A groundhog with scoliosis. Yep. That’s what the man was cradling in his arms like the family pooch or a chunky baby.
I immediately flashed back to my only other association with woodchucks (Punxsutawney Phil excluded)—Sunday drives on the back roads of Vermont with my father (an avid hunter) who in spite of needing glasses, could spot a chuck from a 50 mph moving car even though the critter was no more than a distant dot in a rocky field to the rest of us. I don’t ever recall my father shooting one in front of us, although I could tell by the stillness of his head and the narrowing of his eyes that he was mentally lining up his shot.
But I managed to restrain myself from blurting out this information to the man holding the woodchuck, who I discerned, was a sensitive soul because he volunteered for wildlife rescue. The rodent readjusted itself in the man’s arms as he pointed out the crooked spine which impaired its mobility. I pushed back the refrain we kids always sang in response to our father’s observation: “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” and asked instead how come it didn’t bite him.
The man said it was because they had been together for the past four years.
As I watched them snuggle with each other, I doubted if it was solely a matter of time together that cemented the relationship between man and beast. From furry to feathery, animals have secured their spot in the heart of man. And loyalties are fierce. Did you ever notice how a movie villain can terrorize a whole family, but don’t let him touch the pooch or you’ll get really upset.
Pet supply trends suggest that Baby Boomers, once tagged as helicopter parents, have shifted their hovering from children to animals now that the nest is empty. This bodes well for this generation of animals, domestic or wild.
While the kids were growing up, my husband and I resisted getting too involved in the pet thing, mostly because we wanted to be free to go places easily. But ever since our adult daughter began coming home with puppies and leaving without them, we too have succumbed to the doleful eyes wanting up on the bed and the eager ears hoping that rattle of car keys included them.
I, champion of highway over rare spider (Endangered Spider Discovery Stops $ 15 Million Texas Highway Construction) and mocker of over-zealous PETA persons have been so softened by the family pooch that I know by the tone of the dog’s bark whether there’s a cat out back or someone walking their dog up on the track. And my discernment is extending to the wildlife. The other day I told my husband there was a predator outside.
“How do you know?” He asked.
“I understand bird talk,” I said. “They’re sounding an alarm.”Sure enough, there was a huge hawk sitting in the tree.
I am pleased with the increasing sensitivity to the animal kingdom that having a pet has given rise to, nevertheless, I do discriminate. My husband will carefully scoop up the prehistoric stink bug and release it outside, while I guilt-freely flush it down the drain.
When we offered to do some work for our friends while they weren't home, and they called to say that in the interest of “full disclosure” they had to warn us one of their snakes had escaped, I asked how bad they’d feel if I stabbed it with a fork.
And while I look at a woodchuck and see a rodent (with scoliosis or not), I am glad there are people who see a creature in need and are willing to help.
Cultivating compassion in an increasingly desensitized society can only be a good thing, don't you think?