Sunday, February 24, 2013

How To Save a Life

One never knows what the dawn will bring. A chance to start anew, a moment of clarity, a rock-bottom experience, a repeat of yesterday... A tragedy. Today, I found myself in a position I never thought I would be in. I fired a gun in defense of a defenseless mother of two unborn fetuses. It is something I will never forget, and it has given me a renewed perspective on the importance of gun rights. I shot at two dogs attacking my favorite pygmy 'nanny' goat, pregnant with two kids.

I was alerted by dogs barking outside the barn. Occasionally joggers have their dogs with them, and sometimes they bark, but this was clearly on the property. At first, I thought I must have a visitor, but then, another dog began barking and together, their barks grew more and more frenzied. I was searching for my gun. I grabbed it and headed for the door. then, realizing that this gun was not loaded, I dashed back inside for my loaded pistol. I ran outside, to find two dogs. A long-haired black dog, 'egging' on the other with loud barks, the other--a pit bull-looking dog-- on top of the pregnant black pygmy goat 'Black Mama'. I cocked my pistol, the black dog began running, and i fired at its heels, in the direction of the attacking dog. The dogs immediately turned tail, and began running. I fired after them, but with no intent to shoot them. Crisis averted... Or so I thought.

It had taken me less than two minutes to respond to the barks, and every instant I was kicking myself in the pants for not having my gun more ready. Precious time spent retrieving a loaded gun to ward off snarling canines is nothing to what I imagine are those eternal moments of anticipation and terror involved in a public shooting/mass murder situation. I cannot imagine if I had been saving a human being, I would never forgive myself. But this is a little different. This is "property", in the form of living animals, and I am not defending against humans, I'm defending against pets. The stakes are considerably lower. I felt that the situation had been resolved, because as I lowered my weapon, the thought occurred to me that I had actually made a pretty quick response time: I would say about 1 minute and 20 seconds, at the most. 'Imagine if I had not been a gun-owner...'

As I turned to the barn, I saw the black goat get up from the ground, stumble into the side of the barn, smearing blood on the door. I grabbed my phone and called a local yokel, and good friend, who has farmed all his life 'is there a veterinarian in the area?' 'not today...' I looked over to where the goat had been, she was gone. I ran around the side of the barn, and found her bleeding profusely from her throat. I grabbed a paper towel off the ground and held it against her throat. her breathing was labored, and the blood was bright red. If I had been a little more present, I would have made a much more judicious decision at that point, realizing that it was arterial blood. But, as I was somewhat panicked, I instead got her to lay down, I grabbed a shirt from a box of storage, and ripped a bandage for her. I tied it around her jaw, and ran to my vehicle for a blanket. I dialed my friend, the owner of these goats and left him a message. I looked over at the goat pen... The Billy goat, 'Otis', was dead outside the goat shelter. I feared the worst, and the worst was confirmed: all three (plus two unborn) goats were dead.

Less than two minutes, and two dogs had taken lives, and mortally wounded my little livestock brood. Imagine the devastation of a crazed shooter in a packed city mall, or public school... two minutes is a long, loooong time.

'What if I hadn't been a gun owner'? I will tell you what.

I retrieved the blanket and upon reentering the barn, found the goat had gotten up and was wandering around completely aimlessly in the barn. she was bleeding everywhere. there was no saving her.

I knew what I had to do. I laid her down on the blanket, scooped her up and took her outside. I laid her down and pulled the blanket over her head. I felt around her skull and peeked in once more to make sure of my aim. I covered her again. Her breathing was labored and gurgled with blood. I synced my breathing with hers, and closed my eyes. I pulled the trigger. It misfired. I invoked the universe and reached for some courage and some peace, and pulled the trigger again.

She slowly collapsed in total silence. she never took another breath.

What if I had run out immediately, and chased off the dogs without a gun? Perhaps this would have been effective. But, as they so amply demonstrated, dogs are dangerous animals when excited by the taste of blood. I could have found myself in the same fate of the goats, had there been even one more dog, perhaps if these two dogs had had less of a conscience, they could have taken me down. I will never know, I didn't give them a chance to prove themselves. I did, regretfully, spare their lives.. and jeopardize the lives of any livestock around here who might fall victim to their little spree.

As further investigation showed, the billy had been killed the night previous, and the dogs returned to finish the job. The other nanny--named "Roxy"-- was still limp, implying that she died this morning. Perhaps the black dog had gotten her, and the pit bull had pursued Black Mama to the barn...  I worked last night. When I arrived home after 11pm, I checked in on the black nanny, but I didn't check on the other two, who shared a separate pen.

I have had a lot of time today to think about this morning's events, and I feel surprised at how disconnected I was in the moment that I had to shoot a mother goat in the head point blank. It was still hard to do, and the only thing harder, would have been to sit and cry as she bled out in my arms. In my inherited traditions, the words "tender mercy" have significance as something one might be grateful for, when all else is wrong. I feel it was a "tender mercy" that I decided to jump the goat pen fence, and check in on Black Mama last night, and got to put a hand on her belly, and feel one of those little baby goats poking up her side. She was warm, she was calm, and I probably actually woke her, though I didn't have a light beside the moon. I talked to her for a minute or two. Something I haven't done often in the 5 months we've shared space, and definitely not after a fresh 10" of snow has fallen... except last night. I would have felt such immense regret if I had not chosen on a whim to check in on her. When my friends are not up here sharing space, these goats are who I talk to. It keeps the cabin fever away.

Otis was a bully. He was aggressive at feeding, to the point of fending off the other two until he was full, or the food was gone. At 3 times their size, he got his way. But he was nice as ever when I was nearby. I kind of got in the habit of watching them eat, because that's the only way the nannies could eat at the same time as Otis. Sometimes, when it was too bitter cold, I would just make enough piles of hay, or alfalfa pellets that he couldn't or wouldn't try to keep them all for himself. But the last time I was lazy and cold, I turned and began to head inside. immediately Otis began butting the other two away. I turned around, righteous anger flaring up, and lept over the fence chasing Otis away from the grub. I swung at him with my foot and fell headlong over a fence post, scraping my chest and bruising some ribs. My chest felt like it had caved in. Instant Karma. I went to kick the goat, and I kicked myself.

For all the time and care, I have also directed a lot of anger and resentment at those goats. First, they are not much for conversation. Then Otis for not letting the others eat, and then the others, for not eating if I tied up Otis.. and they want food constantly. They eat more meals per day than I do. They are stubborn animals, and it can be frustrating trying to keep them penned up. Even more frustrating to tramp through 200 yards of snow to get them a bale of hay... After nearly impaling myself while attempting to dish him up a little of his own medicine, I decided that I will let goats be goats. If the nannies wont eat when Otis is separated from them, then I guess they prefer to eat whatever he leaves them. Goats will be goats.

Instead, I made a bunch of snowballs to throw at them. Even the wee Roxy is aggressive to the black'n, so I would chuck snowballs at them when they started fighting. But after the fence post hangup, I was too sore to even throw snowballs with any accuracy. Another tender mercy, as this was about 2 weeks ago, and I would have really felt like crap if I had been dishing out snowballs right up to their last days on this good green Earth; Mother of all. She who giveth, and she who taketh away...

I am grateful for life today.

1 comment:

Linda Hyde said...

This was beautiful, Evan.