to leave her dying on the side of the road?
The officer looked at me. He said I could leave. I asked what was going to happen to her. Another officer approached, we'll have to put it down. It. It. It. She is a she. She is alive and dying and suffering and trying in desperation to fucking live. SHE.
I did not drive away. I did not look away. I watched as they stopped traffic. I watched as they brought out a rifle. And I watched in fascinated horror as they shot her in the head. They left her body on the side of the road for a disposal crew to pick up the next day.
I could barely see through my tears as I drove the three minutes home. I felt like such a failure, despite not doing anything wrong. I knew she was suffering and I knew euthanasia was the kindest option for her. She died instantly, but she had to endure the indignity of rough handling and being alone on that country road. I wonder if her mom came to her body. I hope so. It wouldn't make a difference to anyone but me, I think.
I'd like to say this is a cautionary tale. I'd like to say that if you drive a little hastily on back-roads knowing full well wildlife may dart in front of your vehicle that maybe you'll slow down. But the truth is, I know you won't. I know this like I know bone exposed is white and ugly and wrong. I know this because dozens of deer have been killed on this same stretch of road since the evening a white sedan slammed into the fragile body of a doe. I know this because too many of us are caught up in getting somewhere fast when getting somewhere less fast could prevent death and suffering and broken bodies. I know this because we can all be ugly and needlessly callous.