With a small Russian tortoise in one hand and an overflowing bag of trash in the other arm, I flew through the gate without even glancing down. After depositing the garbage and "Crunchy," the tortoise, I greeted my big black dog, Boomer, and let out a blood-curdling scream. At Boomer's feet lay a slightly damp, foot-long rat. And it wasn't dead. Yet.
Boomer panted happily; his fat pink tongue lolling out of his mouth. I stood glued to the pavement, feeling kind of silly for over reacting to this obvious non-threat. My daughter yelled from the front door, "Mom? Are you okay?" I had to explain the situation and then, of course, the entire neighborhood ran over to get a look at "the rat."
I kind of didn't know what to do. The children immediately suggested feeding it. That seems to be their first course of action for a sick anything. One of the girls wanted to stab it. That scared me. I rushed into the house to get Boomer out of there and collect my senses.
I wanted to put the rat out of its misery because it surely must be dying, but that isn't something a multigenerational humane person does. I've seen my husband crush a gopher with his boot as easily as if he were stepping on winter leaves.
The kids were making a lot of noise, so I peeked through the window. Now my son and his best friend had joined the group huddled around the rat.
Suddenly, I reached to unclasp the window, already in directorial mode, "I know what to do."
"Mom! He needs food!"
"Let's put him in a box until daddy gets home. I'll be right out."
So we did. One girl ran and got a Nike shoe box and a Styrofoam cup that she'd cut down and filled with water. Perfect. Careful not to touch the rat, I gently nudged it onto a flat-nosed shovel and set it into the box, near the water, and closed the lid. Hours later I looked in the box and the rat had died with its nose in the water.
While driving to work this morning, I ruminated on the former exciting afternoon and lamented the rat's demise. I actually said it out loud to myself alone in the car, "poor thing."
I just read a book about a man (Timothy Treadwell or Tim Dexter was his real name) and woman (Amie Huguenard) who were killed and eaten by a bear in Alaska and didn't have the same reaction. Why?
Then the answer came to me.
Because the rat didn't want to die, and there are much crueler ways to die in the wild. My son pointed out that he could have been eaten by "Riley," our wild caught king snake who we recently let loose in the back hill. That's not a pretty way to go.
Yes, that and a million other ways, I thought.
So, what's the meaning of this rumination into the jaws of death? I dunno, but it sure has me thinking about being a vegetarian.