Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Creatures of the Night

One-thirty a.m. and my little dog went off, woofing and scrabbling down the hall. I got up, put on my glasses and went to see why. I figured it was the cat, who sometimes gets rambunctious in the wee hours, but I, uh, equipped myself as a precaution.

Jude looked up from his bed and figured Layla and I could deal with it. Went back to sleep.

It was the cat, sort of. He had caught a baby bird, either fallen out of a nest or collected by a climbing predator, too young to fly, and mostly dead -- but not quite. It had squawked, and Layla had heard it.

The cat had left the critter on the floor, and when I got there, the dog was carrying on. As I arrived, Layla decided it was prey and grabbed it up. I couldn't tell at first whether it was a bird or a bat, so I gave her a "Leave it!" and shooed her away.

Those of you with indoor/outdoor cats have no doubt been surprised with little gifts like this. Mostly here it's mice. Now and then a frog or bird. We once had a cat brought us everything from hummingbirds to a small rabbit.

So here's the ethical question of the day: You have a wounded baby bird. You have no clue where its nest might be -- could be in one of the potted plants hanging from the eaves or fifty feet up a fir tree or in a bush. The creature is wounded, probably mortally. Now what?

You going to hop into your car and drive to Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital ten miles away? Toss the bird into the yard and let nature take its course? Or put it down?

I didn't think it would survive, and if by some miracle it did, then what? Hand-feeding it in a house with a cat that already knows what birds are for?

A trip to the Audubon Society?

The kindest thing, I figured, was to put it out of its misery. Which I did.

Last time we had a bird, a parakeet, it lived for five or six years and then had a stroke, began having a kind of rolling tetany. He was a goner, and I eased his passage.

Fortunately, I haven't had too many dogs who lived long enough to develop debilitating medical conditions -- but I have had a couple. And fortunately, I live where good veterinary care is available. But if I lived in the country way the hell and gone from help and my dogs got to the place where they were suffering and it couldn't be made better, I'd help them out -- I feel that's part of my responsibility as a pet-owner.

There comes a time when the dog or cat or bird is ready to go -- and you can finally let them --and keeping them once they are in constant misery because you can't do what needs to be done is, for me, wrong. When my German Shepherd Dog developed a condition called DM, we fought the good fight -- medicines, vitamins, got her a cart when her hind legs went out, leather booties for her dragging paws. I carried her out to pee, carried her back in to her bed. Cleaned up when she couldn't stir herself enough to let me know she needed to go out. It was terrible.

We didn't want to let her go, she was our baby. But the time came and we had to admit it. If you love your animals, you know how it feels to let one go. The joy of companion animals is tempered by knowing that mostly we outlive them.

There's a lyric from Mr. Bojangles:

He spoke through tears of 15 years how his dog and him traveled about/
The dog up and died, he up and died/
And after 20 years he still grieves ...

I can understand that.

We have assisted suicide for people here in my state. I voted for it. I like my dogs more than I like a lot of people ...


James said...

GSDs are proof that the universe loves us

J.D. Ray said...

We had a cat we tried to save from cancer. Spent over $4K that included a leg amputation. It was a failed attempt to save her life, and ended up buying her about eight months. Six years later, we still can't decide if we made the right decision or not. We've made peace with it, though.