Between the devil and the deep blue sea: when the predator becomes the savior

Between the devil and the deep blue sea: when the predator becomes the savior
"Whitetail Fawn," by Deb Watson. Used with permission of a Creative Common license, which you can find here

You’ve probably seen the video that’s gone viral this week of a dog saving a fawn that was drowning in the Long Island Sound. It’s a classic case of being between the devil and the deep blue sea. Do you give in to your predator’s grasp on your neck (in order to tow you to shore) or do you take your chances with the water?

The fawn, after being safely delivered to shore and the protection of a human, who in other circumstances might have put the deer in the crosshairs and pulled the trigger, wobbled to its feet and leapt back into the water.

The human had to do the saving this time and he ended up delivering the fawn to an animal rescue group that will feed it until it’s old enough to survive in the wild.

The article explained that it’s a deer’s instinct to flee. And that’s the problem with fear and instinct. You end up making bad decisions sometimes when adrenaline replaces thinking.

Surviving is tricky business. We desperately want to live, but sometimes run away from the thing that can save us. Life isn’t black and white, so the thing that hurts you today might save you tomorrow. When you’re the fawn you may not be able to tell the difference.

This fawn got lucky. Two potential predators became saviors. The logic of saving what you might in other circumstances kill and eat is inaccessible to the prey. “Why me?” the fawn might ask.

When I was five or so, my family lived near a lake. My brother once went into the lake and got in over his head. Our dog, Jinx, immediately swam out to him and pulled him to safety.

Some dogs, by nature, kill, and eat deer. But some of them also rescue the drowning because it’s in their nature. Not all humans hunt and when they do, it’s during a particular season.

But a fawn can’t know these things. All it knows is to run, get away, even if it means ending up in the lake.

I’ve been thinking about this deer today. A lot. Thinking about how fear drives choices that help you survive in some situations, but that put you in more danger in other situations. How fear’s nature can propel you the wrong way.

It’s one of the problems, in fact, that I have with the concept of being a cancer “survivor.” Surviving puts me in mind of imminent danger, keeping in view the shipwreck and the folks who drowned. It keeps my heart pounding and my eyes searching. It is a poor muse for peace and healing.

It’s not enough to just survive. It’s a start, of course, and an option that not everyone gets. But it’s not a place to land or a place to stay. It’s exhausting and devastating because it reminds us, always, of those who don’t.

I hope for this little fawn’s sake that it hasn’t learned that humans and dogs are safe, but I am grateful that this human and dog saved it.

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