Wildlife rescue – why disney got it wrong (part 2)
(continued from previous blog…)
Twenty minutes after getting the rescue call about the baby deer that had been attacked by the dog we arrived at the location: a postcard-pretty farm where we were met at the front gate by a cheerful teenage girl who directed us down a long hedge-fringed lane.
‘She’s smiley’ said Trevor. She was indeed, which was sort of strange.
We parked at a house and met the farmer who walked us to a collection of barns. Whilst walking he turned to me and said, ‘I’m not a shooter, if I was I would have put a bullet through its head. I just can’t do that, I really can’t’
Either the deer was in trouble or he was a sadist. I kind of hoped he was a sadist but then again I hoped he wasn’t. We were a long way from anywhere.
In the barn there was a makeshift pen made out some metal fencing with some hay scattered in it and on the hay lay a baby deer. It had big black eyes, pointy ears and chocolate markings. It’s legs lay out beneath it. It was gorgeous. Disney perfect.
Then it moved. Or rather tried to move. As soon as it saw us it tried to get up to run but it couldn’t, it’s wild jerking forcing it to spin in cruel circles on the floor, its legs not working.
The farmer explained. ‘We found it stuck on the barbed wire fence this morning whilst walking the dogs, it was hanging by its foot and the dogs went for it’.
The daughter was there looking at the deer. She was not smiling. Which I felt better about.
Trevor had explained to me already how deer get their feet caught on stock fencing. It’s a fairly common occurence this time of year (mid summer), fallow deer will follow their mother and if she jumps over a barbed wire fence they will too. Since they are young they can’t jump very high and so their body gets over but their back leg (or rather their foot) goes under the top strand and then gets twisted around the next strand, leaving them hanging upside down. To make matters worse the mother is helpless, having to abandon the child after a few hours (they may return repeatedly to check but it’s helpless). The baby will then suffer further from lack of food/water, infection on the foot ligature wound and/or from being attacked, as in this case by a dog.
‘Let’s have a look at the wound from teh dog’ said Trevor.
I could already see that the foot was bad – the wire had gone straight into the flesh and it was twisted and bloody.
‘We can sort the foot out,’ said Trevor, ‘it will probably recover from that with some care’
He stepped into the pen and carefully dropped a towel over the deer’s head to calm it and then gently straddled its upper body.’
As he slowly lifted the hind leg to see what damage the dog bite had done I saw it for myself – a huge chunk had been ripped out of the back leg – more than a chunk, half of it’s rump was missing. The deer let out a scream that cut right through me and that I couldn’t help but interpret as ‘no more’.
I turned away. I couldn’t bear to see this much pain, I simply couldn’t go past this point.I had come up against a wall inside that had a sign on it that said ‘don’t go further’. This deer, this baby, had been hanging upside down all night (Trevor could tell from the infestation of the foot wound how long it had been there), abandoned by it’s mother, only to be ripped open by a dog twelve hours later and then, had it not been for WRAS, left to die.
Ahhhh, too much.
And this is where the disney divide came crashing down on me most violently (sound of V LARGE smashing plates off stage left) When I saw the flesh hanging out of its backside like something from the butchers I was looking at both a living being AND meat: it was hard to hold the two possibilites in mind at once, Bambi / Steak, Steak / Bambi. If this sounds awful and ridiculous – well it is. We see meat everyday in teh supermarkets and yet we are utterly squeamish about the process behind it.
And let’s not forget – I eat meat. I love the taste of it. But in that moment if someone had given me a venison burger I’d have….I don’t know what I’d do ..I was going to say I woudl have thrown it to the dogs but that would be wrong.
Trevor knew the deer had to be put down.
‘If the wound was lower we could amputate. But it’s so high on the leg. There’s just no way. There’s not even enough skin to stitch it back up’
He called a local vet to get the authority to use powerful sedatives that would effectively render it unconscious until we could get it to them to be put down. Trevor is not qualified (and he is too conscientious) to stock drugs to euthanise animals. Personally I wished he could kill the poor thing right there and then. Shoot the living fuck out of it, and I never thought I’d say that sentence in a compassionate way.
I helped carry the deer to the car and we rode back with it to the nearest vets. It’s eyes were open the whole way back but it wasn’t reactive. This cartoon beauty was leaving us. The vet then injected it in the neck and it passed away with a few disturbing coughs, apparently a natural release of air after an animal has died. (I kept on freaking out – asking the vet if it was still alive. The vet, with empty syringe in hand and years of practice under her belt looked at me like ‘are you a relative of it or something?’)
We then drove back to the WRAS centre and I carried the lifeless thing inside , heavy but soft,where it was packed away ready to be disposed of. I went upstairs to make a coffee, took a deep breath and then cried over the kitchen sink.
A curious feeling came to me amidst the tears. I realised that the mental wall I had come up against was something I wanted to clamber over. As horrible as the pain was I needed to get over it. Because on the other side there promised so much tenderness. In the land of ‘I don’t know how to handle this’ and ‘what the fuck is happening?’ there was something real. There is much of life in joy, but there is even more of it in pain. It’s hard to really explain this wihtout recourse to either waffle or ballshit, but to see that much suffering made me realise how alive we all are. I mourned the deer but I also felt grateful – grateful not just for people like Trevor and all the amazing volunteers at WRAS but grateful for the fact that within the spectrum of human emotion it is possible to care.
I’m reminded of a line from Johnny Cash’s version of ‘Hurt’ a song that moves me incredibly:
I hurt myself today / to see if I still feel.
Shoot me now for my sentimentality but that’s how it was (and be aware this isn’t a movie and I too am made of flesh)
And thinking about it, when I first watched Bambi I also remember crying. And how I cried! And come to think of it, Bambi also lost his mother and was threatened by vicious dogs. Maybe Disney didn’t get it so wrong after all. Perhaps we did understand the sadness and pain of animals when we were young. Why is so much of it forgotten?
I made this little video straight after I came away from the deer. It kind of says all of what I said above…but, er, in video form.
(And in case you are interested…here is the video of the badger that was released at 2:30am the previous night. Just to show that most of what WRAS do is abotu saving animals, not just putting them out of their misery. The reason it was released by the side of the road is that it’s crucial to release the animal where it was found. But OBVIOUSLY,for safety reasons it was released in the middle of the night.)