Maggie A's Meanderings




 Aug 18, 2013

The Choice

Who would you save? If you had to choose between the life of your pet or the life of a stranger, who would you choose to save?

That's the classic dilemma asked of pet owners.

As a pet owner I'm supposed to be embarrassed, even ashamed, to say that if I had to choose between saving the life of my pet cat, Trilby Kitty, or the life of a stranger that I would choose my cat.

The reality is that I'm not ashamed or embarrassed to say that I would choose Trilby Kitty's life over the life of a stranger. Trilby Kitty is my responsibility. The stranger isn't. I made a decision --- a very serious decision --- when I chose to keep this lost cat that I would be responsible for this cat for the rest of the cat's life. This cat cannot take care of himself, and it's my job to take care of him, come hell or high water. The stranger is a human and is responsible for him or herself. Now this does not mean that I will not help a stranger; I have helped strangers frequently though it's never been in a life threatening situation. But the question being posed isn't "Would you help a stranger?" It's "Which life would you choose, the stranger or your pet?"

And my answer to that question is always going to be my cat. Because my cat is always going to be my responsibility.

But it's more than just responsibility. I love Trilby Kitty. And Trilby Kitty loves me. There's a bond of trust between us, and I would not violate that trust and let him die. Or put myself through the pain and guilt of knowing that's what I did. Whatever guilt I might feel over knowing that I chose not to help some random person would be nothing compared to the searing grief and guilt of knowing that I let the cat who loved and trusted me die when I could have done something about it. Legally, I don't even have an obligation to save some random stranger. (This country doesn't have Good Samaritan laws with a "duty to assist" clause except in Minnesota and Vermont.) And I didn't kill the person in that I didn't create the circumstances that the person's in --- the person may even have gotten himself into the deadly situation. Morally, you could say there's obligation to help a stranger in need, and I would agree with that. But the way my morals are stacked, my primary obligation is to the life I'm responsible for. And if I have to pick, I pick it. Anything else would be a betrayal of my moral code.

Because Trilby Kitty is my family. Just because we're not related, doesn't mean we're not family. (Conversely, just because we are related doesn't mean we are family.) And saving the life of your family member comes first.

But it's not just the life of a stranger that I put second to the life of my cat. It's also my own life. If I have to chose between saving my life or saving the cat's life, I'll pick the cat's life.

And if you're sitting there thinking "Sure she says that, but when push comes to shove, she'll pick herself over her cat," then read on.......................

Trilby Kitty and I go for a walk most nights. The only leash is the emotional bond between us as Trilby does not know how to walk on an actual leash and considers a leash to be an affront to his very nature. Typically Trilby follows 25 feet or so behind me. (Sometimes it's farther; sometimes he's closer.) Walking is very popular in this neighborhood. A recent arrival once dubbed us the "Stepford Neighborhood" he noticed so many people like to walk. The walkers start around dawn and go to about midnight. This neighborhood has no sidewalks, so the many people who walk in it all walk in the road.* Parking cars on the side of the road is common, and you're always having to walk around the parked cars. So people (both adults and children) and pets in the street are the norm for this neighborhood not an exception. But walking in our neighborhood, even kids playing in the street (as the yards are very small), is usually not a problem as it's not a "through" neighborhood, there's only local traffic with a low speed limit and plenty of street lights. And since people being in the streets are so common, all the drivers know to expect it. In fact, many of the drivers, once they park their cars, are going to be in the streets.

Early one night I was out walking Trilby. We were walking on the proper side of the road (facing the oncoming traffic) and were near one of the entrances.
At that entrance of the subdivision there's a stop sign less than a hundred feet in because at that point you have to turn either right or left. From where we were walking, I could hear the roar of an engine on the road outside the subdivision. I could tell by the sound that the car was going far too fast; the speed limit on the road outside of the subdivision is the same 25 mph as inside the subdivision. Listening to how very fast that car was going through the residential neighborhood that borders ours, I said to myself, "I hope that car's driving past and not coming in here." Then I saw the car whip into the entrance, blow through the stop sign (going so fast there's no way he even checked for traffic) and come right at us.

All my options flashed into my mind as a gestalt. It takes longer to tell and to read than it took to happen.
  • Trilby Kitty knows the word "car" and knows it means to get out of the road. I worked with Trilby to get him to understand "car" and what to do when I say it. But the process takes time. He's a cat. Instant obedience isn't his thing. Once I say "car," he has to look for himself where the car is and assess how much of a threat he thinks it is, then he'll decide if he wants to get out of the road. We had scant seconds; saying "car" and waiting for Trilby to get up into the yard would take too long.
  • If I rushed to Trilby and tried to make a grab for him, I'd just freak him out and he'd run away from me, possibly further into the road.
  • I could yell at Trilby, but that would also freak him out and wouldn't get him out of the road because he wouldn't understand why he was being yelled at.
In the few seconds I had, I had no way to get that cat out of the road and up into the yard. I could get myself out of the road and into the yard ----- no problem. And, yes, that thought was in my head. But that would leave Trilby Kitty sitting there in the road with that car speeding straight at him. What were the odds that the driver would see Trilby and swerve? (I recognized the car as belonging to one of the group of college kids someone had violated the neighborhood covenants to rent to. There'd been problems with noise, parties, they drove like maniacs and were even suspected of dealing drugs out of their house.) Swerve for my cat? I figured it was more likely I'd see Trilby killed in front of me. The image of my injured cat, dying with his guts spilling out and sceaming in pain while I stood there safely appeared in my head......did I think I could live with that image haunting me for the rest of my life?

No, the best option for getting that car to swerve was for me to stay there. That irresponsible brat driving the car might or might not swerve for me, but the odds were better he'd swerve for me than for my cat. And if he hit me, the irresponsible brat or his parents had better have damn good insurance, because, live or die, he was liable for the entire accident. Briefly, I wondered what Trilby would do if I got hit. Would he stick around or would he take off?

All this flashed through my mind, and I made my decision.

I decided to stand.

Trilby was my cat. It was my job to protect him. If the only way I could do that was to stand in that road, I would stand in that road. And if you think I wasn't're wrong.

But I stood there as that car blasted toward us, then at the last possible second I could see him yanking the wheel with an alarmed expression on his face. The car went around us both, and it was only at that moment that Trilby became aware there was a car so fast had this all happened. The car slammed to a stop his driveway and the irresponsible brat jumped out of the car and started cursing me.

At the moment, I was shaking too hard to say anything back. By the time I walked down the street to my house, I was still shaking but now it was as much from anger. So I went to the house where a neighbor I knew who was also a cop lived. And shortly thereafter the irresponsible brat got a visit from the cop. Because the cop also walked regularly in the neighborhood with his dogs and his little girl and he'd seen how the people in that house drove.

So here's the thing. It's not just that I would choose the cat's life over a stranger's life. When I was faced with a situation where I could have saved my life or risked my life to save the cat.................

I chose the cat.

*Florida law 
allows walking on the road where a sidewalk is not provided.
drawing of speeding car about to hit person and cat

For another pet owner's dilemma, read, "7 Scary Things You Didn't Know about Your Pet's Food."

For more about my relationship with Trilby Kitty, there's........
"The Devotion of a Cat"
"In the Mind of a Sleeping Cat"
"10 Reasons Why the Best "Boyfriend" I've Ever Had Is My Cat"
"His Person's Voice or A Cat Who Will Come When Called"
"The Tree and the Cat"
"Cat Heaven"
"Cat Thinking -- The Day My Legs Turned Blue"
"You!! The Song of the Domesticated Cat"

For non-cat pieces, please take a moment to look through the



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