October 19, 2005
The Most Important Thing
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife
You were discovered alone on the roadside. Your mother was nowhere to be found.
The fact that you were found next to the road gave us little hope for finding her. We doubted that you were
abandoned. We believed that you were orphaned, by a vehicle or bullet. You were brought to us as an
emaciated five-pound pup. You feared us, and cowered at the back of your cage, averting your eyes from
ours. We left you alone as much as possible, and we did not actively seek to make you comfortable when we
were present. We knew that a healthy fear of humans was crucial to your long-term chances for survival, and
we respected your wildness far too much to attempt to diminish it.
Several weeks passed, and your thin, sickly frame filled out. Your body, once weakened by hunger, grew
stronger by the day. You were moved into a much larger enclosure, and there you met another of your kind--
a confirmed orphan; a young female that had been found on another roadside, next to the lifeless body of
her mother. The two of you were from opposite sides of the mountains, and at first you did not get along.
She hid behind a carrier and bared her teeth when you approached, but you eventually gained her trust. We
watched the two of you on a television monitor. We were thrilled when you finally accepted each other.
You feared us,
and cowered at the
back of your cage, averting your eyes
You and your cagemate passed your childhood together. You played with each other and grew strong.
Your coats grew thick, and your appearance gradually changed from gangly and awkward to sleek and agile.
You retained your fear of us. When one of us so much as walked past part of your enclosure, you bolted
through an opening into an adjacent cage. If we looked into the cage to check on you, you tried your
hardest to avoid our gaze. Your needs for food, water, shelter and companionship were all being met, but
you would have never found a way to be content while you were contained. You had no way of knowing that
from the moment you came through our doors you were in no danger of being permanently held captive. Our
goal for you was precisely the opposite.
More than three months passed, and it became clear
that you were no longer in need of our care and protection. Your cagemate left first. She was released in
her home on the east side of the mountains. We could not send you with her. Part of the responsibility we
accepted when we took you in was to ensure that we returned you to the same genetic population in which you
were born. Your cagemate was sent to walk the land her mother had walked, and you would do the same. You
had to endure an additional week of uncertainty after she left, often pacing, alone in your cage.
At 7:30 am on October 8th, we closed you off in one small, dark section of your enclosure. Two of us then
entered the cage and moved toward you. You behaved as you should have, and attempted to run away, but the
walls prevented your escape. We caught you and covered your head so we could handle you safely. As we
carried you toward a waiting transport container, I felt your jaws close tentatively around my gloved
fingers as you briefly toyed with the idea of fight instead of flight. Much to my relief, the latter
impulse won out, and you released your grip before we placed you carefully into your transport
We loaded you into the back of a pickup truck and drove south for two hours. We brought you within a mile
of the spot in which you had been found. The carrier door was opened. You ran more than 60 yards in just a
few seconds, and then you stopped abruptly and looked back. You were standing in the middle of a field of
tall, dry grass surrounded by forest. Your fur blended perfectly with your surroundings. No longer afraid
of my gaze, you looked directly at me. You had been transformed. In that instant, I truly saw you, the
whole you, for the first time. In my language you are called "Coyote", and this is how I had
referred to you even while you were in a cage. Seeing you in that field, my brain found it impossible to
comprehend how the same word could identify you both before and after this transformation. It was clear
that your true being is inseparably connected to the world in which you live. I know of no word in my
language that can ever accurately represent that connection.
I know that it will never be possible
for you to read these words, or to comprehend the meaning of the time you spent with us in captivity. I
know you will never understand what happened during these early months of your life, or grasp that we had
only good intentions toward you. But as you turned away from me in that field, and ran out of sight I knew
that you understood the most important thing. The cage walls were gone, and your life was again your own.
Farewell my friend. Live a long, full life. If we should ever meet again, may it be on your terms, not
Wild animals released between October 4th and October 17th,
1 Harbor Seal
7 Virginia Opossum
27 Eastern Gray Squirrel
3 Eastern Cottontail
1 Northern Flying Squirrel
1 Hermit Thrush
1 Western Grebe
1 Rhinoceros Auklet
530 wild animals have been released since the
beginning of 2005. Thanks to all of you for helping to make these releases possible!
All rights reserved. ©2005 Progressive Animal
A Northwest leader in protecting animals since 1967, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society
(PAWS) shelters homeless animals, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and empowers people to
demonstrate compassion and respect for animals in their daily lives.