Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Avie: Portrait of a Serial Killer

When I was a kid, I rode shotgun on a lot of car trips with my dad. The vast majority of these were weekend jaunts from where we lived in north Mississippi to Wayne County, three hours south, where my grandparents lived and where my little sister lived for the first four years of her life. This being the case, the trips were frequent, almost every weekend, sometimes every other.

One of my least favorite memories of trips like this were the occasional animal strikes. It's the law of averages, I guess, that when you're on the road so often you have more opportunity to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, just as an animal--a possum, armadillo, rabbit, dog or cat--dashes out into the rural two lane highway far too soon to be avoided and is struck. Only, sometimes, the hit wasn't a direct one where you know the animal died, but instead an ambiguous graze--one you know will eventually lead to death, but not for a while. My father was not a man to have animals suffer needlessly and on those occasions he would invariably stop and back up until he found the animal, ascertain its status and, usually, deliver the "endgame" by running over the animal again. As a kid it was a terrible thing to have to experience, sitting there in the passenger seat, fingers in ears trying to stave off the inevitable crunch. Dad always tried to explain his reasoning afterward. I understood where he was coming from, but I always hated it and wished he could just forget about it and move on.

"Can't you just let them die in peace?" I once said, after I'd grown old enough to attempt to challenge my status quo a bit more. Dad considered this, but ultimately went back to his own method on the rare occasion animals strayed terminally into our path.

I tell that story to tell this one...

Now that she's nearly full grown, Avie kitty has begun to fancy herself quite the hunter. During all hours she's not asleep, she wants to be outside looking for mice or bugs or other woodland creatures to stalk and torment. Now, I realize that this is what cats naturally do and they're very good at it. And I'd be happy for Avie to do this, provided she actually killed and ate the things she caught. Instead, she usually torments them to death, batting them around until she eventually wounds them mortally, and when they stop trying to get away, she loses interest and wanders off. She might come back to kick their mousy corpses around, later, but I've never observed her to actually eat one.

A couple weeks back, I found one of her victims. It was a small mouse, broken but still breathing. And suddenly, there it was, my dad's outlook on mercy-killing sliding right into place in my head. If the cat wasn't going to kill it, I had to. I didn't fret much about killing a mouse because I've killed plenty in traps before. But I didn't like that I had to do it.

Last weekend, it got worse.

While the wife and I were enjoying some lunch on the back deck, we noticed Avie marching up the back of our hill with something big in her mouth. She dropped it before I could get a look at it, but we kept watching to see what she might come up with. Instead, she stayed just over the hill, romping and playing with something we couldn't see. Curious, we arose to go see what it was and found the cat crouched beside a tiny rabbit. It wasn't as small as the ones I nearly killed with the mower when we first moved here, but was possibly not too far out of the nest. At first, it seemed lifeless, and I hoped in my heart that it was already dead. But then I saw its sides moving with its breathing. I chased the cat away from it and stooped down to have a look.

It was definitely unconscious. Other than a tear in it's ear, the little rabbit didn't have any immediately noticeable signs of damage. I wondered if maybe it was only stunned, but thought it more likely that it had internal or spinal injuries. The wife came over to examine it and found there was a gash in the rabbit's other side and another deeper wound on its back leg that showed some muscle tearing. We knew then that this little guy was pretty much a goner. Those kind of injuries wouldn't heal on their own in the wild and it would likely be a $1000 vet bill to try and save it otherwise. As the wife pointed out, if left untreated, the wounds would become infected and if the rabbit didn't die before that, it would die a long and painful death.

The wife, who'd been examining the rabbit, leaned over to put it back on the ground, but as she did it woke up and screamed. And as it screamed, it kicked all of its legs, which scared my wife, causing her to drop the rabbit into the leaves. Rabbits aren't generally known for their noise, but they can make some when they need to. Once on the ground, the rabbit continued to yelp, drawing Avie's attention.

"Maybe Avie will kill it," the wife said in a fearfully hopeful tone.

"She won't kill it," I said. "She'll just torment it more."

We were going to need to do the job.

I picked the rabbit up, being careful to keep him covered by my hands so he couldn't kick his way out of my grip. Spinal injury didn't seem to be an issue with him. Fortunately, he went unconscious again. We took him around behind our woodpile, where I lay him down on the flat half of a split log. The wife brought me my ax.

"You're going to have to do this in one swing," the wife said. I nodded. But as accurate as I usually am with an ax, I didn't trust myself to get it right. Better to place the ax where we wanted to cut and hit the back of it with a rock. After shedding some tears at having to take this life, I did the deed.

Needless to say, the cat immediately found a place at the top of my shit list.

Later in the afternoon, the wife called from the living room saying, "You should come see your kitty. She's awfully cute."

"I don't want to see that cat," I said. I knew the cat was snoozing on a pillow on a chair in the front window.

"No, you should really come see."

So I did. Sure enough, she was terribly cute as she slept. So cute, in fact, that I had to take a picture.

And after I'd taken it, I slapped the pillow beside her and yelled "Start over!"

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