Saving lives is perhaps man’s noblest calling. Although selfishness tugs at each person’s conscience, an opposing force often impels them towards compassion. For some folks, that can mean a high-paying career as a doctor; for others, it means volunteering their time in humanitarian pursuits. For ranchers, it means refusing to give up on the weakest animals when common sense tells them their efforts might be futile.
I’ve fed orphaned goats around the clock when their odds for survival looked slim. My children have brought in baby rabbits our dog was about to eat. I kept them alive with lettuce, grass and powdered milk until they were big enough to release in the woods. I liberated a deer whose back leg had gotten twisted in the top strand of a wire fence. I even rescued a snake trapped in a deep water trough.
In retrospect, I think some of my efforts weren’t humane. Some were foolhardy. Like when my old Labrador Retriever got old and sick. She could barely walk or eat, but I didn’t have the heart to have her put down. I cooked her food and fed her by hand as she struggled through her final days. As much as I loved her, I unintentionally prolonged her suffering.
When I was six, I attempted my first animal rescue. Living out on a ranch didn’t afford me the chance to have many playmates. When my sister wasn’t in the mood to play with me, I played with our dogs or my imaginary friends. One of my favorite pastimes was climbing trees. High in the treetops, I could pretend I didn’t hear my mother calling. I’d look out over the pasture and imagine I was in a magic castle.
One afternoon, I made an unusual discovery. I was perched on a branch of our mulberry tree and found what I thought was a dead bird. I crawled further out onto the limb for a closer look and the creature didn’t move. Hanging upside down, very small and still was a brown bat. I decided I needed to catch it and bring it inside. At that age, I was oblivious to the possibility of contracting rabies. I just didn’t want to hurt the little bat or risk its escape, so I went to find assistance.
At that time, my parents had taken in a stray of sorts themselves; a young man without a good family situation had found shelter in our home. I went inside and convinced him to help me. He found a cooking pan and a lid and climbed the tree with me. He shuffled the little creature into the pan very carefully. We found an old bird cage in the attic and carefully transferred the bat into it. It roused enough to grab onto the perch, but then remained motionless.
I watched for movement the rest of that afternoon and evening. I caught some small insects and put them in the bottom of the cage along with a dish of water.
"Maybe it’s sick," my dad suggested as he peered over the top of his newspaper.
All I could do was hope it would wake up and feel like its old batty self the next day.
The minute I woke up the next morning, I uncovered the bird cage to see how my little charge had fared the night. There it lay at the bottom of the bird cage, cold and lifeless. I was so sad and felt partially responsible for its death.
If I could have only known how often similar scenarios would recur in my life during the coming decades. However, there have been as many successes as failures. The joy I feel when an animal survives always outweighs the depressing disappointment when they don’t. It’s almost impossible to tell which causes are truly lost. The only way to know for sure is to look through the accurate lenses of retrospect. So, until I’m physically unable to do so, I will spring into rescue mode when I find animals suffering, do what I can to help them and try not to predict the outcome.