We’ve all seen at least one of those short videos about how some animal, whales and deer seem to rate high in this arena, where the animal becomes trapped, often due to the negligence of some fisherman or hunter, in some kind of life threatening situation then some stranger happens across the poor critter and puts his / her own life or health at risk to save it.
Viewers seem to love this stuff. The helper likely gets more than 15 minutes of fame as a animal hero. The animal, once freed by this creation-loving human, swims or runs off only to pause at the last moment to, in raw animal terms, blow his rescuer a kiss of thanks as the credits start to roll.
I’ve always thought these videos present only the few scenarios that work well as click bait. For some reason, we never see the videos where the brave rescuer; get squashed by a struggling whale fluke, gored by a panicking bull, bit by the scared dog or mauled by the trapped cougar. You know as well as I do that some may have even died attempting to rescue an animal in distress — but we’ll never see those videos – brrr, with good reason. I could happily live the rest of my life without ever seeing someone die trying to comfort a traumatized bear.
So, that said, I have two principals to stand up before telling this next story.
- The life of a person is always worth more than the life of an animal.
- The life of an animal should never be treated as value-less.
Also in my pragmatic view of where we need to live life somewhere between two principals, I posit that humankind and critter-kind are always going to contest with one another. Sometimes we will take them for food or kill them to prevent them from destroying our crops. Sometimes we will get bitten, mauled, squashed or maimed by not respecting their sense of territory or presenting ourselves as something that looks to them like food.
So in most cases of humans coming upon an animal in distress, a decent person will want to help, but the wise person will quickly recall if they have anyone, a spouse or child or grandchild or friend, depending on them for life or comfort and only then act either to help or step back and find some humane way to respond.
Yesterday, I had my chance to work through my own logic. Here’s how it played out.
For those who don’t know me well, know that I still have my one and only bride in bed with me each night and we have adult children who want to keep us around a while longer and none of them need to spend any time running medical errands for the sheer fun of it all.
In our back yard, we have a plum tree which has been through a lot itself. Some trees get planted and grow happily and thrive. This tree had a different calling so there’s was trunk damage as a young sprout. There’s been some sort of tree rash that attracted bugs and damaged much of its new growth for several years. Its blossoms have been ravaged by our often gnarly winds and its fruit have been pilfered by birds.
This past few years, I’ve been trying to give it some tree TLC and this year, we’ve been rewarded with a record crop of amazingly tasty plums; so much so that a large fruit-covered branch broke under the weight. Seriously. . .!? Can’t this tree catch a single break? Um, no pun intended.
Knowing how this would play out if I just let nature take its course, I had purchased a big tree net and wrapped the tree in a shield of protection – which worked very well – thank you. The fruit just keeps coming and we could not be happier.
But yesterday, during one of my morning strolls around the yard, I noticed some odd movement at the base of the netting surrounding the tree. It did not look at all like wind, so I vectored over to investigate and yes, found a citizen of the local rodent population entangled in my netting, obviously from trying to pilfer some of our plums.
He (and I offer only sarcastic apologies for presuming on his preferred pronoun but am not qualified to determine even the gender of birth of a squirrel) — he was an adult gray squirrel and he had tied quite a knot. Each of his five limbs and head were badly snagged.
So, what were my options?
- I could just let him be and hope he works things out. This did not look promising and he most likely would have suffered terribly as he slowly died of dehydration, then starvation, then of the neighborhood feral cat who would have devoured whatever was left of him by the time he was discovered.
- I could call animal control. Sorry, even I would laugh at someone who wanted to spend tax dollars to cut a squirrel out of a tree bird net.
- I could whip out my very sharp knife and start cutting him out myself. Hmmm, no. We’re not there yet. That net was a tad pricey and I am not done with it yet. Plus, imagine the fun a struggling squirrel and I could have together — me trying to cut only those parts of the net that bind him and with every success, him being freer to bite me. So no, this was not going to happen. I still have a family who would give me tons of grief if I chose any path that included my own injury.
- I could just go get the BB gun and dispatch him. Had this been a gopher, this would have happened already and we would not be having this conversation because as any yard owner will agree, gophers are the Taliban of landscaping – leaving death and destruction anywhere they are allowed occupy. They are not cute or open to negotiation. They just need to be dispatched as soon as possible. But this was a squirrel who has only threatened one or two of the multitude of plums I have. No, he does not deserve a BB to the head.
- So,is there a compromise between my two main principals that might result in both of us staying healthy with all our blood still inside our bodies? I think this is worth a well-thought-out effort. So here we go.
First, I can’t just reach in by hand and start pulling the net free, nope, no hands within struggle and bite range will be allowed. I did try to grab nearby parts of the net to see if I could pull some of the netting off of him, but no joy on this idea.
I needed some way too get close to each binding line and push or pull it off of his paws so I used my 15″ long weed puller which is a handle, long steel rod with a flattened and forked end. This actually worked pretty well, but he was really well wrapped in the netting so we spent some quality time, he and I trying to undo what he was trying to redo by squirming and, oh yes, I almost forgot, while screaming his distress out so loud I know they had to be able to hear him down in the Petaluma valley. “Dude, be quiet. You’re going to arouse the wrath of the local animals-first folks and we’ll both land in court.”
You have not lived until you tried to help a squirrel while he was screaming for help. Their scream sounds like a whale’s song, just with fewer words and notes. So yea, I soon had a single squirrel audience wanting to know who was torturing who. The entangled squirrel had summoned, I don’t know who: his mate, his king, his aunt, his attorney, their media, or his mistress – but he or she gave me that look of “what in the blankity-blank do you think you’re doing?” before realizing that I out weighed him or her by close to 3 orders of magnitude, so that expression quickly changed to “Sorry mate, but you’re on your own this time,” and off he or she went, squirrel-skipping along the fence line.
Suddenly, I must have pulled enough loops off of his tangled limbs because he squirmed again and, wow, he broke free, which was only sorta great because he was beneath the tree and still inside the net and had nowhere to go. So, of course, he ran straight into the net on the opposite side and thus we effectively restarted the whole process.
Oh no – I’m not going to enter this loop and decided to let him struggle while I prepared the net for the next cycle. I just needed to raise the bundle of netting to give him some openings and means of escape. So I did. I made three large holes for him and we did this dance three more times because he apparently could not see the net or was too busy being scared, but finally after being freed the forth time – whoosh – he was outside.
I expected him to transform into a squirrel rocket and head for the top of the nearest redwood tree, but no, what he actually did was run only about 8 feet away, stopped, (oh you are not going to blow me that stupid animal kiss of thanks are you?) No, he stopped because he found a nut or something to sit back and play with.
I shook my head, picked up my weed tool, reset my netting and left hoping he recalled just enough of the experience to not try to navigate the netting around our tree again.
Finally – no, I did not record any of this adventure for sharing on Facebook or anywhere else. This story is all you’ll get.
I think it was a reasonable compromise between the two principals.
Thanks for stopping by. You are dismissed to go hug a domesticated critter. Leave the yard rodents alone if you can.