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Selective Sympathy: War’s Mayhem and Murder is Somehow Less Hard to Bear than the Humane Termination of an Injured Animal

 

The officer rested his arm holding the stock of the assault rifle on the top of a log pile, and aimed directly between the target’s eyes. She was looking directly at him, unblinking, from 30 feet away, and exhibited no fear. “I hate doing this,” he muttered, before finally pulling the trigger.

A sharp “bang!” rang out, her head jerked up and then her whole body sagged to the ground, followed by some muscle jerks, and it was over.

The officer went over and checked the body, decided no second shot was needed to finish the job, and then walked back to his squad car, took out his phone, and called in the serial number of his rifle, reporting his firing of one round, as required by regulations.

Our doe was dead.

She was a beautiful animal, and had adopted our forested 2.3-acre lot in suburban Montgomery County, PA for the past five years. We could always recognize her by a game front leg that she usually held up, bent slightly, above the ground. She would sometimes lower her hoof while grazing, but when she ran or walked, it was always on three legs. The fourth, almost certainly broken by a long-ago run-in with a car, must have hurt to put weight on.

Our doe, game leg raised, with two fauns earlier this year--her own on the right and an 'adopted' one on the leftOur doe, game leg raised, with two fauns earlier this year--her own on the right and an 'adopted' one on the left

During those five years, she bore six fawns (last year she had twins). This year I saw her new baby only hours after it was born. It was scarcely bigger than a small dog at the time, its fur brightly spotted. Over the summer she had “adopted” an older young animal clearly born the same year, but perhaps a month earlier than her own. The three of them spent most of their time on our lot, which includes a small vernal pond good for watering. In dry years, she would leave during August, no doubt in search of water, but she would always return, sometimes with a grown fawn and a few other deer in tow, sometimes alone.

She knew us, and even if she was only 20 feet from the back door, would often not flee if we left the house to go to the car or the mailbox. If I spoke to her gently, sometimes I could get even closer, though she always remained wild enough that she would not take food from us. The best I did at approaching her was once when it was bone dry and I ran the hose into a bucket. That time she watched with interest from a distance, listening to the sound of the water, and then let me walk with the full, sloshing bucket to within 10 feet before running aways off. She returned quickly to the bucket though, after I had set it down and walked a decent distance away from it.

There was a clear level of trust that had developed.

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