Monday, October 23, 2006

I ran over a cat today. Or was it a dog?

So far, this hasn't been my best day.

It was my turn to take the kids to school. The oldest is now in second grade, and the middle child in Kindergarten. Because of Republican cuts to education in Minnesota, my school district had to cut back on bus service, and so I am in a car pool with other parents who have to drive their kid school (but that's another blog). Today, though, it was just me and my kids.

At 7:50 in the morning, its still quite dark here in Minnesota. I was driving down 11th street, dutifully keeping an eye on the car in front of me, when I heard something bouncing beneath the car. It sounded like it might have been a small cardboard box. I had seen nothing, and thought nothing of it, and so I kept driving.

"Dad!," said the oldest who was on the left side of the car. "You just hit a cat!"
The thought was too terrible to contemplate. "No," I said. "It was just a piece of cardboard."
"No Dad! I saw it darting across the street, and then you hit it!"

Then the kindergartner, who was sitting on the right side of the car, said, "Dad, I think it was a dog! I saw it bounce out!"

So now what do I do?

Do I swing around the block to check on the damage, making the kids late for school? And what if the dog or cat was mortally wounded, bloodied with entrails spilling out. Do I scoop up the injured animal and lay it in the car, and rush all over town looking for a vet that is open at this hour? What if the injured animal is still mobile, and freaks out in my car? What would the kids think, seeing all this? Or what if the animal was completely dead? What do I do with it? Should I go door to door in the neighborhood at 8 am with my kids, inquiring about the owner of the animal?

Although the actions one takes if you hit a person are clear to me, there seemed to be no good options after hiting an animal. Exactly what should one do? Call an ambulance?

I wondered what I would want the offending driver to do if it had been my cat (or dog). I guess I'd like to know that the person stopped. It would comfort me to know that my pet didn't suffer, that it was an accident and not intentional.

But then I wondered to myself, do I have the right to insist that others behave responsibly when I myself was irresponsible with my pet's life by allowing it to run wild in the city?

In the split seconds that it took to discuss with my kids what had happened, we crossed the railroad tracks. Mercifully the crossing gates dropped behind us, and a horn was heard from a slow moving train. I was cut off from my problem, at least for ten minutes or so. Traffic was flowing on the one way, and returning to the scene was no longer a practical option.

In my fatherly wisdom, I ruled that the responsible thing would be to take the kids to school, and try to distract them from the realworld pain of am injured (or dead) animal.

"Nah," I said. "I'm sure it was a box. I think I saw a box on the road."

And I kept on driving with a sick feeling deep in my stomach.

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