Thursday, June 25, 2015

Phenology and Why a Christian Needs a Gun

Fair warning: this is a sad post. It's about animals and the cycles of time, but after noting ninety-degree days, high humidity, a few thunderstorms (one with hail), the end of the June fruit harvest, and the first jewelweed and mimosa blossoms down around the Virginia-Tennessee border, my thoughts about the animals have been a real bummer.

Given the way this computer forces me to be selective about which e-mails I read, you know I have not actually read the e-mail whose headline claims that the Pope says firearms makers and sellers aren't real Christians. I don't know that he actually said that but, being Protestant, I believe the Pope and the Vatican and the entire Catholic Church most certainly are fallible. They may be sincere, and they may be saved, but they're wrong about many things.

It was an odd, unpleasant bit of synchronicity to read this e-mail after a weekend when I've been slowly facing the fact that I need a gun.

People had warned me that Rackety Coon might attack the cats, or, if s/he mated and had young, overcrowded raccoons might try to relieve the population density by attacking the cats. Well, it happened. Just as those kittens were starting to answer to names, we lost some of the April Fools' Day kittens. I rushed out onto the porch in time to be absolutely sure that Caper, Trixie, and Surprise were carried off by an animal not a man, strangled by tiny hands before they were torn by fangs, and only partly eaten.

Caper was out in the yard alone. Trixie was in the yard with two of the adult cats, who've learned to trust Rackety Coon about as much as s/he has learned to trust me; the cats called me to help, but I'm not fast enough or small enough to rescue a kitten from a raccoon. Surprise was on the porch with three of the adult cats. Since the cats called me out in time to hear, not see, a small animal dragging a protesting kitten through the hedge, the surviving kittens have been locked up indoors at night.

The surviving kittens are in such a shocked state they haven't even minded being put in "Cat Jail." Just as long as they're together. I offered them the option of reducing the congestion by letting one kitten soak up attention in the office room. Nothing doing, they said. Maybe they regretted ever losing sight of their other siblings and cousins. The one admitted to the office room would scamper about and play with me for a few seconds at a time, then cry to be put in the cage with the others. Normal cats don't miss their cat companions much; social cats do. I have to do something painful about my former friend the raccoon.

Though not bleeding-heart enough to believe that raccoons are a species in need of special protection, I do believe that every animal (including hornets) is alive because God gave it a right to live. Animals compete for their places in this world. Humans have a right to make life-and-death decisions among animals, to protect the lives that are valuable to us at the expense of the ones that are less valuable, but only to protect our friends, not as a "sport." Nobody I know is hungry enough to eat a raccoon. I don't like the idea of killing one; I see nothing entertaining about the idea of dumping Rackety into a pack of hounds to see whether s/he could fight his/her way out. But the raccoon has to go.

In theory I suppose a cat-killing raccoon is like a chicken-killing cat or a sheep-killing dog. One could send it to a place where the other animals it would meet would be bigger than it was. Trouble is, raccoons don't adjust to being confined and sterilized very well, especially if they've been free-range wild animals for years. Raccoons tend to be expensive and dangerous pets even when they're happy to be pets. And I don't know of any place where Rackety could just blend happily into the outdoor scene any more. Raccoons adjust well to the lifestyle of urban pests. They don't like crowding, though, any more than any other creature does. Rackety would be "the new kid on the block" and have to fight for a place even in one of those fast-deteriorating suburbs where rats aren't controlled by free-range cats. If Rackety were released within a hundred miles of the Cat Sanctuary, s/he would be back here in a few weeks. If released in a city, it'd be kill or be killed--possibly by poison, since raccoons become real nuisances in a city.

I set a cage-type trap. (Don't even mention any less humane kind at the Cat Sanctuary!) And then I started thinking about what to do when I manage to lure Rackety into the trap. I made some calls. Apparently the only way to make sure that Rackety does not continue to kill my cats is to kill him/her. Some people think I should've done that years ago, because they imagine that all raccoons carry rabies and infect animals that will actually be missed.

I don't like firearms, personally. Neither do I like killing animals--even nuisance animals. When I have to kill animals, though, even though the ones I kill are small and cold-blooded and probably don't feel things in the way mammals do, I can not stand torturing them by poisons or other forms of brutality. I try to make sure that the flies, mosquitoes, ticks, and caterpillars I kill never know what hit them. I would prefer to show at least that much common decency to an animal that does feel things pretty much the way we do.

Now I know what regular readers may be thinking...My father, who didn't have firearms in the house while we were growing up, told me to carry a pistol when I went off to the city and keep a shotgun in the house if I was going to be alone, or alone with a teenaged sister. I've been unarmed since Dad died. Although this web site has received some support from gun shops, believe it or not, nobody at those businesses has ever told me I needed a gun...before. They don't run their business that way, nor need to. The thing about "Gun & Pawn" shops is that what the owners urge people to buy more of are radios and jewelry. They help people choose firearms and ammunition, but they've been known to tell people not to buy a gun.

They can, however, refer "Sure Shot" types to help people deal with nuisance animals. So I talked to someone at a gun shop. I think I could put a bullet between the eyes of a raccoon cowering in a trap, I said, because I think that's a much more humane and Christian and decent thing to do than starving or poisoning the animal, but I'd rather have it done by a more efficient shooter if possible. (Also, of course, paying a "Sure Shot" is cheaper than buying a gun.)

The man to whom I spoke probably remembered that, shortly before last Christmas, I was bitten by a neighborhood dog. My clothes were torn; my arm still shows scars. The dog wasn't rabid. I couldn't even say that it was vicious; if that dog had intended to "say" anything but "Stop and play with me for once, I'm bored," I would not be typing this today, with two hands and everything. The dog was just too big and too rough to be outside without a very big, strong man at the other end of a very solid chain around its neck. But it was running up and down a paved public road, free as a bird. That dog answers to the name of "Bear" but it could be mistaken for a wolf. During this year I've seen other large, dangerous dogs running loose on streets, none as big as the one that bit me, but one looked like a retriever mix and one looked like a Rottweiler. This man had probably seen a few of them too. The black retriever-type dog I saw running around in Kingsport, last week, followed me past his store.

And he said, "I don't know of anybody right offhand. Well, I'd do it if I could leave here, but I couldn't promise I'd be able to leave right away. So you need a gun."

Yes, Gentle Readers. We need other animals in this world, but sometimes problems with those other animals will develop...and when they do, sometimes the most humane solution to those problems is going to involve firearms. I don't like it any better than any of you do. Maybe I'm putting this online because I wish somebody out there might say, "I know of a Raccoon Sanctuary that could offer your cute little pest a safe home." But I don't believe that's going to happen. I can't keep the cats who protect my home in a cage; I can't keep Rackety Coon in a cage; and if Rackety has to die, the faster it happens the better.

What about the dogs? Last Christmas was the first time in my life when just shouting at a dog, or throwing a pebble at it, did not motivate the dog to leave me alone. But it didn't. And if a dog doesn't go away when I shout at it...well, "Bear" was an old acquaintance, but if a dog doesn't go away when I shout at it I would normally have to assume that it was rabid. Humans have suffered from rabies enough long enough to leave testimony that's convinced me that allowing anything to suffer from rabies is inhumane. It's a more painful way to die than being shot is.

And what about the hazards to humans? The firearms dealer vented a bit about the recent hysteria about "gun violence." Do cars kill ten times as many Americans each year as guns do? I looked that up, just for the sake of statistical precision. For some reason Google balked at a precise comparison for 2014. In 2010, the last year for which the Sickly Snail pulled up numbers, cars killed only about three times as many U.S. citizens as guns did...though a U.S. government site noted that automotive fatality numbers were unusually low in 2010.

It's true that people planning to kill rival drug dealers, cheating exes, or political enemies usually look for a gun rather than a car. It's also true that ordinary law-abiding people are in much more danger of being killed by cars than by guns. Many people have expressed fears of being run over by cars if they walked on the street, to me, because I refuse to be bullied into becoming another "accidental homicide" motorist myself. The fact is that you don't have to be on a sidewalk or boardwalk to be killed by a homicidal motorist. This week I've walked past five buildings that have been remodelled in the past twenty years after somebody, er um, forgot to park the car and walk into a building: a post office, a church, two stores, and an insurance agency. Then, out in Hawkins County, there's the China Star restaurant...I was in the China Star when the car rolled through the front window. (I heard that the overmedicated driver was the only one who spent that night in hospital.)

I didn't like carrying a pistol, in college. I refused to load it with real bullets. What I packed on campus were cartridges filled with tear gas, a compromise that seemed to work for everybody until the cartridges started to deteriorate and the gas started to seep out. To put animals out of their misery requires real bullets. Well, I'll just have to do what I always did with the shotgun: unload the weapon when not planning to use it and carry ammunition separately. But keep both in sight at all times. Botheration.

I would rather have a husband who would take this responsibility for me, but as a Christian I have to face responsibility for myself and my friends...human and animal. I'm a long way from being the "Sure Shot" other people call to euthanize animals, but even a few extra, painful, wasted bullets are less cruel to animals than the other alternatives.

And I say that whoever makes, or maintains, or sells, a gun that allows an animal to be euthanized quickly rather than being tortured is doing a better thing than whoever quoted--or misquoted--the Pope about this. Not enough Christians realize that the Bible contains instructions for killing animals. The instructions for butchering animals for humans to eat have been criticized for being a little slower than methods that drain less blood from the meat, but they make it clear that God does not want animals to suffer a minute longer than they must. I want it on the record that if I buy another pistol and some bullets, it will be as a whole-Bible Christian, acting in obedience to the Word of God.