I went for a walk last night to gain some relief from the oppressive heat. A woman, who was visibly upset, had witnessed a cat being hit by a car. She stopped her vehicle to give assistance, as the offending car drove off without stopping. The cat did not survive the impact.
So, this is not a morality moment. The value of life, human or animal, is in the eye of the beholder, as is any judgment of responses. My empathy for the woman or the animal is not the story, but, interestingly, it did remind of something that happened on the West Coast Trail many years ago.
I was leading a group on the West Coast Trail. There was another guide, Bert, who led trips from a Vancouver community centre each summer. Over the years, we had met on a number of occasions at various campsites, and had struck up a professional friendship.
As our group approached our campsite one trip, I noticed Bert walking about on the beach with what appeared to be a common house cat on a leash. This definitely piqued my interest. I quickly completed my responsibility to my group and walked over to talk with Bert.
“You’re probably wondering about the cat.”
He was a champion of the obvious.
He explained that fate had dealt him a group of nine women on this trip. As they were stopped for some rest and water along the trail, the cat appeared out of nowhere. The women were filled with empathy and wonder about the cat. Bert had suggested that it may have jumped one of the recreational boats that anchored along sheltered beaches, or may have just wandered from a local community and got lost in its travels. Bert had further suggested that the cat be left to its own resources, and nature would determine its fate. Not the answer that the women wanted to hear!
“And, that’s how I was enlisted to look after this ##@*! cat. At the first opportunity, I’ll accidentally lose the cat, if you get what I mean.”
Our groups separated. It was four days later that we met up again at a beach campsite. As we were setting up, I looked over to Bert’s group. I could not see Bert or the cat. When time permitted I walked over to their campfire and struck up a conversation with some of the women in Bert’s group.
“I see that you don’t have that cat anymore,” expecting that Bert had carried through with his plan to “lose” the cat.
Oh, no, the women said. Bert and the cat were inseparable. They did everything together – eat, prim, sleep, walk. As a matter of fact, the cat was in Bert’s tent and they were enjoying an afternoon nap.
I didn’t get a chance to speak with Bert that day and his group was gone the next morning before we got up.
It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I met up with Bert again along the West Coast Trail.
“Take in any more lost creatures?”, I asked.
We had a nice chat. He explained that he had bonded with the cat, something that had caught him off-guard. The cat was now part of his family at home. We talked further about guide things until he and I had to return to our respective groups.
As he walked back on the beach, I could not know that I would never see Bert again. I imagined him tugging on the cat with an improvised leash. I smiled – it was a warm smile.