This weekend my children unfortunately learned the difference between a good death and a bad death.
On Saturday, we ran our usual errands. The kids stayed in the truck with my dude while I ran into the mill for chicken feed. Inside was a teenage employee chasing the resident tabby who had a chirping young cardinal in her mouth.
It was hot out, so the cat had brought the bird inside to feast on…but first she wanted to torment it. The bird was injured and not capable of flying, so the cat dropped it onto the floor and batted it around a bit as cats do. This is why I am a dog person. Cats are mean.
After finally liberating the bird, a cashier called in the big guy working in the back–A Paul Bunyan type grown on a nearby farm. He reached for the gun hanging in the warehouse and took the bird out front into the parking lot to kill the poor thing who had been partially eaten by the sadistic cat.
Unaware that the bird was murdered in sight of our kids, I checked out then headed to the truck to find the kids all crying in their seat belts . "That man just killed a bird! He just shot it!" they lamented (as my husband continued his cell phone conversation, entirely unaffected).
What they didn’t know is that the little thing was suffering and a quick end is a heck of a lot nicer than being eaten slowly and tortured by the cat. The children did not understand the concept of putting an animal down to relieve suffering if death is inevitable. That is, they did not understand until the following day.
I was in the garden planting more beets because we’ve had four weeks of monsoon rain here and many of my seedlings floated away. As I finished the second row, I stood up and wiped my brow. Ninety-percent humidity does not agree with me since living in cold places. And apparently, it doesn’t agree with furry creatures either. As I turned around, I spied a young red fox nearly right behind me, panting like hell.
"Crap." I thought. "I’m about to get rabies." But instead of hissing at me, he crouched in the grass and waited as I slowly backed away from the garden.
I called to my oldest daughter to go count the chickens. I was sure that fox was the very same that killed our beloved French Hen, Julie, last fall, so I looked around for something to whack it with. All I could find was a hockey stick on the porch nearby. I grabbed it and headed back toward the fox who appeared to be napping.
But when I got close enough for a slap shot, I noticed flies covering exposed flesh, a hind quarter missing all fur, and a puncture wound crusted over with blood just below the rib cage. The poor thing wasn’t going to bite me. He just wanted to die in my garden.
The fox rested again before dragging his backside a foot or two, tucking himself under fragrant lavender, shading his wounds that were baking in the hot sun. He was in such pain. His face winced as he panted. He smelled of death, flies signaling large ravens perched on electric wire above.
I went inside to check on the other kids then back out to see if the poor fox had finally died yet. I wondered which animal out in our back yard had mortally injured him. A coyote?
The children insisted they see the fox and were again in tears. But this time begging me to stop it from hurting. "Get the .22!" pleaded my tween. But I’m not proficient with the shotgun and on the other side of my garden is a very busy road. I called my husband who was an hour out. He said he’d take care of the fox when he got home, but that was too long.
Half an hour later, the fox tried to move again, but couldn’t. His breaths were staggered and pained. The kids came out again to see what I was doing and saw the bloody fox lying there, hurting. I took the opportunity to again explain two kinds of death. "This is why we kill animals that are dying slowly. It’s not right for them to suffer, and that is why that little cardinal was shot at the mill yesterday."
Minutes later the poor thing finally took his last jagged breath. The kids seemed to finally understand. Not only about death and suffering, but also a brief synopsis of conservationism…That humans have dominion over the animals in God’s great design because we are made in his image and can determine right from wrong, unlike animals who are strictly driven by instincts.
If a lion had my legs in his mouth would a nearby Zebra kick me in the head so I’d die quickly? No.
Neither would animals waste money on a billboard stating, "Humans Aren’t Food".
Because the fact is, we are.
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