Like most drivers, I (Henri Bianucci) keep my eyes on the road. But unlike most drivers, I pay particular attention to creatures who are attempting to cross the road, or the unlucky ones who didn’t quite make it.
I am constantly scrutinizing every creature on, or beside, the road. Countless days have found me late for work for having circled back to see if a creature got across the street. This can be a dangerous obsession.
A few years ago, I was a passenger in my father-in-law, Bob’s, truck. He was driving and my daughter and mother-in-law were in the back seat. We were heading to Beaufort in the middle of the ACE Basin when I spotted what I initially took for a large monitor lizard.
It was long and slender with its head erect. It was moving fast and crossed our lane and stopped in the northbound lanes. It was a small alligator, about 3 feet long. I excitedly told my father-in-law we had to turn around.
He responded with a stern “no.” But I persisted. With more lobbying from the backseat, Bob knew what he had to do, but he wasn’t happy about it. He carefully pulled over and waited for a chance to turn around.
Three cars passed going north, straight for the gator, before he could pull out. As they approached, the first car swerved around it, the second car went over it, missing with all tires. Finally, the last one reached it and it lurched foreward. Disaster!
The gator was hit and writhed in a terminal spasm. My heart sank. I’m not from here, so an alligator is an exotic thing to me. I just hated to see it killed. I asked Bob to pull over anyway, so I could check the gator.
He looked bad. Blood from the nose, head tilted and one eye bulging. But it took a breath. I proclaimed that it was still alive and we would have to take it with us. Resigned to the situation, Bob looked for a box. Just then, a young couple, tourists from Israel, pulled over. They had seen the gator get hit, too, and circled back for a look. They provided a shopping bag from Banana Republic. I said that was perfect, Bob said it was too small and flimsy. “You’re gonna need a bigger bag”.
We pulled back onto the road and resumed the trek to Beaufort. I kept checking and giving progress reports. “His head is straightening out,” I observed. Bobs face tensed. “His eye looks better, he just blinked.”
“Close that bag, Henri,” said Bob, driving 70 mph on a two-lane road.
“He’s breathing much more reg- ... ”, before I could finish, the bag exploded. The paper crumpled loudly and the gator clawed its way onto Bob’s lap. That’s when Bob unleashed a flurry of profanity that I had not thought him capable of.
I channeled the crocodile hunter as I struggled to gain control of this highly agitated, dinosaur. Bob, continued to hurl expletives as he struggled to maintain control of the car, while trying to get away from the gator. He smashed himself against the driver’s side door so hard that it briefly appeared that he was driving from the other side of the door.
I pictured the Southerners reading about this stupid carload of Yankees who crashed because they voluntarily took an alligator into their car. The event was terrifying and hilarious, but full appreciation of the hilariousness was delayed for Bob.
Eventually, I gained control of the gator and Bob regained control of the car. We stopped at Piggly Wiggly and got a sturdy produce box in which to replace the bag, and we went to a local animal clinic for a steroid dose. Within a day, the gator was back to normal, and we released it not far from where we found it.
If there’s a moral here, its probably to be a bit more like Bob than me when attempting to rescue animals on the road. The urgency of these situations may lead to impulsive moves that put others at risk. This one ended well and left a story to tell for years. But it could have ended badly. So, keep your eyes open for animals in need but exercise caution at the same time.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.