Yesterday was the Girls on the Run (GOTR) practice 5k, and I volunteered to be a running buddy for my daughter and a group of 16 third and fourth grade girls from her school. They have been training for months and the final race is Sunday. Wednesday was a big day. The first time they would actually run five entire kilometers. Buddies were needed to ensure that no one was left behind as the sprinters and walkers spread out across the course.
It was a warm fall afternoon and the sun was shining. I had decorated the sidewalk by the side of our house with chalk hearts, GOTR, and arrows, because our house was on the route. It was my special surprise. At school, the coaches met with the excited girls for a few minutes and gave them their matching sunflower yellow shirts to wear. The parent buddies marveled at the amazing weather while waiting to start running. After no other parents seemed willing to wrangle the sprinters, I took off with the lead group. Steps into our run we heard a horrible noise: a thump and then a cry. One thought crossed my mind as I turned back toward the school and the crosswalk we’d just passed. A kid got hit by a car.
Relief when I saw a golden dog limping and whimpering it’s way across the street. There was no blood and no gore just sad sounds and a slow moving animal. One of the Girls on the Run coaches and a mom ran to help the dog. My 6 girls and I were the only ones who didn’t witness the dog getting hit. We paused and the kids asked hard questions like, “Will the dog be okay?” and “Will the dog die?” and I said, “I don’t know.” In no time the singlemindness of 8 and 9 year-olds took over and the runners started again, so I went with them. After all, we were there to run.
There was no hysteria. There weren’t even any tears, but each intersection I stopped traffic – the sound of car hitting flesh fresh in my mind – and girls passed me talking to each other. “That dog reminded me of my dog.” “My mom was crying.” “Do you think it is dead?” “I would be sad if it was a cat.” The conversations continued throughout the run and after we celebrated our accomplishment the dog news was relayed to moms, dads, teachers and siblings. The coach who stayed with the dog told her story. The owners were called, but not contacted and a nice neighbor took the dog to the vet in his truck. “Will the dog be okay?” the girls asked. “I don’t know.”
Today is my work from home day, and I watched our new backyard cat stalk mice, our chickens, and investigate our maple tree. My house cats dart from window to window not growling but fascinated by the cat that’s outside. How did she get there and why isn’t anyone making her go back inside? She’s not our cat, and she isn’t friendly, but chicken bring mice and I’ve been happy to see her hunting the past couple of weeks. It’s been a few years since Mark the cat stopped coming around and since I’d watched his muzzle and then coat turn from orange to white I assumed he’d passed on. He used to leave us mouse presents on our front stoop and while the baby mouse piles were disturbing, I was glad he kept the pest population down.
After picking up my daughter from school I watched the grey cat prowl around our yard. When she disappeared behind a tree I went back to the basement to finish my work day. I glanced out the egress window and there she was, her sleek grey fur gleaming and golden eyes staring at a rodent or bug just beyond the edge of the window where I couldn’t see and she couldn’t reach. I called to my daughter, “Come see the new cat.” My cats each stretched into the window screen and our family examined her. My daughter cooed, “Hi cat.” The huntress didn’t waver from her prey. Suddenly her focus broke and she glanced down at us before leaping into the front yard. We all went back to watching TV, typing, or napping in our cat bed.
Fifteen minutes later I heard my husband come in the front door. He thudded around upstairs and tromp tromp tromped down the stairs. He greeted my daughter who ignored him in favor of her show. He stood by me and said quietly, “You know that grey cat that’s been around. I think she got hit by a car. I saw someone stop and pick up her body from the middle of the road. She’s lying in the yard across the street. She’s not moving. She’s definitely dead.”
“I just saw her. She’s been around all day.” Back upstairs I stared out the kitchen window at an unmoving pile of familiar grey fur sprawled in our neighbor’s yard. Her positioning and stillness left no room to wonder if she was going to make it. Her body was right across from the colorful hearts and arrows I’d drawn. Our new outside cat wasn’t going to help manage the rodent population anymore.
My husband pointed to the white car with blinking hazards, “That was the person moving her. I hope they are calling someone. Did she have tags?” I didn’t remember.
Numbed I went back to my computer and when my daughter asked what was going on I said, “I don’t want to tell you.” I kept working and my daughter went upstairs to find her dad. I held myself together until her little arms wrapped around my neck and she said, “I’m so sorry mom.” Only then did I cry. I cried for the pets, for the owners, for the kids that witnessed a car hit a dog on what was supposed to be a magical day, and for my daughter who would have been “sad if it was a cat” the day before. When I was done, she sobbed. “Mom, animals do so much for us. Why do we run them over?” All I could say was, “I don’t know, kiddo.”
I glimpsed the grey cat’s body across the street while I made dinner. When I noticed my daughter crying while staring out the window I paused. We hugged and she moved on. When dinner was finished I looked and even in the dark I could see that the remains of the outside cat were gone. “Mom, do you think an animal got her, or did her owners find her?”
“I don’t know.”