The other evening, I was observing Doc at the Orphaned Wildlife Rescue Center tend to a Common Snapping Turtle which had been run over by a truck. The poor girl’s wounds turned the water blood red as we waited for the swelling to go down. As I wondered about what she had seen and her level of pain, I said out loud what was on the mind of all of us at the time: “How could someone not see an animal of this size on the road?”
Ancient in appearance, combative in disposition, and generally un-cuddly, snapping turtles have a bad reputation. So feared for their bite, it leads some locals who can not distinguish between the species to avoid all turtles, including the shy Box Turtles and Pond Sliders which can use a helping hand crossing roads. I’m guessing this old girl was about 18 inches and quite a mound at that. Certainly I would avoid a rock or branch on the road of this size. Why didn’t our mystery driver?
The answer to my question is often not a surprise. “Some people are jerks and swerve to hit animals on the road.” which is often followed by someone with a personal story of knowing someone with such a cold heart.
I’m sorry, but I simply don’t believe it.
I think accidents happen because people are surprised to encounter wildlife in their usual animal-free lives. People are not aware they are in an area where wildlife can be encountered. They are not aware of the times of day when animals can be on the road or the seasons in which they are more likely to be moving around. And more than likely, in this state of not being aware, they are distracted by the radio, air conditioning, cell phone, children, their list of errands, or another vehicle. They can just as easily hit anything they may encounter this way and it would be equally unfortunate. Distraction isn’t an excuse but it’s a true accident. It wasn’t intentional.
So, if that’s true, where did the legend of “The Man Who Swerves to Hit Animals,” come from you may ask?
I think there are many things seen and mistaken for intentional harm.
I think drivers are frightened to see an animal on the road and nearly lose control of the car themselves trying to avoid it, violently swerving back and forth, making it appear as though they intentionally ran the poor thing over.
I believe some people think bragging about killing something makes good conversation at a party and it makes them feel bigger in their skin. I hope they don’t find themselves at a party with animal care workers.
Others may actually have hit something and feel bad, but feeling bad isn’t what is expected of them, so they make up a story about how they did it on purpose. That is most unfortunate.
Whatever the reason, I think anyone who intentionally swerves to run over an animal and feels good about it, is in the extreme minority. I feel sorry for these people. And I think God sorts them out.
The legend of “The Man Who Swerves to Hit Animals,” can help us feel better by comparing ourselves to someone worse.
After an unfortunate accident, we may know we were able to do better and spare the life or pain of that animal, but in our despair, at least we aren’t “That Guy.”
Instead of comparing yourself to the lower road, why not take the higher path and help the situation. Learn about the animals around us. Check out the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Field Guide to the Chesapeake. You don’t need to be an expert in all the beasts of the world, but knowing what animals are in your backyard and what times of day they will be out can help.
Being able to tell a Common Snapping Turtle from a Box Turtle will help you know whether or not it’s safe to pick it up and move it out of the road. A great way to see them up close is to volunteer at a wildlife rescue or to support one in your area.
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