Oh damn, I just ran over a squirrel. I hope it was the tail, please let it be the tail and not the body. The tail. Please!
The squirrel had just run across the street, safely passing a couple feet in front of me and my bike. And then, as squirrels often do, for some inexplicable reason (stupidity? daredevilness? feelings of depression during these difficult times of pandemic?), it stopped, paused, and then turned and ran back from where he/she had just come from. Right under my bike, between the wheels.
That’s when I felt the thump.
I was already 20 feet past the scene … and kept going. And started worrying about the squirrel. Was he/she OK? Was it hurt? Wounded? Dead? I did a quick loop around the block and rode back to the scene … and didn’t see it.
That’s a relief. It must be OK. But wait, maybe I miscalculated and missed the spot where I hit it? Is it further back? Maybe I should loop around again.
I did, and saw a man walking his dog. The dog was quite excited. Pulling at the leash, barking, straining to get away from his owner and toward something on the road. “Leave it alone, leave it alone,” the owner kept telling his dog.” And there it was, the squirrel. And he/she was hurt. Hurt bad. Its back legs didn’t seem to be working and it was pulling itself across the road with its front paws. Slowly. Very slowly.
Oh no, this is terrible, this is terrible. I broke its spine. It’s paralyzed from the waist down. Do squirrels even have waists? This is horrible. What do I do? What should I do?
I circled around the block again, back to the squirrel, which had stopped trying to crawl. It was lying there in the middle of the street, panting. He/she was looking at me. “J’Accuse,” it seemed to be saying (if squirrels speak French). “J’Accuse.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault. Why’d you have to run back under my heels when you were already safely past me? Why?”
It didn’t answer.
Should I find something to smash it over the head with, and end its misery? That’s the humane thing to do, right? It’s what they did for Ol’ Yeller when he started foaming at the mouth. With what? A rock? Maybe I could run it over again with my bike. Would that even work or just make things worse? No way, I can’t smash this poor squirrel over the head with a rock or run it over again on my bike. I just can’t. I won’t. I’d have to live with that image forever. Can’t do it.
I rode around the block again, upset, unsure what to do.
I called Susan. She’s the most ethical and humane person I know. I’m the one who has to turn off the TV. We agreed that killing the squirrel was out of the question. No smashing it over the head. Susan suggested moving it off the road and onto the grass. I was reluctant. I didn’t want to touch it. I said I’d think about moving it, and said goodbye. I started to ride around the block again, and saw, a hundred or so yards past the squirrel, a shovel, leaning again a fence next to some sort of township construction project. Why they left a shovel there, and thought nobody would steal it, is another mystery. But I’m glad they did. I picked up the shovel, rode back to the squirrel and gently, ever so gently, moved it off the road and onto the grass of someone’s lawn. What, you thought I was gonna smash it over the head with the shovel?
The squirrel barely moved as it lay in the grass. Its little paws quivered ever so slightly, and its mouth opened and closed as it panted silently. I actually did think about smashing it over the head with the shovel, and sort of took a practice swing, but again … no way, I just couldn’t do it. I can’t kill a squirrel on purpose with a shovel. Or any living thing. Except a mosquito. Or a geupe.
I returned the shovel, rode around the block yet again, stopped and took a photo of the squirrel. To send to Susan, with a text telling her I’d moved it onto the grass. A woman walking her dog, stopped and asked me what had happened. I told her the sad story, and she said her dog – who was lunging at his leash – would be happy to take care of things. We agreed that would be brutal and horrible and something we couldn’t bear to witness. We agreed the only thing I could do was leave the poor squirrel where it was to eventually die. You know, let nature take its course.
I rode around the block three or four more times, checking on the squirrel, hoping it would have quietly gone to sleep forever. Nope. Every time I passed, the squirrel was in exactly the same position, panting silently, but otherwise perfectly still and alive.
Is it in pain? Is it suffering? What else can I, should I do?
Two more passes around the block and I reluctantly decided to head home. And thought about the poor little squirrel the whole ride back. I couldn’t help but notice all the other squirrels in the vicinity gave me and my bike plenty of distance. They knew what we’d done, as word travels fast in the squirrel community.
P.S.: I rode by the spot of the “incident” the next day … and the squirrel was still there. Lying in the exact same position in the same day, but dead. Very, very dead. I was a little bit relieved. And sad. On the way home, I saw something special: An albino squirrel. Was it the ghost of the squirrel I’d killed? Perhaps. The photo below was the best I could get, as the albino squirrel wouldn’t cooperate when I asked him to stay still and move out from behind all the branches. Was he afraid of me? Had he heard about the killer bike?
P.S. (2): I rode by the site of the thump two days later … and the squirrel was gone. The grass was freshly cut, so someone must have removed he/she before they cut the grass. I hope they treated it with the respect he/she deserved.
Also: If you’ve read this far … thanks! And perhaps you’d like to read this story, about the Great Blois Bike Mishap. Or others on my blog.