ON MY SOAPBOX: Hit and Run

Driving home tonight I passed two skunks, a porcupine, and a raccoon, all dead. Squashed in the road and left to be food for crows.

Every day and night animals are killed by cars. You know, you see them: squirrels, woodchucks, skunks, opossums, raccoons, cats, dogs, birds, deer – they seem to be the most unlucky ones. Warmer weather brings out frogs, toads, and turtles, even the snakes, cold-blooded creatures who like to sun themselves on the warm pavement. At least they are all asleep now and I can stop seeing them.

I have hit a few animals in my time, devastated afterward. But not dead; not like the poor creature I killed.

Like most people, I pass many crushed, small bodies by the roadside. I’m sure I see at least one every day, particularly in the rural area where I live. There are always animals moving around, looking for food, territory, a mate, not knowing anything about human roads or cars. It’s never anything I like to see, to look at. It makes me angry and sad. Mostly at us.

It isn’t just the hitting of them, the killing, that bothers me. It’s the way they remain by the roadside, sometimes for months, decomposing, that troubles me deeply. Unless a person removes their remains because it was a beloved pet, or for cleanliness or even to use the meat (as some resourceful souls do, mostly with deer), they will stay there unburied, unremembered, sometimes with young that will starve and die, as well, never seeing them again.

This summer I collected a large gray tomcat that was killed in the road in front of my house. He was so handsome, I could tell. But the car that hit him did not notice or care. He was dead, handsome and all, just the same. He reminded me of one of my own cats, recently deceased. I knew he had been older, had made it so long, and was otherwise healthy when he was hit, his back broken and jaw smashed. Fortunately, I think it was quick. I hope for that whenever I see a dead animal, but I know that it is not always so.

If there was human being laying dead by the side of the road, cars would stop and traffic would pile up for miles. No one would believe it, tolerate it, a person left laying there unknown, unclaimed. No one would drive by them day after day, watching their remains turn to nothing, becoming accustomed to the sight.

We barely notice a dead animal unless it is one of our own. We certainly do not stop for them, outraged at the lack of respect. Maybe we shake our heads, say ‘how sad,’ and drive on. I know do. I say a prayer for them, wishing them a good journey and hope their next life, if there is one, is better, longer. Sometimes I will even cry about it my car, angry at us humans for making the world into such a ridiculously convenient place for ourselves and our cars, losing sight of the fact that we are not the only ones living in it.

We say we love animals, they are a part of our world, our lives, we are all connected. But how many of us stop to remove them from the road, ones we don’t know? Who stops for the random chipmunk or snapping turtle? How many of us would brave traffic to give them some kind of respectful end, even if that just means dragging their remains off into the weeds or grass to decompose with dignity, preventing them from eventually becoming just a smear on the pavement?

Nature is cruel, people will say. But cars are not nature. Cars are human designs, roads are human designs. For all our love of animals, I think that there are some barriers between us we have still to cross, barriers we humans have created.

Our brains are bigger, we have evolved to be, arguably, the ‘smartest’ animal on the planet. We have shaped this world to our own ends to an unrivaled scale that no other creature shares. But that doesn’t make us better, more worthy, than any other living thing; only different. It’s the result of an evolutionary development or a divine gift (or maybe both), depending on where you stand with that argument. A gift that, to my mind, wherever it comes from, requires judicious use. “With great power comes great responsibility,” as Voltaire (and Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) once said.

We humans have the most power on the planet. It is up to us to be responsible with it, use it well, not abuse it. Not see ourselves as better just because we are a bit more intelligent than the other beings we share the world with. We are all animals, living creatures in this world, not separate from each other even if we are not alike. A monkey is different from a fish, a lion from a gazelle, a mosquito from the dog it bites. We may love one more than another, but that is a human choice. We are different too, but not better, more worthy of life or regard. And we shouldn’t see ourselves as such.

To me, that is why the dead animal remains: it is still lesser to us somehow, less worthy, and even if we feel great sorrow at seeing it, we do not move past that sorrow often enough to give them a dignified end. We do not risk our lives and limbs, risk being thought ‘weird’ or ‘crazy’ for pulling a carcass off the road. But if we didn’t do that for a fellow human, we would be a monster. Certainly if we hit a human with our car and fled the scene, just left them there, we would be, at the very least, a criminal.

I don’t have a good answer for any of this, but I am going to work on it. I hope others who understand my feelings will, too.