Friday, February 11, 2011

The Life I Did Save

I saved a squirrel today.

Well, I don't know for sure that I saved him. He may have lived without my help, but it didn't look like things were going that way. And I'm not sure of the gender, but in my head the squirrel is a "him," so that's what I'm going with until I find out differently.

Anna carpools to school with our neighbor. It was their turn to drive, so I watched Anna as she crossed the street, but then I looked down toward my neighbor's house and there they were, Anna's friend and her mom, standing on the street with a cat and a squirrel.

It's important to note that the squirrels in the Twin Cities are not fans of humans. When my wife and I were in San Francisco, at Golden Gate Park, squirrels walked right up to us, stood on their hind legs and basically begged for food. I assume it's like that in some other metropolitan areas as well. But not in the TC. Squirrels cannot run fast enough from humans. If I look in my backyard in the summer, I'll usually see a couple squirrels running around, but when I go out there with the kids, they are nowhere to be seen. So it's a big deal that this squirrel was just walking slowly around two humans on the road.

I walked over there with Anna and checked it out. The cat was just following the squirrel around. Not swatting at him or trying to eat him, as far as I could tell. She was just watching, probably weirded out as we were by the fact that he wasn't running away.

The squirrel seemed to be limping a bit, and after a while we noticed that his hands (or at least one of them) were swollen and red and he had a large lump on his back. Anna and her friend got really close to him and I was worried about rabies, what with our bat experience in the fall. (Holy crap! I forgot to write about our bat experience! I should totally do that.) I suggested they stay a bit further away, but I couldn't blame them for wanting to get close. He was cute and squirrels always run away. Hell, I even wanted to pet the little guy. But instead I ran to my house, got our recycling bin and a piece of an apple. (Do squirrels eat apples? I don't know.)

I was sort of expecting him to run away from me when I approached, but he just sat in the middle of the road and didn't move a muscle. I put the bin on its side on the road and asked him nicely to get in. He didn't. So I moved it right up to him and gave him a gentle pat on the butt with my boot. He crawled in and cowered in the corner. He didn't make an attempt to climb out or anything.

The cat watched all of this from the side of the road.

I brought him into my porch and gave him a little piece of bread, just in case he wanted some carbs. He just huddled in the corner of the bin, scared shitless.

He almost didn't even look like a squirrel to me, he was so still. I went inside and called the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. They said to bring him in, so I did.

On the way there, I kept glancing in the rearview mirror at the recycling bin, scared of two things happening:

1. The squirrel dies en route.
2. The squirrel, refreshed by the heat in the vehicle, jumps out of the recycling bin and starts tearing shit up.

Luckily, neither of these happened. I brought him into the WRC, they said they'd take a look at him. While I was there a woman came in with a box. "Squirrel?" I asked. "Duck," she said. I filled out a form and left.

Here's how I felt: Heroic.

You'll hear vegans say they save lives just by being vegan, but that's not really accurate. We reduce demand, but that doesn't mean there are animals on farms who won't be killed because of someone's vegan choices. Instead, the reduction in demand that vegans create would ideally cause a lessening in demand, thus lessening the amount of animals bought into existence for the sole purpose of being used as a resource. Unfortunately, animal consumption is still on the rise, so the 1% or so of the US population who are vegan don't actually create a net reduction in animals brought into existence for the sole purpose of being used as a resource. It's less of more of the same, instead of less of an equal amount of the same.

I don't feel, on a day to day basis, like I'm saving lives. And I'm not. So bringing this squirrel in has created a much different feeling in me. I'd imagine it's similar to what those involved in open rescues feel when they free animals from farms. "You were going to suffer and die, but because of my actions, you have a much better chance at living a longer life with less suffering."

It's gratifying and alluring. I also feel that it's also sort of ... I don't know. If we're serious about respecting animal interests, then I think the best thing we could do right now is to challenge speciesism on a daily basis with our every-day actions. If we want to built a serious movement, then we need to show that a life without animal exploitation is possible and help people to take the view that animals are moral persons to whom we have obligations, chiefly among them the obligation to not use them as as resources.

This is not to say open rescues and wildlife rehabilitation aren't important. Indeed, to the lives they save, they are the most important thing (since they result in the lessening of suffering and the continuation of life). I guess I'm just trying to say that as long as we live in a society which so routinely devalues non-human animals and treats them as things instead of beings, we probably need to place most of our focus on educating others that, as Joanna Lucas from Peaceful Prairie Sanctuary (an organization that saves lives and educates the public on veganism) has said, "The value of a sentient life is not measured in its utility to others, but in its immense, irreplaceable value to the being whose life it is."

Another angle of thought that this all brings up: I've had a problem in the past with fully supporting wildlife rehabilitation. There's a part of me which thinks that if a wild (or to use a term more accurate: free living) animal is harmed, then that's just part of the life cycle and some predator somewhere will be better off for it. I have felt that by interfering, even to save these animals, we potentially harm ecosystems.

But those thoughts sort of flew out the window when I saw this little squirrel who was obviously injured. I just wanted him to be OK.

I brought this point up to one of the people at the WRC and asked her how she felt about it. She said that there are cases where it's obvious that we shouldn't interfere. She said someone once brought in a mouse that she saved from a hawk who was attacking him/her. But, she said, when a rabbit is hit by a car, or a squirrel is injured by a cat (which may well have been the case with the squirrel I brought in), the injury is due to our interference. By trying to save these animals, we're negating a very small portion of harmful effects our presence has already created.

Because we kill squirrels all the time. About four years ago I ran over one with my car. I can still feel the crunch of his bones. Last year a squirrel died after falling into our chimney. I still remember the smell of death when a nice man came out to remove the carcass (we found out about it because we heard a grinding noise when we turned on our furnace ... and yes, I've since wrapped chicken wire around our chimney). We're responsible for so much unintentional harm to animals. When we have the opportunity to save one of those animals, even when we don't know how they arrived at the injured state they're in, I say go for it. 

I'm even thinking of keeping a box in my car in case I come across any more injured free-living non-human animals. 

And in case you're wondering, I'll post an update on the blog once I find out how the squirrel is doing. I hope to know next week. 


Anonymous said...

Why can't there be more people like you out there? Thanks for helping him/her out!

Al said...

I think there are actually a lot of people out there who are like me in many ways. I think most people are empathetic and, given the immediate chance, would choose to save live rather than destroy it. I feel fortunate to live in an area that has a service like the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, which makes it really easy for me to be one of people.

Jessica @Vegbooks said...

I used to work at a wildlife rehabilitation center as a wildlife advocate. Seeing my colleagues rescue and care for animals kept me grounded. (My heart particularly went out to the baby raccoons whose mothers had been "exterminated" in someone's attic before they discovered the babies -- there were literally dozens of raccoons in this situation every year.)

I see direct care and advocacy working hand in hand. We need to strike at the roots of injustice AND provide assistance to the victims. Further, I think it's important for vegans and vegetarians to be involved with animal rescue, sheltering, and rehabilitation. We may complain about the fundraisers that serve meat, but what say will we have if we merely sit idle while others handle the tough/ dirty/ emotionally trying work of direct animal care?

Nachos said...

"You'll hear vegans say they save lives just by being vegan, but that's not really accurate. We reduce demand, but that doesn't mean there are animals on farms who won't be killed because of someone's vegan choices."

YES. THIS. It totally shits me when people are self righteous vegans and their only claim to helping animals is being vegan. Get out there and DO something, people!

Nice work with the squirrel, by the way! We've had to help out a few kangaroos back home.

Nachos said...

Uh - I posted that before I finished typing! In one case, when we called Wildlife Rescue, their only option was to euthanise the kangaroo (who was severely injured and looked like it hadn't eaten in a couple of days) on our property and leave it there for foxes/other wild life to feed on. I totally "get" the merit of this and didn't argue with the guy because... Well, it's nature. We (humans) may have interferred with that particular situation a little but only to the point of sparing that kangaroo an agonising death.