You won’t want to see this. I didn’t. First, the nearby mother rabbit, who scattered as I approached on my morning trail run. And then, between us, sprawled in the middle of the path, her baby.
It hadn’t been dead long: Beneath the shuttered lids, her eyes — it was a female — had not yet clouded. Her body was perhaps six inches long, her ears shorter than my thumbs. Her coat was silky; she had a small white dot atop her head. She looked perfect, apart from the dislocated right shoulder and saliva where the dog’s mouth had been. She may have died of fright, as rabbits will.
I had a good idea that my friend Peg’s dog — a gentle, older golden retriever — had done this, had made a toy of this vulnerable baby bunny.
I knew Peg had already been by on her morning walk because, like a good citizen, she always pulls toadflax, which the powers-that-be have designated a non-native invasive species that we humans need to control. While she uprooted these plants — they resemble yellow snapdragons — her dog meandered ahead or lingered behind, and killed this little rabbit. Peg never saw it.
I did though, and I’ve seen worse. Several years ago, trailing a pack of fellow runners, I heard the frantic bleating of a fawn, its panicked mother nearby, and saw a dog in hot pursuit. I bushwhacked down a hill behind them, tearing through the scrub oak and grabbing the dog — by now, atop the fawn — by handfuls of hide; it lacked not only a leash, but a collar.
We have leash laws here; dog owners routinely ignore them. They want their pets to get exercise, they say, and besides, their dog would never run down and kill wildlife. In fact, their dogs would — and do — because that’s what instinct compels. It may happen only during the season of wild babies, and it may happen out of their owners’ view, but it happens.
Dogs will be dogs, and people — it seems — people. Which is to say, we count not only our lives as more valuable than those of animals, but our convenience. I encountered two dog owners on the trail this morning when I returned to take photos of the little rabbit; I told both what I had seen and asked them to leash their pets. Both seemed sad about the bunny. And when I looked back, neither had leashed her dog.
Perhaps you think rabbits don’t matter; after all, they breed like, well, rabbits, so what’s the big deal if a few die here and there? I invite you to consider humanity — all 7.5 billion of us. Never has the unfettered procreation of a single species done so much harm to other creatures and the planet at large. Scientists say we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction, with plant and animals species disappearing at an horrific and unprecedented rate. Humans are the cause: habitat loss, hunting, global warming and countless other calamities that accompany the wholesale selfishness of our ever-increasing kind.
Yet the urgent need to control human population is absent from public discussion. Because we have rights, you know; we are entitled to have as many children as we please. We presume the authority to manage other species we deem noxious or invasive, but suggesting a parallel and more pressing moral responsibility — to manage our own, the most noxious and invasive of all — is a kind of heresy.
Apart from reining in our own procreation — the single most important action — we can do little to affect meaningful change as individuals. But “little” does not mean nothing.
All around us in the northern hemisphere, animal parents are doing their utmost to get babies successfully reared, out of their nests and warrens and into a larger world that is precarious even for adults.
In any moral universe worth inhabiting, they have a right to their lives, and these tiny wonders, their children, a right to grow up — that much, at least — safe from our carelessness.
Please, in this season of wild babies if at no other time: Leash your dogs. Keep your cats indoors, or belled, bibbed and closely supervised. Remember these wild lives: Fleeting, irreplaceable and ever more imperiled by the infinite arrogance of our kind. Do your part: Be a good human being.