Kindness to vulnerable critters critical

Elise Patkotak

At Bird TLC, Anchorage's wild bird rehab center, summer is baby bird season.

Each year, we open our doors to little ones of every type, variety, color and maturation level. The babies come to us either because their mother was killed or they were separated from their nest mates for some reason. Sometimes people bring them in as they are fledging because they don't realize the mom is still around and holding the birdie equivalent of driving lessons with her young ones. Sometimes a tree is taken down and then a nest full of little ones is discovered. Or perhaps someone let their cat out and it caught a young bird just figuring out how to fly. And, of course, we get flocks of goslings and ducklings whose mothers were accidentally killed while crossing the road.

Then there are the orphans that arrive because a kind person was driving behind an evil person and watched as that evil person swerved to deliberately kill the mother and her flock. The kind person picked up what remained alive of the little family and brought them to us to try and raise as best we can.

Every time this happens -- and it seems we get orphans in at least once or twice each season because someone deliberately killed the mother -- I find myself wondering what kind of horrible person you have to be to see some helpless creatures crossing a road and deliberately aim your car to kill them. Do you get a rush when you do it? Do you feel powerful? Do you get a jolt of pleasurable hormones that normally occur only during sex?

I lived for a long time in a hunting culture. Killing animals for food is what people do to survive. Even those of us living in cities whose meat comes packaged and inspected are responsible for killing animals because they wouldn't be killed if we didn't eat them. I understand that our connection to some in the animal world is a connection that involves their death for our survival.

But for the life of me, I will never understand the coward who uses a multi-ton vehicle to run down some helpless little critters whose lives have barely begun.

I guess I'm lucky because the people I hang with are the people who show up as volunteers 365 days of the year to care for these smallest of God's creatures. They are the ones who swerve to the side of the road to rescue a wounded bird, not mow it down.

Given the number of birds brought in to us by people who want nothing more than to know we will somehow be able to care for and heal the little ball of fluff they found in their backyard, it is clear the good guys outnumber the bad guys. I'm not sure I'd want to wake up every day in a world where that wasn't true.

A society that cares for the least of its members is a society exhibiting the finest of human qualities and creating an environment in which we can all feel safe and protected. Outside of Eden, I'm not sure that world ever truly existed but I'm sure the more we strive toward perfection, the better off we'll be.

People who deliberately abuse animals are very likely to abuse people too. Mostly they abuse people who, like the animals they torture, are too weak or small to defend themselves -- think women and children. They do it for an amazingly wide variety of reasons, from their own childhood abuse to just being plain old bullies. In the end, what they mostly do is make our world a meaner, nastier place while acting out their cowardly assaults on anything they are pretty sure can't hit back.

The world is full of people who pick up the injured remains of a flock deliberately mowed down by some spineless jerk and go out of their way to get them somewhere they will get care. If we're lucky, these people will continue to outnumber the cowardly bullies. As for the driver who swerved to kill a mom and her brood, you have my sympathy for the horrible world you must inhabit.

Please, stay out of mine.

Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer and author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site,