Aug 18

A ghastly incident

Category: animals

Tonight I was forced to decide what kind of person to be.  As such things often go, there was no warning.  It was well after dark, and the final half mile of my 23-mile commute rolled through the middle of my vision, the dotted white line clocking my progress with old-leather familiarity.   Virtually home already, I imagined hugging the cat and playing with the dog.  My thoughts turned to what I’d eat and how I’d spend my evening – a lovely summer night.  As I considered that it would be a great night to sleep with the windows open, my headlights illuminated a bloody, shattered animal.  It stood frozen in the middle of the road, face smashed into a grotesque parody – jaw broken, tongue hanging obscenely in a position that no tongue should ever reach.  Surrounding it was a slick glare of fresh blood, which also covered the front of the creature in a horrific red bib.  It had the same effect on me that seeing a monster would have.  I barely avoided it, then shuddered uncontrollably with revulsion and disgust.  Like a beheaded chicken I continued to roll on for a couple of hundred yards, struggling to control my emotions.  Immediately I knew two things:

  1. That face would haunt me in nightmares
  2. I would have to go back and do something.

Immediately my mind began a frantic search for any slim moral pathway that could justify avoiding having to go back and see that thing.

It wasn’t my fault, I didn’t hit it, it was probably dead already, I couldn’t do anything about it even if it was alive.  Yeah.  Right.  But what if it was alive?  Could I go home as if nothing had happened without being haunted by that god-forsaken creature? I didn’t know how anything could look like that and be alive, but I also knew that it had been standing upright.  Something had to be done, or I would stand trial in my own personal court and know shame.

I turned the car around the block and headed back, half hoping that someone else had splattered it completely, erasing the dilemma.  As it turned out, the situation was unchanged.  I pulled the car up to it, halfway into the road, headlights illuminating the brutal reality.  Leaving the door open, I jumped out and approached.  The car’s headlights, low to the ground, cast creepy, distorted shadows from the creature. The shadows moved; I heard it gasp.  It was definitely alive.

Upon close inspection I could see how awful the injuries were.  One eye was a pulped mess in a half-empty bloody socket.  The smashed jaw hung loosely from the skull, allowing the tongue to point directly at the ground.  Unable to swallow or spit, the possum occasionally choked on its own gore, which drooled uncontrollably into a congealing puddle. One side of its body looked flat, as if hit with a giant hammer.  But yet, it stood!

This took place on a busy local road; cars were zooming by, endangering me, my car and the stricken possum.  I had to get it out of the road.  No way was I going to pick it up – I wasn’t afraid of getting injured – with that jaw, it wasn’t about to bite me.  But, it might try, and hurt itself more, and cover me with blood.  I took the plastic liner from my car’s trunk and placed it next to the possum, then found a thick stick and tried to get it to move onto the plastic.  It didn’t want to cooperate and hissed at me, coughing and gagging on blood.  It was in shock, in pain, terrified.  It soiled itself.  I gently prodded it and eventually got it to walk onto the plastic.  The animal walked well, better than had seemed possible. I then dragged the plastic to the side of the road, and ran to my car to reposition it.  While I did this, I could see the possum moving in a circle, walking off of the mat and back towards the road.  Crap!  I ran back to it and intercepted it just short of the white shoulder marking line.

I had left my phone in the car, but had to stay near the possum to prevent it from walking back into traffic, which was zooming by.  I knew that every minute was critical, that it was bleeding to death, that it was in terrible, unimaginable pain.  Occasionally a driver would realize what was happening, slow down, lower the windows and exclaim in disgust.  “Holy f-ing s–t!  That thing is messed up!”  And then drive away.  This happened several times.  Some took pictures with cell phones. I couldn’t believe it.  “Thanks for f–king helping!” I thought.  They probably assumed I had hit it.  Where was the person who did this – what were they thinking right now?  Marks on the road made it clear that someone had seen it at the last minute, slammed on the brakes while steering hard left, struck a glancing blow and eventually drove away. What were they doing now?  How could they live with themselves?  Screw that.  I’m not letting that happen when I can prevent it – I’m not walking away.  The world is filled with enough crap that I can’t do anything about.  This, I can affect.

Finally someone pulled up and stopped behind my car.  It was a 20-something guy, driving by himself.  I explained what was happening, that I needed him to corral the creature while I retrieved my phone.  He did this and I started making calls.   A chain of frantic calls resulted in the discovery that nobody cared or was prepared to lift a finger.  None of the big animal agencies had a night line.  The police didn’t answer the non-emergency line.  Animal control rang and rang, despite having a “24-hour line.”  The local animal shelter had closed years ago, a victim of mismanagement and constant starvation-level funding.  Finally I managed to scrape up a friend of a friend of a friend, a woman who is a wildlife rehabilitator.  She told me that it was 10:30 PM, she had a job and a kid, and lived an hour away.  I understood, but she was my only hope.  If she couldn’t help me, I would have to euthanize the animal myself.  A secnd car stopped, and half a dozen young people spilled out of it, gushing with disgust but sympatheticwith the animal’s plight.  Now we had a crowd, a crowd of young people at night on the side of a busy road. There was a small traffic jam on each side of the road.  The complexity of disaster management rose sharply. With things like this, people mill about, not wanting to take responsibility.  So I gave orders – you, stand here – do this – call this number – wait here – I’ll be back – etc. It really would have been simpler if it was a human in the road.  More traumatic for all involved, yes.  But, the police would have cared, an ambulance would have come.  First aid would have been somewhat obvious.

As a non-hunting, bleeding-heart pacifist liberal who has never killed anything other than a fish – and even then with reservations – I considered how to dispatch this possum.  It was larger than my cat.  My wife suggested my pellet gun, but never having shot an animal, I wasn’t sure that I knew how to shoot it so that it would die right away instead of causing more suffering.  I thought of the machete hanging in my shed.  It is basically a sword,  and I’m pretty sure that I could decaptitate a possum, or even a person for that matter – but again – not being in practice with such things, would I do it right? I could easily wind up missing and being forced to hack the poor thing to death, slashing at it like  a member of the manson family.  What else?  Brain it with a 2X4?  Run it over with the car? Gas it with exhaust?  This woman on the other end of the phone just had to help – she just had to.  I didn’t want to deal with the horrible consequences of being forced to act and having no skills.  But by god, I was going to do it.  Not fair to let this poor creature die slowly in agony merely because of my sqeamishness.  I was determined to deal with this one way or the other.

To my eternal gratitude, she agreed to help.  My wife and I made an impromptu cage from a milk crate and a board, put it in the back of the car and headed south.  The crowd dispersed without incident.  We’d end up driving 30 minutes and meeting the rehabilitator – named P.F. –  half way.  The possum seemed to be doing well, considering – the major bleeding had stopped, but we could hear it moving around, and hear it gasping.  The rich, gamy smell of living blood spread through the car as we sped in the darkness towards death or salvation.

We transferred the poor creature to P.F.’s vehicle in the parking lot of a ramshackle liquor store in the middle of nowhere, like some sort of drug deal. She told us that she would stabilize it with fluid injections and antibiotics, but could not give it pain killers for a variety of reasons – all rational, but none satisfying.  The possum would just have to make it through the night until a wildlife veterinarian could give it a thumb up or down in the morning.  I wondered if I should have taken it to an emergency pet vet and begged them to euthanize it – I’d pay for it – but P.F. told us that possums are surprisingly tough, that many had made it through these kinds of injuries and been rehabilitated, that losing an eye was not that important to them and they routinely did well that way.  Besides, working with wild animals requires a special license that believe it or not, many veterinarians don’t have; they might well refuse to deal with it.  I let her take it, my wife wrote a check for a donation to the clinic,  and wished for the best.  I’ll post the outcome here when I find out.


2 Comments so far

  1. Holly August 23rd, 2008 12:18 AM

    I am shuddering just remembering this. Egads. What a night.

  2. Niffer August 25th, 2008 9:53 AM

    Wow. I have no words.

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