The Death of a Wild Bird: A Reflection on Society's Values
Seagull knocked down as it foraged for food
Walking home from my mum's one day, on a busy main road, I saw a slight tailback of traffic and several seagulls swooping about above the cars.
At first, I didn't think too much of it, being laden down with four bags of heavy shopping and concentrating on beginning the one-mile walk home. I had just sold my car and was discovering what it was like to walk a lot again. It was okay except when I had been to the supermarket.
However, as I approached the seagulls, who were crying out loudly and circling, I saw, to my horror, that a mighty bird had been hit by a car and was struggling to get up in the middle of the road.
It appeared some thoughtless person had discarded a pie of some sort out of a car window and the birds had been trying to eat this when one of them had been knocked down.
I truly wish people wouldn't do this - apart from carelessly throwing litter out of a car window instead of taking it home or finding a bin, it will encourage birds to land in the road to eat and this will lead to their being killed.
Appalled at motorists' reaction to injured bird
What upset me most was the behaviour of the motorists who were trying to drive along the road. It was rush hour and quite busy, but they were all beeping their horns and getting frustrated.
They were driving round the injured bird, some of them missing it by only inches.
Not one person stopped their car and tried to move it before it became further injured and it was merely sitting there in the middle of the road, pathetically flapping its wings and opening and closing its beak.
I felt so sorry for it - it was an adult bird and very beautiful.
I decided to move it to the pavement in the hope it might just be stunned and would recover once the shock had worn off.
I had rescued a seagull that had been hit by a car in the past and it was indeed well enough to fly off after it had been sitting in the grass verge for about 20 minutes, during which time I had stayed with it to make sure it was okay.
The last thing I wanted was to see it literally flattened by a vehicle. I have seen many, many seagulls and other wild birds - everything from pigeons to sparrows and starlings - literally flat on the road.
I hate it when drivers either don't care, or carry on driving at the normal speed, when they see birds in the road, saying, "Oh, they'll get out of the way."
Often, they don't - and end up dead.
Nobody would stop their car so I could pick up the bird
Rescuing the bird from the middle of the road proved much more difficult than anticipated.
With traffic driving both ways and with it being early evening rush hour, it wasn't as if I could just step out and scoop up the seagull, as I would probably have been knocked down myself.
My mum, who is elderly, lives near this road and she has a terrible time navigating it herself, as all the drivers are speeding along and so intent on reaching their destination at breakneck speed, they have scant regard for anyone - animal or human - who needs to cross the road.
Also, I had four bags of heavy shopping - including canned food for all my dogs and cats - so I could not move very fast.
As I waited to cross, I noticed the individual motorists' faces as they had to slow down slightly to wait and pass the injured bird.
Not one of them had even a slight look of compassion or sorrow. They were all rushing who knows where - driving home after work? The supermarket? The pub? But it struck me that every single one of them was so wrapped up in their own little world they were totally immune to the fact a living creature was in agony and possibly dying in front of them.
Not one person stopped and every driver looked furious, angry or frustrated and saw it more as an inconvenience rather than a wild animal floundering and in desperate need of help.
Eventually I took my life in my hands and stepped into the road
After more than five minutes waiting for a gap in the traffic to try to pick up the injured gull, I decided enough was enough.
I simply dumped all my shopping on the pavement and stepped out in front of the oncoming cars, holding my hand up to say, "Stop."
I am not the most patient of people myself, although my frustration comes not from being in the car in traffic on my way home, but from dealing with thoughtless, selfish people who don't care about anything but themselves and their own inconvenience.
One driver (male) had no choice other than to stop or he would have struck me with his car. I saw his angry face as he hit the brakes.
To my amazement, the female driver behind him actually attempted to overtake him at this point, on the wrong side of the road! She would have hit me had she not suddenly spotted me and realised why the car in front had stopped! She slammed on her brakes and glared at me.
I was so angry by this time, I felt like a coiled spring and had she beeped her horn at me or shouted anything out of her window, I think I would have marched over to her car and dragged her out by the scruff of the neck. I saw her face, twisted in fury that she had to wait.
I thought to myself, "What is wrong with people?"
I picked up the gull and placed it on the pavement
I just marched straight over to the seagull, gently picked it up and placed it safely at the side of the road. Then I remembered my shopping, at the other side of the road, so I had to run back for that too.
Surviving unscathed - although with a few car horns beeped as I stopped the traffic - I started to assess how badly the bird was injured.
It was hard to tell, as it appeared able to flap its wings and was making pathetic squawking noises, but otherwise, it seemed unable to move. I felt so sorry for it.
I decided to try and take it to the vet - my local People's Dispensary for Sick Animals. Although a lot of vets won't treat wild animals and will merely euthanise them if injured, I found the PDSA very helpful in the past, when I took in a hedgehog that had been knocked down. They treated it and kept it there under observation until it recovered and would not accept any money from me.
I was later able to release it back to the wild, near the spot where I had found it.
Passer-by refused to help me
Moving the bird was a challenge in itself, as it was massive.
I had only my handbag and four supermarket carrier bags filled with cans of food and other shopping.
However, I then spotted a man emerging from a nearby house, walking his dog. He spotted the bird flapping about on the pavement and his dog, on an extending lead, tried to run at it, barking, but the man pulled his pet away and gave the gull a distasteful look.
I walked over to him and very politely said, "Excuse me, you don't have an old carrier bag or cardboard box in your house, do you?"
I explained the bird had just been knocked down and that I wanted to take it to the vet's.
His reply astounded me. He appeared disgruntled that I had bothered him and he grunted, "Just leave it there and it will die."
I was so stunned. I wondered how he would feel if his dog escaped from its lead and got knocked down? Would he expect a passer-by to just "leave it there to die"?
I said to him, "I'm not doing that, it's cruel. Forget it, I'll sort it out myself."
He shrugged and looked at me like I was mad. He added, "Well, I wouldn't bother!"
I could have said much more to him, but managed to bite my tongue and walk away.
I feel many people attach different levels of importance to different species' lives, with humans at the top of the chain, followed by pet animals and then wild animals way, way down the list, with no regard for their well-being at all.
Struggle to carry the gull home
Eventually, I had to transfer all my shopping - four bags full - into two bags and make a rather uncomfortable "bed" for the seagull out of the remaining two bags.
I did not have the money for a taxi and wasn't on a bus route to my house, so I walked home with all my shopping in one hand and the gull in the other, my arms like lead and my legs feeling like they were buckling under the extra weight.
I planned to drop off the shopping at home and then go to the PDSA surgery, which luckily was only two minutes from my house.
Arriving home, I put the bird in a box with towels for bedding and prepared to go to the vet's.
But unfortunately, after giving a final squawk and a flap of his wings, he died, a trickle of deep red blood suddenly pouring from his mouth. I realised he must have had bad internal injuries, despite his struggle to get up after the accident.
I felt very sad - never again would he fly free and feel the wind under his wings and in his face. Never again would he feel the sunlight on his back and be glad to be alive.
My failure to understand why not enough people care
I wasn't sorry I had carried the gull all the way home. At least I had tried. I would have had sleepless nights if I'd left him in the road fighting for his life.
But afterwards, I struggled to understand why nobody else would even stop their car to move him to safety at the side of the road, or why the motorists had become angry at me for holding them up, or why the man walking his dog would not spare even two minutes of his time to get me a carrier bag or a cardboard box from his house.
Maybe I think too deeply, I have no idea! But I believe every living creature has a right to life. It has a beating heart, a brain, it feels pain, it reproduces and looks after its young. At the end of the day, we are all living creatures trying to get on with our lives in the best way possible.
Because the human species is (supposedly) further advanced than other species, many people mistakenly think we are more important than the animals.
Treat humans and animals with equal respect
When I was in my early teens, I had a good friend who was a vegetarian and who read a lot about Buddhism, although not a Buddhist.
We spoke a lot about animals and their welfare and I learned how Buddhists try to do no harm (or as little harm as possible) to animals and try to show loving-kindness to all beings, including animals.
Buddhists treat the lives of human and non-human animals with equal respect.
I think probably some of our conversations, 30 years ago now, helped shape my views on animals, which I have had my entire adult life.
I wish everyone could just take a moment to reflect on how all life is important and how every creature deserves a chance to live its life in safety and happiness. I do not imagine for a moment that this will ever happen. But I can dream.