By Tracy Ahrens
I still see the glow of her feline eyes in the headlights of my car. Joan of Arc was just one month old and one pound, sitting in the middle of a street beside her deceased sibling. It was dark and I thought that the objects were trash so I straddled them with my car tires.
I came to a halt when I saw her eyes. I ran back and removed the kittens from the road. Today she is 12 and queen of our castle.
Often I think of creatures that are not as fortunate to have someone stop and help them, to remove them from a road before or after a vehicle has struck them. And I think of those that have been hit by a vehicle, killed and their body left in the road to be destroyed further by motorists who simply do not care.
The fact is, creatures feel. For every bird, raccoon, cat, dog, squirrel or what-have-you that is struck there is a sibling, parent, playmate, and/or human that misses and mourns for it.
Wild and domesticated animals have been known to sit for hours or days beside a deceased partner or offspring waiting for it to move. Others die there of a mournful heart.
When I was a child I was emotionally scarred from seeing dogs and cats hit by cars. I had no power to stop my parents from driving on after witnessing an animal that was hit by another car. My nature to rescue creatures in need made me cry for those I could not save.
Once a small white dog dashed out from the side of a city street and a car in front of us struck it. The car could have stopped, the dog could be seen by the driver, but the driver apparently didn’t care. We didn’t stop either and I grieved for that dog’s fate.
One day a squirrel playing in front of our home trotted into a one-lane road. A speeding car struck and killed the creature in front of me. The driver had plenty of time to see it, but he clearly didn’t care.
One morning during school, I heard fellow students say that a puppy had been hit in front of the school and died. I asked a teacher to call someone to move it from the road. I cried when a trash vehicle stopped and one man scooped up the dog with a shovel, throwing it into the back of the truck. Someone’s pet was discarded like trash and they never knew where it went.
In high school our car stopped at a busy intersection while a vehicle ahead of us sat idle. Someone in another car said that a cat had been hit and was under that car at the stop sign. I jumped out of our car without pause in an effort to help. I still remember the cat’s wide eyes looking at me from under that car. Motionless, it tried to meow. I did not have money to pay for veterinary care. I still cry that I was powerless.
As an adult, I carefully watch for beings in need when I drive. I recall a long list of live creatures I’ve moved from roads, including turtles, frogs, crawfish, kittens, dogs, birds and snakes.
Yes, accidents do happen. I too had a raccoon dash out in the night from tall grass along a road. I remember feeling a thump. I remember going back to see if it was in the road. I remember hoping it made it to the ditch, to a safe place, and was not hurt terribly bad.
But I’m not like most people. Humans increasingly behave like everything belongs to us. Contrary to this belief, living in harmony should be the goal. With great strides, people rush to appointments while driving. They talk on cell phones, argue with passengers or drive while intoxicated. Nothing else matters. To most, a squirrel is just a squirrel. A cat is just a cat. A bird is just a bird.
Here is a case in point. Not long ago I remember a baby robin hopping in a two-lane road in front of a grade school. Traffic was heavy at the end of a school day and I was heading in the opposite direction. I was working at the time, but passion made me pull to the side of the road and turn around to help the baby out of the road.
I prayed that the bird stayed safe until I reached it. I pulled to the curb and was ready to get out of my car when a small truck zipped past me destroying its life in a second. I lost feeling. I cried. I hurt that parents picking up children at school drove by possibly seeing that bird whose mother was chirping nearby trying to help it. None cared to share a few moments to save its life. None cared to teach their children compassion.
When I think about it, cats and dogs rescued from roadways have become some of the greatest pets for man. All of my pets were street orphans.
My cats Joan and Forest were rescued from roads as kittens. My cat Jack was living feral by a four-lane city street. My dog Trucker was thrown out of a semi truck cab as a puppy.
My latest rescue was a feral kitten I named Uno. I saw him and other kittens playing on a sidewalk beside a busy street and railroad. Circling back in my car, I ventured on foot into concrete rubble, trash and weeds to find eight kittens of varied sizes living in squalor. I knew their nature to play would lead to death by passing cars or trains. Uno, one month old, was the only kitten I could catch. Today he is waiting for adoption. The other kittens vanished.
Uno reminded me of an orange male tabby that I pulled from a nearby road several years prior.
I was working that day, on assignment when my car came upon an orange tabby lying in the middle of a busy city street. I pulled to the side of the road, stopped and checked it for a pulse. The male cat was still warm – recently deceased. I moved his body out of the road saying “God bless you” and shedding tears.
Judging by his size, this cat obviously had a keeper that fed him. He didn’t wear a collar, but this did not mean no one savored his companionship. Would that owner ever know he died? That’s why I left his body on soft grass at the side of the road.
The words of George Bernard Shaw speak volumes about these memories and my nature to rescue:
“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them. That’s the essence of inhumanity.”
When it starts at this level – indifference to a being that is in danger, has been injured or is deceased – a person is empty.
Tagged Tracy Ahrens