I was running and could see something on the road up ahead. The crows were hopping around it, looking excited.
It was a squirrel, lying on its chest. There was some blood on the road but no visible injuries. But it wasn’t moving, except every now and then its tail would lift. I stared at its unblinking black bead eyes and tried to believe it was dead and that only the wind was moving the tail. Then I saw the tiny thrum of its heart, very fast.
Earlier this summer, I found a beetle in our driveway, lying on its back, legs waving in the air. I carefully turned it over. It flipped back. I carried it over to the grass and told myself it would recover. I found it there in the morning, dead. And knew I should have killed it earlier.
Now here was this squirrel. And a non-native squirrel. Squirrels, alive and dead, are a dime a dozen in our neighborhood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Western squirrels that should be here, all pushed out by Eastern squirrels. So Audubon wouldn’t care. And it was too early for a vet’s office to be open.
That left me and the dying squirrel and an empty street.
I thought about hitting it in the head with a rock. I thought about trying to move it off the road. But then I realized it might be better if another car came along and finished it off. There seemed nothing I could do, so I ran on. If the squirrel was still there after I came back from my five-mile run I decided I would do something about it. We have an old bucket and a shovel. I would drown it. I know I couldn’t really speak for the squirrel, but it seemed better to die fast than to die slow.
But it would be about 50 minutes until I returned. And that seemed too long. So I turned around after two blocks.
I had only been gone for a few minutes, but the squirrel was just - gone. I don’t think it ran off. It hadn’t looked capable of running off. A minute earlier, the crows had been competing to pluck out its eyes. I think another neighbor took it in or dealt with it.
I’ve since heard from a vet that you should pick up an injured squirrel (with a towel) and put it in a box. In a couple of hours, you’ll know whether it will get better or not. And if not - well, the vet had the same answer. Drown it. Commit a mercy killing.
I’ve been thinking how loaded the word commit is. You commit sins. Crimes. And when you are committed to something, there is no turning back.