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King: Irresponsible act leads to a sickening thud

POSTED: March 24, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The week began badly. I had picked up my granddaughter from school and was heading home in the dark when a dog appeared in my headlights. I braked and veered as best I could. Then there was that awful thud.

My granddaughter, who loves dogs and wants to be a veterinarian, began to sob. "Oh, no, grandma! No, no!"

I continued to slow and looked for a place to pull off the road. When I was safely parked in someone’s driveway, I got out of the car and wondered what to do. It was pitch dark, and we were on a major thoroughfare. Anna was sobbing and close to hysteria. I couldn’t let the child come with me to look for the dog.

I threatened her with just about every drastic measure I could think of: "Anna, no matter what happens, you must stay in the car. Understand?" and then I turned and began to walk toward the road.

In front of me another car had pulled over, and a man with a flashlight was getting out. I never saw his face and have no idea of his age, but here was someone else who cared enough to stop.

We walked down one side of the road and back the other.

Nothing. There was no question that I had hit the animal. It must have been injured, but I had to get Anna home. What should I do?

As I reached my car, a couple who lived nearby were pulling up in a truck. They had seen two young dogs wandering in the road and had tried to catch them before the inevitable happened.

They had trapped one and were looking for the other. Apparently, someone had abandoned the half-grown dogs along the road, rationalizing that in a
rural area some kind soul would find and care for them.

This happens all too often where we live. I’ve always believed there was a special place in hell for those who abandon animals. Our own dog, my granddaughter’s, is a stray.

Irresponsibility angers me, and when it involves children or animals I am outraged. Now I had hit a dog, and I didn’t know what to do.

I decided I had to get Anna home. It was dark and dangerous. The child was tired, hungry and badly shaken, and there was homework to do before bedtime. As we drove we talked about the dog and what it means to be a responsible person.

"Responsible people take care of animals," insisted Anna. "Only bad people put them out on the road to get hit."

True, I thought, but maybe they didn’t know what else to do. Then we talked about the good people who had stopped to help.

The next day we learned that when it got light someone had found the dog. Its leg was broken, but it was alive and was being cared for. Just the same, I’d hit the animal, and I felt responsible.

The rest of the week went better. Saturday was Anna’s 12th birthday. As I began writing this column, four giggling girls were stretched out on the floor just beyond my desk area. The rug was covered with pillows and blankets from their sleepover. They had a DVD playing, and stuffed animals and snack plates were strewn everywhere.

Ordinarily, I don’t have enough concentration to work in that much noise and confusion, but Saturday I found it somehow reassuring.

Just the same, the image of that dog in my headlights stayed with me. The sound when a car hits a living creature is a terrible thing. Could I have done more? Should I have continued the search?

I could have been hit myself. Despite my threats, Anna could have left the car and wandered too close to the road. Did the people who abandoned those unwanted pets have any idea what they were doing?

I don’t believe a person’s responsibility ends with his or her immediate family. In this shrinking world we are truly our brother’s keeper. An irresponsible or thoughtless act at any level is like a stone thrown in a pool. The waves reach beyond the point of contact.

I was particularly aware of this as I watched those 10- and 12-year-old girls at play. The choices we make today will touch their lives and the lives of millions of other children around the globe. In today’s world, we are all responsible for the future.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly in the print edition of The Times and on


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