I have not had much time to write this last couple of weeks, but the reason this time goes beyond just being busy. Two weeks ago Sunday, I hit a deer on my way home from training the dogs. It was around 6:30 at night, and pitch black. I was driving down a completely unlit, two-lane highway when a deer came out of nowhere and bolted in front of me. I was going about 80km an hour (50mph) when she came up over the bank on my left. I honked, hoping she’d swerve. She didn’t. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could. We collided.
The whole thing happened in about 2 seconds, although it felt like a good half an hour as I can still replay every instant in my head. The phantom deer glowing faintly in my headlights suddenly coming into focus in my mind. My thought to honk, and then the hardwired instinct to brake. Good thing I didn’t have the muscle memory to brake and swerve to avoid as otherwise I’m sure we’d all be dead. At that speed, doing anything but trying to stop in a straight line would have been a death sentence to anyone who wasn’t well trained in high speed chases. And given the ditch on one side and the potential for on-coming traffic on the other, there really was nowhere to go but straight.
Very fortunately, I drive a Toyota Matrix. I am sure this car saved my life. Its bumper was high enough to hit the deer’s centre of gravity and send her flying through the air forward, rather than hitting her legs and having her flip up on the hood and through the windshield. The entire front end of the car collapsed inward, absorbing the impact so successfully that I felt little more than a gentle bump as we decelerated from 80km to zero in under 2 seconds. $5,500 worth of damage to my car, and we were all fine. Thank you Toyota. I will never own another brand of car.
As strange as this may sound, before the shock of the accident set in, the very first thought that went through my head was “I wonder if I can fit the deer in my car and bring her home for the dogs” followed rapidly by “I wonder if I have it in me to butcher a deer.” As I sat in the middle of the road, pondering these thoughts, the deer – who I thought was dead – regained consciousness and struggled to her feet. I watched as she hobbled off on three legs. I sure hope she survives, but I don’t think there’s much chance of that.
Once she was gone, I started to wake up to what had happened. I noticed that there was a big ridge of metal sticking up in front of my windshield that I was pretty sure wasn’t there before, and an odor of something burning. Rubber? At the same time, I became dimly aware that I was sitting at a dead stop in the middle of the highway. I turned the key and the engine turned over. I pressed the gas, and the car moved forward. Amazing. It still worked. Wondering what I should do, I started driving down the road. After a few hundred yards, my brain finally kicked in and I pulled over. I got out and inspected my car, and that’s when I really realized how close I had come to not making it home again. Ever. I started to shake.
I got back in my car and reached for my emergency kit. Homeopathic arnica is the first remedy to give for shock and injury, and the sooner you take it, the better. I found my bottle and put a pellet under my tongue. Very quickly I stopped shaking and started to think clearly. The dogs. The dogs? How were the dogs? It had taken me this long to even realize that I had been in an accident, and I felt horrible that I only then started worrying about the dogs. Ross was at my side in the front passenger seat and he had been calm throughout all of this.
Ross was wearing a seat belt. The girls were each in a crate, sleeping with full bellies after a hard day of working sheep and hiking. I don’t think they even noticed anything had happened other than a quick stop. Thank you, Toyota. Thank you, the inventor of doggie seat belts.
I let my dogs ride free in my car for the first 18 years of having dogs. Jake and I drove 6 weeks around the US at one point, and 4 weeks on another trip. All highway miles at high speeds. I’ve driven across the continent several times with a loose dog in my car. Did I worry? Yes, mildly. But not enough to do anything about it.
Then, two years ago, I had a conversation with a fellow dog owner who’s uncle is an OPP officer. She told me what her uncle had said to her when he found out she let her dog ride free in her car. He told her of all the horrible accidents he’s seen with loose dogs in the cars. Dogs who were thrown through windshields, dogs who flew around the car and killed well strapped in people who would have otherwise survived. Dogs who were thrown clear of cars, running away in terror, never to be seen again. And then there were dogs who survived the crash, only to be shot and killed by emergency workers because they didn’t know if they could safely get near the people trapped in the car.
My gentle, sweet little Ross being shot to death because he growled at someone after surviving the trauma of a bad car accident? The thought of this last scenario terrified me. I went out and bought a seat belt, and have been strapping him in ever since. And thank goodness, as otherwise he’d be dead now. Launched through the windshield.
No, I can’t stop thinking about the ‘what if’s’.
But Ross was fine, the girls were all fine, and I was ok too. I called my insurance company who called the police. They took 1.5 hours to find me, so it was a good thing I wasn’t injured. I expect they would have looked harder and faster if I had told them I was bleeding to death. The cops were great (and quite cute I might add!) and sorted everything out. My car clearly could not safely be moved under it’s own power, so they ordered a flatbed truck for it. For me and the dogs, they ordered a taxi-van. I was 150km from home (95 miles) and the taxi cost $295. Good thing I had just been paid as I don’t usually have that kind of cash kicking around! There was a lot of serendipity going on that night.
The dogs were good as gold in their crates as the taxi took us home. I was absolutely exhausted by then. From the time I hit the deer to time I got home, 6.5 hours had passed. It was 1am and I could barely stand. I came in, cancelled my meetings for the next day, put the dogs to bed, and hit the hay.
I had a very busy 10 days after that, and dealing with all the insurance calls, police calls, rides to get my rental car (40 minutes to the nearest car rental agency), going to the body shop to pick up all the stuff I needed out of my car and so on, took up every spare minute I had beyond work. And all I wanted to do is stay home and sleep! My body ached, my muscles were recovering from having tensed up horribly, and my joints were swelling from the adrenaline reaction. Two weeks later I still have a fair amount of pain and need to go to an osteopath and homeopath to work with getting it under control. My insurance is covering everything, even the taxi ride home.
Apparently this is “deer season”, not just for hunters but for drivers. Between the hunters in the forest and the combines ripping up the fields, the deer have nowhere safe to go. Over the last six weeks, giant combines (this is a small one) have been working day and night (literally) to pull up all the corn and soy that is grown around here:
…turning fields, that the deer are used to looking like this:
…into moonscapes with no place to hide, like this, overnight:
With such dramatic changes to their environment, and gunshots going off all around, the deer are panicky and disoriented and run into cars willy nilly. The police who helped me that night had hit a deer a few weeks before, and the tow truck that pulled my car away had a huge dent in its fender from where it hit a 9-point buck the week before. The car rental agency said they get 3-4 people EVERY DAY in this area (i.e. rural countryside) in October and November, renting cars after hitting deer.
They say everything happens for a reason, but I’m not sure why this happened yet. Maybe it will become clear down the road. I feel like someone was really watching out for me, as it could have been so much worse. I lost the time that evening, and more time during the week. But I am not injured, my dogs are safe, and my bank account is intact. I get my car back this morning. I had been slack a bit of late, with all this driving, and occasionally not strapping Ross in if I’m not going far. But I’ll never take that chance again. That accident happened so quickly – and if anything preventable had happened to him, or any of the dogs, I would have never forgiven myself. Maybe I needed to learn that lesson. I don’t know, but I do know that I am extremely grateful that we are all OK. As for the poor doe – well, I sadly don’t know what happened to her. The police couldn’t find her. I sure hope she recovered, or died quickly.
Well, I’m off to pick up my little car from the body shop…