Ever since I was a young girl, I've loved animals. My father says I even learned to bark with my dog Teddy before I spoke my first word. I loved growing up surrounded by pets and was frequently found playing with any wild animal I could get my hands on. If I saw one in need, whether it was injured or had fallen out of its nest, I always tried to help. This was not something I was taught - I just instinctively knew I was supposed to.
Recently I learned just how much of an instinct this is for me. I was driving to Target with a good friend when and I spied a deer lying against the curb, its legs twitching and its tongue lolling out. I looked at my friend with tears in my eyes and told her I needed to go to it. This poor animal could not be left alone to suffer - it needed to be surrounded by love. So we called 911 and I ran to the deer. My initial thinking was that I simply comfort and show it love before the police came to put it out of its misery.
I approached the deer slowly and let it smell my hand as I sat alongside it. I began to pet it, slowly and softly. Upon inspection, it actually seemed like its injuries weren't too bad. He had a small cut on his cheek and a tiny bit of blood coming from one of his antler buds, but that was it. My friend brought water, which she let him drink from her hand as she soothed him, too. We both knew rather quickly that this little deer was simply in shock - not seriously injured.
We were soon joined by a young police officer, who assessed the situation in a similar fashion. We all knew the little guy did not need to be put down. The question then became, what do we do? We called Animal Control, but they were closed. We were on our own.
There were woods in the distance, and we knew if we could get the deer there, everything would be OK. The officer called for backup to assist with this plan.
When the second officer arrived, I was relieved. For about two minutes. It became clear he was the first one's boss; the first one's demeanor changed, speaking less as the second took control. Prior to him, we figured we could direct traffic while the officers carried the deer back to the woods.
The second officer thought this was a terrible idea. I kept waiting for the first one to speak up, but he said nothing. The second cop pointed out that we could sustain injuries if anyone tried to pick the deer up - the deer would kick us. But the deer couldn't even get up off of the ground. How was he going to kick us? The cop's next idea was to get a rope from his car, tie it around the deer's neck, and drag it up onto the curb.
This upset me. If this had been a person unable to get up off the ground, who in their right mind would decide that tying a rope around their neck would be a good idea?
When I know something is right and I believe in it, nothing and no one can stand in my way. This was one of those times. I started to argue. He wanted the rope because he'd be able to control the deer in the event that it stood up and ran off. I tried to explain that if that happened and it got away, it would be running around with a noose around its neck. The officer agreed, adding "Yeah, plus I lose my rope." I was appalled that he seemed more concerned over a rope than a life, and I made it clear that there was simply no way a rope would be placed around the animal's neck.
He said he wouldn't allow us to try and pick the deer up. And since it couldn't stand, he said he might as well shoot it. I was outraged. Again, if this had been a human being grazed by a car and in shock, would anyone expect the person to be able to pick themselves up? How did he expect the deer to be able to do so? Knowing the animal was actually fine, I said, "If you try and shoot the deer, I will lay on it. You shoot him, you shoot me."
Just as he was about to retort, an older man from Tennessee arrived, asking what the trouble was. With his Southern drawl and his matter-of-fact kindness, he was soon to become my hero. His name was Michael, and after taking a look at the deer, he began speaking to the officer. Michael had worked in wildlife education, and after checking the deer more closely for injury, he said the little guy was just in shock. I wasn't surprised that everything we had been saying that had been ignored, was now validated when this man said it. That, however, was something I was willing to let go of in order to save the young animal.
We hatched our plan. The officer was none to happy with it, but didn't impede. The men physically picked up the deer and placed him on the sidewalk. It wasn't able to stand on its own. Michael held him up as the officer got to use his rope (against my wishes). He tried to tie the legs together so no one would be kicked, but his rope-tying skills proved to be as lacking as his sense of compassion. I suppressed a giggle as the rope he so carefully tied around the legs immediately slid to the ground. Then, by the grace of God, the officers were called away. Finally we could complete Operation Save The Deer.
Just then, another man walked up and offered to help - perfect timing since we'd lost Officer One. It was almost as though help was sent at exactly the right time for each stage of the process - us, Michael, now the new man. As the two men carried the deer across the street, we ladies directed traffic, just as originally planned.
It was a difficult trip. We needed to calm the deer to keep it from kicking, halt traffic on a curved road and busy intersection to ensure no one got hit (either us or people behind a suddenly braking vehicle). We kept having to make stops, readjust, and keep faces from being wounded by the struggling animal.
Finally, finally, we made it to the woods. They laid him under the trees, then sat back, both men and deer exhausted. But it was a good exhaustion. We were satisfied with ourselves. Away from the road, it was more peaceful, more sheltered, and there was finally hope for the future of the little deer. It was no longer in danger of being shot, no longer in immediate danger of being hit by a car if it suddenly found its feet and went running. It was, to the best of our abilities, safe.
Michael and I decided we'd both check on the deer in the morning. We headed into Target covered in blood and dirt, cognizant of the need to check for ticks as well as rinse off.
But for some reason, despite being proud and enjoying the company of my friend, I couldn't shake my thoughts about the deer. Was he ok? Would he be ok? What if he was scared? I took Melanie back to her house and left around her home at 1am, but I couldn't get that deer out of my head.
So rather than going straight home, I went back to where we'd left him in the woods. And it was then that I had one of my favorite moments of my life. The moon was full, the weather was perfect, and I was alone. As I headed into the trees I announced myself, so as to not scare the deer if he was still there.
He was. He was resting about 15 feet from where we'd left him. I sat down and let him smell my hand. He took some water from it. For the next two hours, we sat together under the summer moon. It was full and there was a lovely warm breeze. He let me pet him the entire time and raised his head every time we heard a train pass by in the distance. I'm not sure why, but at some point I became overwhelmed. I began to cry as I continued to pet this precious animal. I'm not sure whether it was my being proud that I'd been a part of saving another life, or the sadness I had about the cruelty of the officer. How often does that happen to animals? How often are they forgotten, or beaten, or 'put down' - which is really just a nice way of saying 'murdered.' We don't use the word 'murder' for animals, but that's what it is.
After my tears stopped, the deer (who by that time I'd nicknamed Little P) curled into a ball and began to snore (yes - it really snored. Who knew deer could do that?). I couldn't have been happier.
I went back the next day, and just as I approached the copse of trees, Michael emerged from it. He said Little P was gone, that he must have gathered up enough strength to return to wherever it was he'd come from. It was exactly what I'd been hoping. Just as we'd suspected, he'd just needed to sleep off the shock, and he'd be OK. He was. We had saved a life.
I wrote this story for two reasons. First, it's a good story, and good stories should always be told. Second, I wanted to share the effect this had on me - what I became present to during and after this event.
The amount of cruelty shown towards animals in the world is, in a word, insane. The lack of regard for an animal's life really became truly clear to me with the officer. Yes, there are cases in which an animal does need to be put down. But it was clear that this wasn't one of them. How many other animals struck by cars are shot for the simple reason that it's easier to do that than take it to a vet, rehab center or in some other way assist the animal?
And how many other instances have I read in recent news of people who've abused an animal that has done nothing but roam the earth as it was meant to? Whether it was Little P who was hit by a car, the 300 elephants and countless other creatures that were poisoned and killed by cyanide in Zimbabwe for their ivory, the cat shot by an arrow by a teenager in Maryland who thought it would be funny, or the wild pigs in San Jose that they are discussing they may plan to kill because they are eating the grass of people's lawns, there were countless such stories. Maybe if we didn't take away their habitats at such a rapid rate, animals wouldn't be coming into our living spaces looking for food and water.
Humans were put on the earth for a purpose, and so were animals. The Earth and all its creatures are not ours to destroy and use as we see fit. If we continue on the path we're going down, where do we expect to end up? These beautiful creatures are parents, they are children and they are here for a reason. Just like humans want to be treated with love, dignity and kindness, these precious beings deserve the same.
I am making a plea to have it start with you. The next time you see an injured animal on the side of the road, consider getting involved. Don't assume someone else will, or put your head down and pretend you did not see it - or that police officers will do the right thing. If there's a pet you suspect is being abused by a neighbor, do something about it. Report it. If there's a way you can afford to give to the ASPCA (especially when they air those heartbreaking commercials with the rabbits with sad eyes), or the many other wonderful domestic, farm, or wildlife animal rescues out there such as The Gentle Barn, The Southwest Wildlife Conservation Center, or The Second Chance Wildlife Center then do. It starts with us - normal people on our way to Target. We can protect, save, and improve lives - both human and animal. Together, we're more powerful than we think. We have the opportunity to save lives and show one another that yes indeed all life is important.