The driver who hit the puppy never even hit their brakes. I saw the impact firsthand, as I was driving by in the opposite direction. I saw the puppy roll over and over, traveling perhaps 100 feet in an instant, before coming to a stop. He lay bloodied, semi-conscious and able to move nothing but his head.
The very busy stretch of traffic called the Motor Mile in Johnson City is not exactly the safest place to go run out into the middle of a road. But that’s exactly what I did.
I hit my brakes, parked my car on the roadside, and leaped out toward the puppy.
In my heart (which I always follow, and it has yet to lead me wrong in this world), I knew I had to try to save this puppy. And if he couldn’t be saved, I at least didn’t want his brains imbedded into the pavement at his last breath. I felt he deserved a better death than that. (What creature among us doesn’t?)
I gently picked the puppy up into my arms and carried him over to the car of a kind passerby who had also stopped (yes, there are many good humans in this world). This kind lady offered to take the puppy ahead to the nearest vet, and I told her I’d follow.
As I laid him in the backseat, the puppy looked up at me once. Just once. And in that single glance I read a lifetime of tragedy in his eyes. “Thank you, my friend. As you can tell, I have no collar. No identification. My fur is matted and ragged. You can see that I have fleas and mange. In my brief life I have roamed the world homeless, scrounging for the tiniest flicker of hope and love and scraps. You are the only human who ever hugged me. Thank you for letting me feel at least a glimmer of love before I die.”
So many of our fellow creatures share similar lives as this pup (who didn’t survive his ride to the vet). So many creatures, great and small, live lives of horrible suffering, never knowing love, hardly knowing hope, scarcely knowing a moment without pain and fear.
Are your pets spayed and/or neutered, my friends? If not, you may well be adding to all the enormous suffering of our fellow creatures.
Do you spend quality time with your pet daily? Do you play with them often? Do you hug them? Do you teach your children to be kind to animals of every kind?
I once heard of an old Native American belief that I have sometimes found myself wishing to be true: To enter heaven, each one of us will someday be judged by every animal whom we have ever encountered on our path in this world.
Yes, we eat animals — most of us, anyway. I certainly do. They eat each other, too. But all that is part of the natural web of life, so that is not what the animals would judge us for, I dare say. “Were you needlessly cruel to us? Did you honorably respect our place and purpose in the world?” Those are more likely to be the type of questions we would face, were the old Native American belief true.
I have been told that I am an “empath.” No, not a psychopath or a sociopath (though, like most people who are, I likely couldn’t help it a great deal if I was). An empath is someone who is capable of developing deep emotional attachments with animals (a definition by which people are included, too, since we humans are mammals).
The pain from living such an “empathetic” life can become overwhelming. As a result, many empaths frequently suffer deep emotional anguish over the pain they personally feel being experienced by people and other animals with whom they come in contact.
Yet, I wouldn’t trade being this way for the world, for it allows me to care very intensely about my fellow human beings — indeed, for all living things.
So, if you ever happen to be driving behind me on a road, my friends, you might not want to ride my bumper too closely. I brake for all living things — from people to puppies. I even brake for butterflies.
Ben Talley is an inductee into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, a former Virginia Teacher of the Year, and a McGlothlin Award Winner for Teaching Excellence.