Darren Holman, DVM, started his day early, as always, in his veterinary hospital on Tryon Road between Raleigh and Cary. A few minutes before 8 a.m., the phone rang.
"Dr. Holman, can you help us?" An agitated woman pleaded. "This deer has been hit by a car out on Tryon Road and it's in the street, and it's suffering."
Without even contemplating another answer, Dr. Holman said, "Be right there." He ordered his staff to gather up blankets, restraints, and other supplies. On the way out, Dr. Holman retrieved the euthanizing solution of Phenobarbital then made for the scene at a dead run.
Commuters on Tryon Road--once a pastoral back road, now a grossly overburdened traffic artery through an increasingly blighted southern Wake County--were stalled around the accident scene. As Dr. Holman jogged past the line of cars, he could see the drivers, pissed off and late for work and not even registering the cause of their delay. "Get that damn animal out of the street," a woman yelled from her sedan.
It was a beautiful morning, a blue sky overhead and red-gold light flooding the trees.
By the time he arrived, Dr. Holman found the animal on the side of the road, dragged there by a burly man who had emerged from his pickup truck to help the fallen creature. The 80-pound doe bleated piteously and flailed in shock and terror. Its back and one of its legs were broken. It was in agony. Had the injuries been a little less severe, Dr. Holman would have happily taken it to his clinic and nursed it back to health, but the broken back could not be mended. After restraining the animal with the blanket, Dr. Holman prepared a syringe and proceeded to euthanize it.
In the few moments between the injection and the deer going limp, its eyes rolled up like a doll's, Dr. Holman considered the doe's short and probably harassed life. It is not simply that urban sprawl is devouring wildlife habitat so quickly and so thoroughly, surrounding these shy, foraging animals in a maze of asphalt from which they cannot escape. It is also that roads are like biological barricades. For every animal who falls under the wheels of a car, many hundreds more starve or fail to breed because they cannot cross into less pressured range and territory.
Add to that the stupidity of North Carolina's whitetail deer "game management," a program of systematic over-population that for 50 years has had the goal of making a deer available to every slob with a high-powered rifle, and the consequence inevitably will be more bleeding scraps of wildlife along suburban throughways.
Minutes after Dr. Holman had put the deer down, the Cary police arrived. Dr. Holman explained what had transpired and that it was necessary to euthanize the animal. "What the hell did you do that for?" a Cary policeman demanded. Dr. Holman blinked, not quite understanding the question. "Well, I'm a veterinarian, and it was suffering, so ..."
"Well, damn it, now we can't eat it," the cop retorted. "If you waited a couple more minutes, I could have shot it in the head." Dr. Holman wrestled with this wind shear of realities. He couldn't imagine that any policeman would authorize, much less volunteer for, shooting a deer in full view of hundreds of commuters, though given the cold impatience of the commuters, perhaps they wouldn't have minded.
And, though the cop clearly didn't understand, eating roadkill isn't a great cuisine choice. Terrified and wounded animals have enormous amounts of adrenaline and other hormonal substances flooding their flesh, which gives them a particularly gamey and bitter taste. This is why hunters aim for the heart and head, for the quick kill. Also, an animal killed on the road is likely an animal besieged with other problems, like malnutrition, parasites and disease. So, bon appetit.
The whole episode was not adding up for Dr. Holman, who had sprinted to the scene with the happy serenity of a good Samaritan. Now he was being chastised for not letting the animal suffer until the chef had arrived.
In the meantime, Cary Animal Control workers had arrived in their truck with the cages in the back. When apprised of the events, they too seemed incredulous. "Why'd you kill it, Doc?" They asked. "Now we can't eat it."
Then there was the matter of disposing of the deer. Dr. Holman asked the Animal Control workers to take the carcass away, but he was informed with breezy indifference that their job did not include wildlife removal. The appropriate party was the Department of Motor Vehicles' animal removal service.
Dr. Holman and his staff carried the little critter back to his hospital. Julie, one of the staff members, called the DMV and eventually got in touch with the roadkill squad. The staff member was informed that the DMV would not pick up the animal from the hospital. Their job was limited to removing animals from the roadway where they were a hazard to traffic.
"Oh, that's all right," the quick-witted Julie responded. "We'll take it back out and dump it on the side of the road then call you back to let you know where." There was a pause while the DMV official pondered this. Soon thereafter, the DMV truck pulled up to the hospital.
But this story is not really about the sad intersection of cars and wildlife, the doomed doe or the men who could look past those dark eyes to see only venison. It's about Darren Holman, DVM, who on a cold, beautiful morning dropped everything, bolted past his paying clients, and wrapped his heart around the plight of a sick and suffering creature of God.
Merry Christmas, Dr. Holman.