On one of my first days at HSHV (nearly 13 years ago), I watched one of our Field Rescue staff deftly combing burrs and bugs off a small, young hedgehog. He had freed the poor critter from a fence in which she was stuck and then brought her back to HSHV to check for injuries. After making her a little better off than before he found her, he released her back into the wild.
“Life is tough for wild animals” is something he repeated often. A very simple statement that carries heavy weight.
During this severe cold snap, I think about all the animals trying to stay warm, to find food and to protect their young.
We worry much about our companion animals, our own and others, during harsh weather. Understandably, dogs and cats carry a special place in our hearts. They are part of our immediate family, and we want to keep them safe.
But wild animals are also part of us. Once, people believed animals were nothing like humans and didn’t even feel pain – and used this belief to excuse unthinkable torture. Today, mounds of study tell us all animals – wild and domestic – are a heck of a lot like us when it comes to feeling physical pain and basic emotion including grief, joy, and attachments to family and others. They are our extended family.
A few nights ago, when the snow fell and the outside temperature gauge in my car read 7 degrees, two young does crossed my path. They looked like sisters and BFFs. An inseparable couple taking in the world together.
I stopped. Rolled down my window to take in their beauty and grace more clearly. They took me in almost as intensely as I them. But for a different reason. Deciding I meant them no harm, they moved on in search of a meal somewhere within the frozen woods of leafless trees and foot-high snow.
A tough life, indeed. How could one not feel respect for wildlife who endure so much just to stay alive?
I can’t help but think about how these lovely creatures are struggling to survive the frigid temperatures only to be gunned down in the coming weeks by sharpshooters.
Shot not because they are sick or injured or because they are causing us sickness or injury. But simply because a handful of people think that 400 deer in a growing city with 160,000 or so residents and students is just too many. That they are somehow negatively impacting our way of life and must go.
I could delve deep into feelings of hopelessness about the selfish and short-sighted character of the human race. But Ann Arbor’s cull isn’t about most humans. It’s about a handful with means and influence.
It includes some who want their suburban homes surrounded by nature, but forget that there are challenges that come with this unique privilege.
It includes some who call themselves “preservationists,” but who believe nature is at its best when it is under man’s control: using guns, cruel metal traps, and poison as “wildlife management” tools.
It includes some public officials who proudly embrace Ann Arbor’s unique history of tolerance and peace-making, but only as it is politically expedient.
These lovely deer sisters exemplified goodness and strength. They were of no harm. They were just doing their best to survive.
Perhaps it’s time we stop studying how similar animals are to humans and start thinking about how humans can act a little more like animals.