On a sunny, recent Sunday morning, I was on my way to my synagogue when I saw a most unusual sight — a large raccoon wandering around on the street. It seemed to be sniffing at something on the asphalt, circling like a dog at a bush, and occasionally going up to one of the parked cars and sniffing there.
I have lived in West Kildonan for almost 18 years and I had never seen a raccoon in broad daylight before. My immediate thought was that it must be diseased — there’s been a lot of distemper around.
My friend pulled up to the curb and commented that she had also never seen a raccoon in broad daylight — and she’s lived in the North End all of her life. We debated phoning the city, but the police arrived before we could come to a decision. We went inside to start our morning service.
We heard two shots.
We finished our service and had our usual coffee and schmooze afterwards. I was careful to go out by a different door. I didn’t want to see.
Thoughts, however, keep swirling around in my head. Was the raccoon doomed as soon as we saw it, as soon as someone in one of the houses looked out and made that call? How casually do we play God when it comes to animals, especially wild ones?
The raccoon was almost certainly sick, to be out on the street like that at 9 o’clock in the morning.
The police would not have had any other tool to deal with possibly dangerous and infectious wildlife than the guns on their hips. Even if they had called a conservation officer, chances are the decision would have been made to euthanize the animal, simply because of its unusual behaviour. There are worse ways to do that than gunshots.
If the raccoon did, in fact, have distemper or rabies, it was a serious danger to humans and pets on that street. But what if it didn’t? What if its only crime was to display behaviour that we do not associate with raccoons? Do we truly know everything there is to know about raccoons, to be able to declare with absolute certainty that a raccoon in daylight must be dangerously ill, so ill that we must kill it on the spot without any kind of testing?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do think they are worth thinking about, so we never, ever become blasé or casual about the death of an animal at our hands, whatever the reason.
Hadass Eviatar is a Winnipeg-based writer.
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