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DR. JOHN RHENEY COLUMN: Zoo sadism on the roadways
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DR. JOHN RHENEY COLUMN: Zoo sadism on the roadways

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My wife and I decided to build a trellis over our blueberry bushes to keep the birds off of our crop this year. I used some bamboo we have on the farm to make a frame and then we threw an old tennis net over it. Worked pretty good until the bamboo began to dry out, buckle and snap.

Obviously we needed a more permanent situation, so I gathered my life savings and headed to Lowe's to purchase some treated lumber for three times what it cost last year. The drive to town was pleasant and uneventful. Coming home proved a little more traumatic.

About 5 miles from home on the Belleville Road is a creek bottom. Until Saturday the only things I remember about this little cold spot is to watch for deer at night (I’ve hit one there), and when we have a flash flood, the Highway Patrol often blocks the road because water comes over it. This spot is on a slow curve and as I came around the curve, I saw a sedan make a weird movement in the road. In a second or two I realized why. A very large tortoise had just about made it across the road and now the left tire was lined up on the slow-moving turtle. I watched as the tire hit it and it flipped up under the car. The driver who suddenly noticed he wasn’t alone on this country road turned his face as we passed. Don’t blame him.

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I turned around to go back and see if I could move the tortoise across the road. She had flipped herself back over and was moving. As a matter of fact when I parked the truck and went to pick her up, she tried to scurry away. Unfortunately, she was beyond my help. The car tire had done its intended work. The whole left side of the shell was missing and all of the turtle’s skin was exposed. There was a large tear in the skin toward the rear of the body cavity and its internal organs were open to the outside.

I had seen a show where vets rebuilt a turtle's shell with fiberglass and seriously considered it, but I didn’t think the fiberglass or plaster would keep the poor animal from developing an infection underneath. I placed it in the ditch beside the road and drove off. In retrospect, I might have been more of a coward than the jerk that ran over it. I am pretty sure she would die a slow agonizing death, but I just couldn’t bring myself to beat it to death with the only weapon I had in my service truck -- a framing hammer.

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I was angry as I drove home. I muttered under my breath at the idiot that could just as easily have let the box tortoise live to go dig her nest. She was a big tortoise. They are thought to live as long as 100 years. This one could easily have been 30-40 years old. She was probably born before the cretin that killed her. Wait I thought! Cretins are people born with thyroid deficiencies that are no fault of their own. Because of this disease, these people don’t develop mentally. No, I needed a new description for this guy and hundreds like him that purposely leave wildlife on the roadways to die by heat and infection.

How about sadist? I looked the term up. Webster’s describes a sadist as “a person who derives pleasure, especially sexual gratification, from inflicting pain on others." Not quite what I was looking for. In the foot notes, though, I found what I was looking for. A zoo sadist is a person who derives pleasure from cruelty to animals.

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I’ve written an article about this same subject before when I witnessed a moron who tried to run over a turkey hen that was crossing the road. This time of year, many people hit fawns following their mothers across roadways. I don’t think that is as intentional because hitting a deer with your vehicle and the damage it would cause would just be stupid. Just remember that when one deer runs across the road, there will most likely be another one behind it.

If the first deer panics because it is separated from others, it will often turn back around and run back in the direction from which it came. I hunt. I have killed many animals in the past, though not in the last few years. I believe hunting is our most useful tool in order for people to live in balance with the abundance of wildlife that surrounds us. My land is covered up in wild hogs that cause lots of damage to crops and the ecological balance; but even then, I can’t bring myself to just shoot them and leave them in the field. Fortunately, there are others willing to do so.

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Hunting is a far cry from what I have witnessed on the roadways. There are penalties for illegal and wasteful hunting. Zoo sadism is a disease for which someone cannot be prosecuted under the law. It is just another sickness that allows a few individuals to make the rest of us wince and turn our heads so as not to see. It is sad.

Dr. John Rheney has been writing his outdoors column for The Times and Democrat since 1984.

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