Saturday 14 July 2012

Horrible Guilt

This morning on the way to yoga I hit one of the kamikaze chipmunks that dart across the bike path.  I feel so horribly guilty I don't know how people live with this kind of guilt.  I should have been paying closer attention.  Normally, I see them coming out of the corner of my eye & break in time for them to squeak by before my wheel touches them.  This time, I wasn't fast enough breaking or the chipmunk wasn't fast enough darting.  I simply could not believe that I hadn't missed him.  I felt the bump and was in horrified shock.  I stopped and put my bike down and ran back.  He wasn't dead but was clearly too seriously injured to live.  I picked him up gently on a large leaf and moved him to the side of the bike path so he wouldn't be hit again.  I see dead chipmunks each year; they get hit often.  He appeared to be in shock and pain.  He was twitching but couldn't straighten his back.  I assume his spine was injured, as well as many internal injuries.  There was no blood.  I watched him for a long time, racking my brains for any wildlife rehabilitator to phone.  I once found a little dying bird by the bike racks at Whole Foods.  It had clearly collided with a car and was stunned and struggling.  I called local vets asking if anyone dealt with birds/wildlife, and none of the vets around here do.  I tried to Google and phone wildlife rehabilitators within a radius of several hundred miles and got nowhere, left a lot of messages.  The little bird died whilst I was making the phone calls.  A woman came up on her bike and offered to take the bird home and bury it, which was kind.  I felt terrible that I couldn't save that bird but at least I hadn't been responsible for killing it.

This time, I didn't even try to make phone calls.  The chipmunk, in his frantic struggles or spasms eventually slid down the steep embankment and I could no longer see him in the undergrowth.  Several people stopped to ask me if I'd lost something and one jogger said she was always terrified of stepping on them when she was out running.  I, too, have nearly squished them when running.  But, until today, I had always managed to avoid hitting one.

On the way home, I stopped again at the accident site to look in the undergrowth down the embankment.  I wasn't expecting to see him and I didn't.  I'd like to believe that he recovered and went on his way but I know better; he was too seriously injured to live, and it is all my fault.  I don't know how other people cope with doing terrible things like this.  He was so cute, so innocent, going about his day.  What if he had a family?  When I see roadkill in the spring, I always wonder if there is a nest of babies at home waiting to be fed, who will die slow, horrible deaths from starvation since their mother is dead, whatever the species.

Five years ago, I saw a tiny bird fly in front of my car from the left but not exit on the right.  When I got to work, I found a little dead bird stuck to the grille.  I have never forgotten this and feel awful whenever I think about it.  We, as humans, have no right to kill wildlife with our big, unnatural machines that animals do not understand how to avoid.

Years ago, my first dog (the great love of my life) was killed by a car.  It was entirely my fault; I did not have a good grip on the leash and it was rush hour and a busy street.  But I have always blamed the driver and wished him ill.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about that driver and hoping fervently that he has a miserable rest of his life.  For my role in my dog's death, as well as the little bird and now the chipmunk, I am racking up an awful lot of guilt.  If I believed in the concept of karma, I'd call it bad karma.  I realise that life is not fair, and the bad are not punished nor the good rewarded but, for killing this poor chipmunk, I do not deserve anything good to happen to me.  I don't see how other people cope with the guilt of being responsible for an animal's death.  It is one of the most horrendous acts, even if totally accidental.

I know that in some countries, such as my favourite country, Sweden, they teach drivers to give animals that they have hit a coup de grace to put them out of their misery.  They say to break its neck.  I could and would never do anything like that.  Where there is life, there is hope.  I do not believe in euthanasia under any circumstances, and I will not violate that.  Yet, I feel guilty that I could not get the chipmunk medical treatment.  I knew it wouldn't survive my taking it home and I didn't want to hurt it or scare it more by handling it.  I just have to live with the guilt, and be miserable about it forever.

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