Our cat, the Mini, is a sweetie with a killer instinct. A few weeks ago, for example, he caught a chipmunk in the front yard — fortunately for the chipmunk I was able to pull the cat away before too much damage was done. One day last summer I found the Mini with a battered and unconcious sparrow. It was too late to save that little guy, so I set up a bit of a gas chamber using the tailpipe of the car and sent the poor creature to what I hope was a peaceful and painless end.
One evening a couple of weeks ago I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when I heard a racket out in the driveway. It was the sound of a flock of birds screeching at the tops of their little lungs, along with the familiar gling gling gling of the bell on the Mini’s collar.
I put down my chopping knife and went to investigate. I found the Mini under the cedars next to the driveway (one of his favorite hiding places) sitting next to a robin-sized bird that was flat on its back with its chest heaving mightily. The Mini sat up straight and looked at me with that “What? Why are you looking at me?” expression. I think he was hoping I wouldn’t notice the tits-up bird at his side.
I noticed the bird.
Resigned, the Mini let me grab him and put him inside the house. I went back to the bird, who was still on his back but was heaving less. I waited a minute and gave him a little poke with a stick. No response. I poked again, and the bird rolled over with a big dusty flutter of wings.
Now he was upright, but plopped on his belly, facing away from me, with one wing at a bit of an awkward angle. He seemed alert. I gave him a gentle prod with the stick and his head turned so he could see me. Then it sort of lolled off to the side with one eye looking straight up and the other buried in the feathers of his back. It wasn’t looking too promising.
I figured I’d give him some time, so I went back to cooking dinner. Just before we ate, I went out to check on him. He had turned around by then, so he was facing me, and his head was upright and alert. He was still plopped on his belly though. I gave him a nudge, and he got up on his legs, limped a few steps, then settled down again. His wing was still sticking out, but less so.
I wondered if this was the end of the road for the bird, and if I shouldn’t put together another little gas chamber to end his suffering. But on the other hand, he didn’t really seem to be suffering (but then, who can tell?). He was alert, if a little beat up — unlike last year’s doomed bird who was alive but unconcious. I was surprised that he didn’t try to get away. He just stayed there, as if he had some sort of fatalistic notion that his number was up. I imagined him thinking “well, what are you waiting for? Eat me!”
More time, I thought. So I went in and we ate dinner.
After dinner, Martine and I decided to go for a walk, but first we would check on the bird. By then it was about 8:30 P.M., and getting dark. The bird was still hiding there, under the cedars, but he was up on his legs and his wing seemed to be back in place although it was hard to tell for sure in the dim light. We left him there and went for a walk around the neighbourhood.
The sky was completely dark when we arrived back home an hour later. I grabbed a flashlight and looked under the cedars. No bird. I looked up and down the row of trees, under the nearby trees, and even under the car. No bird.
I suppose that was good news. After all, every time I checked on the bird he seemed to be doing better. But as I thought about it, I realized there were basically three possibilities, only one of which was favorable:
- The bird recovered enough to come out from his hiding place and flew, in the fading light, back to the safety of his nest.
- Despite the appearance of recovery, the bird was just using the last of his strength, that he had enough to finally limp off to a dark corner where he expired.
- Some neighbourhood cat came along and said “whoa, this one’s easy!”
Whatever the case, I’m glad I didn’t gas him. It’s one thing to do that for a bird that is unconscious, but this guy was alert and aware. I’m not sure that being stuffed into a bag and then having a loud pipe belching stinky fumes into your face is exactly the most humane end for a creature who is aware of what’s going on. But had he been more beat up, had he declined instead of improved, what else could I have done?