Cat and Car: A Study in Ethics

Last night, I went hunting for a late dinner in Mexico City. It was a Sunday night, so most of the food shops in my neighbourhood were closed. I decided to roam a bit more than usual, and had to cross a busy main road. While waiting at the light, a black-and-white cat ran recklessly into oncoming traffic. Before it could go past the midpoint of the road, it got knocked flat by a car.

A local man waiting at the light with me glanced at me with shock and horror. We watched the cat lay limply on the road as cars continued to zoom past it, their tires coming horribly close to its immobile body. The seconds I spent waiting for the light to change felt like hours.

Finally, the light changed, and I was surprised to see my fellow pedestrian run across the road, straight past the poor cat, as if the hideous spectacle we had just witnessed had never even happened. So, with no one else to do it, I walked to the middle of the intersection, picked up the limp body of the cat, and carried it carefully onto the sidewalk. I placed it there, sadly watching it twitch in agony for a few moments.  I looked up at the small group of locals that was now staring at me, and gave a huge, impotent shrug in their direction. Then I walked onward in search of food.

If it sounds heartless, I assure you that I did feel the tinges of self-doubt even at that moment. But what was I supposed to do with a cat that had probably just had every bone in its body broken? Take it to a 24-hour emergency veterinary clinic and pull out my credit card and tell them to charge whatever had to be charged?

Well, maybe. I want to say I’ve just been desensitized by the amount of animal suffering I’ve seen in developing countries. I think about all the poor scabies-covered street dogs I saw in the Philippines, and how I should have taken them to a vet and spent a few dollars to get them treated and maybe spare them lifetimes of ceaseless pain and suffering. And I do feel about that – especially since I’m honestly 110% a dog man.

Perhaps I wasn’t primarily concerned about the cat’s suffering. Perhaps I just wanted to spare myself the horrible sight of seeing that cat’s body even more graphically violated by yet another huge slab of metal and rubber moving at high speed. And by moving its body so that it could die uninterrupted somewhere else, I at least spared myself that awful sight. In a weird way, I feel like what I did was worse than the man who looked on in shock but then ran past the poor animal without giving it a thought. Because by moving its body, I had accepted responsibility for it, and then I immediately washed my hands of that very responsibility.

I finally found a food place that was open, and had a fairly mediocre torta (sandwich) with beef and cheese – speaking of animal cruelty. The barely passable food was somewhat redeemed by the charming waiter who really wanted to speak English with me, and seemed proud that he might be moving to Canada in two months to work in a restaurant. When I asked him several times which city he’d be in, he ignored my question – Possibly he didn’t know.

Of course, monster though I may be, I hadn’t forgotten about that cat. I made a point of passing by that fateful spot on the way home, and was somewhat relieved to see that it had died. This was verified by a concerned passer-by who was checking it for signs of life as I arrived. I tried to explain to him what had happened, and then asked what you’re supposed to do with a dead cat on the street in Mexico City. Unfortunately, neither he nor his friend seemed to know, and they eventually dispersed.

I know it doesn’t sound good, but I was still hungry, so I stepped into the Oxxo convenience store nearby. When I came out I stopped to have another sorrowful glance at the cat. It looked so pitiful with its eyes bulging out and its tongue drooping from its mouth. I tried to close its eyes with my fingers, but man, it’s really not as easy as it looks when they do it to people in the movies. (Or maybe it’s easier with people than it is with cats.) Not wanting to defile its body further, I cut my losses and stood up again.

Another man came toward me while crossing himself, looking forlornly down at the cat’s lifeless body. I again tried to explain to him how the cat had come to its final resting place, and he asked me if I was still planning on eating the snack food that I was carrying inside my Oxxo bag. I rather sheepishly told him that, well, yeah, I was still hungry. I walked home, still not sure what you’re supposed to do with a dead cat on the sidewalk in Mexico City.

With all of the people I was explaining the dead cat to, I would never have the chance to explain it to those who might most need to understand. After all, the cat had rushed so recklessly into incoming traffic, it seems unlikely that it would have been able to reach full size while living on the streets. And so, perhaps it was an escaped house cat. Perhaps the heartbroken owners would find their poor baby on the sidewalk, and, without the clear forensic evidence of a feline pancake in the middle of the road, they might forever be left to wonder if some inhuman monster had bludgeoned or poisoned their cat for the sheer sport of it. (At least, assuming they didn’t perform an autopsy on the cat, which would seem a bit excessive to me.)

Am I a monster for moving that cat’s dying body and then finding a sandwich? Or for confirming its death and then getting some Mexican cheese-flavoured Ruffles (which are really, really delicious)? I honestly don’t know. Maybe doing a little is sometimes worse than doing nothing at all. In retrospect, I just wish that I had spent at least part of my disposable income over the last few years on scabies medication.

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