The Cat in the Street

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It's a cloudy, overcast California morning and I'm driving to work at my usual peppy speed, approaching a busy intersection. There's a shopping center on the left corner, a Target across the street, and a 7-11 on another corner.  As I sidle over to the left-turn lane, I see a beautiful, tawny cat in the middle of the street. Dead.


The thought of it lying there for who-knows-how-long, being run over again and again, is too much.  I instantly turn left into the shopping center, park the car, and start running toward the cat. Wait a minute, I think. You'd better cover your hands with something. So I back track, open my trunk, and grab some paper towels. Then I'm out into the street. Miraculously it's nearly free of cars, and as I hurry out to the middle, the driver of a black SUV sees me and knows what I'm doing. She stops and puts on her flashing lights. Another good soul.


Bending over the cat, I see the hairs on its belly and the angora on my sweater sleeve ripple in the wind.  I pick it up as I pick up under the front legs as I do my cats at home, but I don't hug it against me. Instead I let the cat's body hang, its legs dangling back and forth. Rigor mortis has not set in. Nor does it have any flies or bugs on it. It probably hasn't been in the street too long. From the size of its paws, I can see it was a pretty good size cat, maybe 15 pounds. It has no collar. But it looks well-fed.

Who hit it? Did they feel the impact? Did they check their rearview mirror to see what they had hit, and did they see the cat? Did they care?


Its head has been hit or run over and is a bloody mess. The eyeballs and the pink connective tissue to which they're attached are stretched out of their sockets; the powerful, V-shaped jawbone with the row of little white teeth along both sides is split in two, and both pieces of bone swing back and forth like shutters in the wind. If I look too closely at the head, I can make out the whole structure of the skull. I also can smell its blood, that same metallic odor that human blood has, which reminds me of tasting tarnished silverware.


The shopping center shrubbery seems like the best place to keep it safe from further harm. As I carry the carcass over to the bushes, a little black car pulls up and a distraught-looking young woman inside says,

    "Can I help you?"  

    "It's not mine," I say. "I'm just trying to get it out of the street."

    She focuses on the cat, says, "Oh, my God!" and is gone.


A wooden post in the bushes reminds me of a cross, so I lay the cat at the base of it, on its side, making sure both pairs of legs face the same direction. Then I put one of the paper towels under its crushed head and use the other one to cover its mangled face.  As I walk back to my car, I wonder what will happen to the cat next in that location. Will it be found by the gardener who takes care of the shopping center's foliage and end up in the garbage? I know that dead animals cannot be included with vegetation, so then is its disposal my responsibility? Yes, especially since I moved it to a somewhat hidden location.


After making many unsuccessful 411 calls, in which I never get past the automated operator (Why is it when you're dealing with mundane, bureaucratic details, you suddenly realize how tired you are?), and Googling "dead animal disposal San Fernando Valley," I'm led to the West Valley Animal Control, which refers me to the Bureau of Sanitation. The woman I talk to patiently asks me questions about where they can find the animal, assures me they will pick it up in 24 hours, and gives me a confirmation number. The whole experience, including writing this journal post, takes 90 minutes, but everything I feel, and remembering how the cat looked and the smell of its blood, stays with me.

Poor kitty.

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