Wednesday, 11 February 2009


On Sunday night, I got a frantic call from my daughter not long after she and her friend had left the house, on their way to the local supermarket to buy themselves some chocolate. A cat had been hit by a car right in front of them, and left there to die.

"I've got her by the side of the road now," my daughter said, her voice thick with tears, "but she's hurt. What should I do?"

"Did the car go right over her?"

"Yes! The driver was speeding -- he didn't even stop!"

"How bad is it? Are a lot of bones broken? Is she bleeding?" I hated to tell my daughter this, but my first thought was to put the cat out of her misery. A stray cat run over by a car is fresh out of luck, but having it happen on a Sunday night makes it just about hopeless.

"It's bad," my daughter all but whispered. "She was trying to get away, but she could hardly move."

I felt like crying. "Honey, is there anything heavy around like a shovel or a big rock...?" I could not finish the sentence. My daughter is squeamish. I closed my eyes and waited for shrill protests, but none came.

"At first I thought I might have to do that -- when I saw the car go over her -- but she's not bleeding. Do you think she might be okay?"

I didn't, but I gave my daughter the emergency phone numbers for the local animal rescue center and hoped for the best, but ten minutes later I got another anguished call.

"No one answers!"

"Try one more time, okay?"

"Please mom," my daughter pleaded, "if you come here, you'll know what to do!"

I didn't. Still, it's been a long time since my 17-year-old assumed I knew what to -- or admitted it to me -- and there was no alternative. I woke up my husband and we drove down to where the cat was. A middle-aged man was waiting with the girls. He'd seen the accident, the girls reported, and had spoken to them in Turkish, then gone home. Five minutes later, just as they'd given up hope that anyone would stop to help, he'd come back with an old sheet to cover the cat, and he had waited with them by the side of the road -- at a respectful distance -- until we came.

We took the back cat home and I hardly expected her to last the trip. She had no obviously broken bones, but she was shocked and disoriented and although she could move, you could tell she had internal injuries by the way she held herself. We covered her well; we tried to give her water and chicken broth, but she would not take them. So my daughters knelt by her side and petted her gently; they told her that she was a beautiful and brave cat and that we would all do our best to help her.

The cat responded: she stopped trying to get up and run away. And then she purred. I almost wish she hadn't.

Our acquired daughter managed a small miracle: she found an English-speaking veterinarian who was prepared to open her clinic and treat a stray cat, so we all got back into the car and my long-suffering husband drove us to the vet's, taking every speed bump at five miles an hour to spare the cat any undue movement. The vet gave the cat painkillers and put her on a drip, and her own cat happily settled on top of the injured cat's cage to keep her company.

I did my best not to think about how much it would cost us, even with my daughter's assurance that she would use her babysitting money to help pay.

The doctor was wonderful and she did the best she could , but the cat died on Tuesday morning. The vet refused to accept payment.

I had a friend in Tokyo who claimed that no matter how much she loved animals, she couldn't help loving people more. Friends of hers, she said, tended to like animals more as they grew older. Their husbands had grown cold, their children didn't need them so much, and, eventually, even friends proved false, but their pets were forever faithful. "I love my dog, but still, he's just a dog," my friend said. "Even if friends turn against me, even if people don't return the kindness and generosity I show them, I can't help it: I always prefer the company of people."

Part of me feels the same way. I love people. Even those I don't get along with well can be charming and inspiring and endlessly entertaining. But any student of history, anyone who follows the news, anyone with half an eye open, knows that we can be a hateful, brutish lot. We can be cruel to our own species, and cruel to the animals who enrich our lives in so many ways. And although I don't know the man who saw fit to leave a cat he'd hit by the side of the road to die in agony, when I think about him and others like him, any cat or dog I've ever known wins hands down. We saw a dog a week ago that had obviously been chained to a post and left without food. Her neck was rubbed raw and bloody all the way around; her ribs were showing, and yet she was friendly and loving to us and happily accepted the pretzels my daughters offered her. When I think about the person who mistreated her, I am certain that I would vastly prefer the dog's company.

Why can't we just be kinder? Why are there so many people who so thoughtlessly mistreat helpless animals -- and so many others who are far, far worse to their own species? Too often 'humanity' has a very hollow ring.

"The man who gave us the sheet was so sweet," my daughter reminded me. "He brought it back from his house, then he just stood there, waiting, but he stood far enough away so we wouldn't think he was hitting on us." A good man.

I picture the vet, leaving the warmth of her home on a cold, windy night to take care of a stray cat whose treatment would garner her no income. Whose clinic was full of redeemed and rehabilitated strays. And I picture my daughter and her friend, all too often as selfish as your average teenager, 100 meters away from the chocolate they desperately wanted, but unable to walk away from an injured animal.

And I think that there is always hope, even for us.


Julia said...

Mary - I came over here from Verla's to read this - I knew it would be about the little kitty. I will say again - your daughter, the vet, you, your husband (and since reading this - the man who brought the sheet) - you are all wonderful people. You are all the kind of people I would want as a friend. I have no answers as to why people can be so horrid to animals (and other people.) As always, the only control we have is over ourselves & I think as long as we continue to act in the kindest and most humane/humanitarian ways we can, we enrich the world - just as you all did for that little cat. Acts such as these are not lost in the ether - they continue to grow & bless, although we may not see it immediately.


adrienne said...

I read your post about this the other day on Verla's, and I'm so sorry for the ordeal you went through.
You can take pride in the values you've instilled in your girls.

debra said...

It's hard to find a response, so I will simply let the silence speak.

Christy said...

You made me cry.

I'm like your friend in Tokyo. I love animals, but they'll never be the same as people for me. And I think you've hit on why too. It's not because humans can be ugly. It's because humans can choose to be beautiful and sometimes, on a bad night with a hurt cat, they make the right choice.

Charlie said...

This is a tough one for me because both of our rescue dogs are lying under my desk at my feet as I type this. Their terror is gone, and they are able to trust and love like canines were meant to be.

But there are millions more left to die, often slowly, and through no fault of their own.

Their only hope are humans like the ones in your story, the ones who care about both other humans and the animals.

The problem is, there are too few of you.

Nandini said...

You're so right about humanity having a hollow ring when animals are callously mistreated. I believe animals feel many emotions; love, loyalty and certainly fear. How we treat them has more to do with who we are than who they are (less than, equal to, or whatever) Gandhi said the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated. I agree.

Thanks for posting this wonderfully touching account of the incident.

Ello said...

Mary - it's a beautiful post. I'm glad you put it up. I'm not an animal person but the worst feeling I ever had was when I thought I hit a bunny rabbit. I cried hysterically and made my husband search all over the place to find the bunny. Turns out I didn't hit it and it probably got home safe, but that feeling that I might have taken another life, has never left me. I don't know how people can be so heartless about animals. Thank goodness for people like the vet and your daughter and you!

Chris Eldin said...

Aww. I almost had hope the cat would live. This is such a beautiful story of the best in people. Thanks for sharing it.

As a side note, what really got to me the most was your daughter looking at you as a hero--someone who would know what to do no matter what. You did many things right to have that kind of relationship with your child.

Happy Valentine's Day. Can't wait to see what (ahem) gift you will get.

Chris Eldin said...

This is very interesting, to me....I posted my comment before reading everyone else's. I took the good from this post instead of the bad--but well aware of the bad. My previous comment was meant in that vein...

Mary Witzl said...

Julia -- Thank you for that lovely comment. I also believe that kind acts aren't lost, and that even acts that are mostly kind are worth something -- and are at the very least, a good start.

We're really not wonderful people here, though I'd love to bask in this compliment! I'm privileged to know many wonderful people, though, and some day I fully intend to publish all their stories.

Adrienne -- Thank you. My daughters drive me insane half of the time -- I have to hound them to get the dishes done or their rooms swept or laundry hung out, and taking out the trash is a sore point. But on this occasion, I really was proud of them. And I guess I'd rather have them do something like this than live pristine lives...

Debra -- I wasn't going to write about this at first -- it seemed so depressing, especially when the cat died. But then it struck me that were a few positive things here too.

Christy -- Yes, it is so cheering to see people who've had every chance to indulge themselves and ignore the needs of others, but choose to do otherwise. And in truth, although my cat often comforts me and seems to know when I'm upset, it is my human friends who have cared for me when I'm ill or come to help me move when they had better things to do. Our capacity for love and goodness is as moving as our capacity for greed and cruelty is depressing.

Charlie -- I loved your post about those Christmas dogs. I'm grateful that there are people like you who will take in abused dogs and give them a better life. We should all keep spreading the word and doing what we do -- that is all we really can do.

Nandini -- My mother loved that Gandhi quote about animals and she frequently used it. Whenever I see people showing animals kindness -- and affection -- I can't help feeling moved. If they show the same to their fellow human beings, I know they are truly enlightened.

Ello -- I know exactly how you feel. One night my husband and I were driving through Miyazaki (in Southern Japan) and found ourselves driving along a road where there were literally hundreds of frogs having a love-fest. We had to take a different route. I felt terrible about the ones we'd already gotten. If they'd been rabbits, I'd have felt even worse. And I speak as a gardener...

Chris -- Your comment was fine -- that was just what I intended!

My relationship with our eldest can be strained at times, but I realize that she still sees me as someone who can Do Things, and yes -- that is huge. I just wish I could have saved that cat.

As for the Valentine's Day present, I'm not holding my breath. I have to tell myself that this is the guy that got out of bed to take a stray cat to the vet, and he's not even all that much of a cat man. Wish he'd given me Valentine chocolate too, but you can't have everything.

Bish Denham said...

A bitter-sweet post, Mary. I can't tell you how many animals I dragged home. Thank goodness my parents were tolerant and caring, as you are. That caring has obviously been passed on to your daughter, and your daughter will pass it on to her children. The chain of human kindness has been strengthened and made longer and the world is a better place for it.

Jacqui said...

Mary, you're a good soul. And I agree with Chris; the part that touched me most is that no matter how old we get, we sometimes want our mommies to help when we don't know what to do.

A Paperback Writer said...

You, Mary, are a saint.
Three cheers for the sheet man and the vet as well.
I'm not particualrly an animal lover, but you people are impressive.
(In Russia, once, I saw a car mow down an old woman the same way. My driver refused to stop.)

Anne Spollen said...

Well, we are a family that rescues the next-on-the-list at the shelters,and they often come to us in horrible shape.

But this post made me cry --not just for the poor kitten, but also about how tender a heart your daughter has. What a wonderful family you guys are!

Mary Witzl said...

Bish -- I love hearing people's stories about rescuing animals, and I know yours would be interesting. My mother rescued cats and dogs, and my sisters have followed in her footsteps (I am nothing compared to them). And you are right: this is obviously something that tends to be passed down in families. Long may it continue.

Jacqui -- It really got to me too -- especially since half the time she acts as if I don't have a clue. Frankly, if my own mother were still alive, I'd have been tempted to ask for her help.

APW -- I'm no saint at all, but I am horrified by your Russian story. What did you do? What could you do? Why would someone just mow a woman down and leave her like that? Dear God, it's horrible enough that this happens to animals. That would have traumatized me for months.

Anne -- Good for you for doing that -- I love hearing these stories! My husband and I once had time to kill and we decided to visit an animal shelter, in England. It was just heart-breaking and I left in tears. I wondered if anyone would adopt some of those animals, and now, having heard your story, I know that they do!

Lily Cate said...

Sometimes, I think all I can do is try to help the little bit I can, encourage others to do the same, and try to ignore out the ones who refuse.

Ello reminded me of an incident from high school.
I was driving a group of friends home from a concert at night, with my brother in the passenger's seat. We were just merging onto the interstate when a little bunny darted out and ran stratight at my van. I don't even know if I hit it, it was so small, but I was horrified, and there was no way to pull over on such a big highway. My brother, very kindly told me at least half a dozen times that the bunny was fine, he had seen it hop off into the night.
Total crap, I'm sure, but he was so sweet about it. Trying to make me feel better.

Patois said...

Beautiful. I cry, but I smile at the wonderful people who were there for just some random stray cat.

Mary Witzl said...

Lily -- I know how you must have felt. I had an awful time when I was learning to drive. We lived in an area that was absolutely lousy with bunnies and my instructor had to remind me many times that one bunny was not worth an accident involving several cars. I'm good about checking my rear view mirror now, but it took me ages to learn not to brake indiscriminately for bunnies.

Patois -- Me too! We're going to take the sheet back one of these days. I'm going to try to learn how to say something suitable in Turkish. And we took the vet a big bag of cat and dog food for her animals.

Katie Alender said...

Injured animals make a wreck out of me. In college, I saw a cat get hit by a car on my way to class; the way my then-boyfriend reacted when I told him about it is probably what made me realize that I should keep him around and marry him several years later.

A year after that happened, I actually saw the cat. It had one eye and looked sort of grouchy, but it was clearly the ruler of the stadium parking lot.

So many of these stories end sadly. At least that cat knew kindness and comfort.

I can't help being more touched by animals than people. I just can't.

Katie Alender said...

(When I say "that cat", I mean the cat in your story.)

Tabitha said...

An amazing story. I read your post about this on the blueboards and have been meaning to leave a comment here since I saw this post go up.

I think it's wonderful what your daughter did. And it says a lot about you and how you raised her. :)

I have an aunt who takes in strays all the time (in her home), and it's almost like all the animals in the neighborhood know her house is a safe house. They all flock to her when they're injured, but don't always stay after they've recovered. She even had a chicken come round once. :)

So when I hear of people who can run over a cat and not stop, or chain a dog to a fence and not feed it, I think of her. It makes me feel better. :) Thanks for sharing this story. :)

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- I'm so glad that the cat you saw get hit ended up okay -- and still the boss cat!

When we were younger, my sisters and I used to vet all boyfriends by how kind they were to animals. Kindness to animals was a huge factor in determining the suitability of a potential mate. Obviously you were doing the same thing!

Tabitha -- Good for your aunt! One of my sisters takes in so many stray dogs or cats that her house is now well known in her neighborhood as the place animals can be dumped, in all sorts of conditions. I love people who do this.

In Japan and the U.K., I made friends with dozens of cat and dog people in every neighborhood I lived in. It is always comforting to find other people who love animals and treat them well.

Barbara Martin said...

I tend to like animals much more than people, and your post helped to re-affirm that. Most people try to give a helping hand to an injured animals, they have that spark to nurture and care.

In your care for your daughter that aspect of you has made its mark, where she called you in trust that you would make the situation better. And you did, in a way.

Great post, touching.

AnneB said...

Mary, even though I already knew how the story came out, it still brought tears to my eyes when I read your blog this morning. You have a wonderful gift with words. Please keep sharing! Anne