7 Rites to Perform Upon Finding a Dead Animal


The dappled fawn tangled in a line of barbed wire.
Stop pedaling your bicycle. Dismount and quietly guide it to the wet, harried fur splayed out in the nodding grass. Notice how the round, damp eye still reflects a sky full of lazy clouds. Feel the tender dropped weight of the split hoof freed from its impartial snare. Before tucking bright dandelions around her body, count thumbprint spots weaving a milky efflorescence, a blooming blueprint.

The dusty pine siskin smashed against your window.
Attempt to intercept the body before your toddler understands what has happened. Having failed that, console his hysterical tears. Kneel and page through each soft, stacked feather. Point out the small clutching feet before placing the body in a secluded tree fork. A pot of geraniums will also serve. Return in two months to claim the papery skull.

The bloodied squirrel staining the snowy road.
Keep the dog back. With a gloved hand, carry your quarry to a roadside fir, perhaps its own home tree. Leave it stretched out, belly down on a low bough, to freeze into a season-long embrace.

The hump of porcupine on the yellow line.
Pull over. Even if it’s just barely dawn. Even if you’re headed to the airport. Dodge semis if they come. Choose your grip carefully, then gently drag the prickly hummock into the woods. Pile new clover near his mouth. For your troubles, you may lightly tug on a clutch of quills. You may bundle them with crimson thread to sit on your dresser. You may prick your finger occasionally, to remember their bite.
The truck-flattened spiral of snake.
Squinting, you need only transfer the stiff scroll of it to a smooth rock in the sun.

The trespassing chicken killed by your dog.
Do not fault your friend’s wild instinct. Retrieve the hen but resist grabbing her prehistoric feet, however naturally handlelike they seem. Instead, gather her warm, feathered body close as you wrap her in a fluttering plastic bag. Inter the bird on the refrigerator’s highest shelf until she can be plucked and roasted for dinner. Bury her bones in a shallow grave beneath the cottonwoods where a lucky raccoon might find them under a waning moon. 

The young grizzly bear, splayed on a slope of wildflowers
Approach slowly. Although your nose tells you this animal is not merely napping, it’s still a grizzly bear. After you’ve called the park rangers, after you’ve traced the soft curves of its thick ears, after you’ve decided its silver-tipped fur is the precise color of winter wheat…then, then you may lower your head and weep.

Kathleen Yale is the author of the award-winning children’s book
Howl Like a Wolf!, which combines natural history, animal behavior, and imagination to engage children in creative play.

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Kathleen Yale is Orion‘s digital editor and the author of the award-winning children’s book Howl Like a Wolf! and the game Guess My Animal! which both combine ecology, animal behavior, and imagination to engage children in creative play. She’s a former scriptwriter for the educational programs SciShow and Crash Course, and prior to that worked as a wildlife field biologist. She lives outside of Glacier National Park, with her family.


  1. If you are a native person offer some sema by laying it (not throwing it) with a prayer for the spirit’s travel with vegetation on or near the spot of loss of life (I like to use a white pine if nearby).

  2. This is beautiful. I am not alone in wanting to give more than a passing glance to the body of an animal now gone to the Earth alone. I have felt sadness and gratitude for a animal dead before me. Thank you for sharing this peice.

  3. Greetings! I will be participating in a “Sober Café” event in February, a venue friendly for recovering alcoholics. May I have permission to read this piece with proper attribution of the author and the journal?

  4. Lovely – we must learn to treat death with the respect that it deserves. Thank you for reminding us of this..instead of a downer I feel such hope. Your children are most fortunate…

  5. I have always honored nature’s children with a soft prayer or chant. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for this beautiful piece. Just crying alone in a coffee shop, it’s cool.

  7. I have always been drawn to the beauty of bones and feathers. When I became engaged with Native American traditions, feathers took on a different kind of meaning for me. So, when I came upon a freshly road-killed Great Horned Owl while driving across a flat expanse of Kansas agricultural country, I felt that its feathers needed to be honored. That was the first of many birds and animals that I have skinned and tanned or otherwise preserved over the years, most of them road-kills and many of them owls. I have delighted in their beauty, but what I’ve valued even more is all I’ve learned about body and spirit, life and death, from handling and working respectfully with these remains. It has brought me closer to my Relatives in ways I could never have anticipated.

  8. Such horrible beauty. I love this.

  9. After 30 years of being called, almost daily, to feed on my rooftop goodies, my area’s 30-40 crows are very responsive. All edible remains are respectfully offered up, through them, to sky and land as the great wheel of life turns. Were it legal, I’d have my sons offer them my remains. After the feast I’d come back around — still noisy but inky blue-black and sharper-eyed, soaring, and with attitude.

  10. Thank you, this list has such beauty and grace. I would add: when you find the perfect rabbit struck dead in the road in front of your house, gently retrieve it before it is degraded by passing tires. Admire its glassy eyes and soft mottled fur as you acknowledge its untimely death and wish it peace and better luck in the next life, carrying it to that thicket where it will lay as an offering to others, with your game camera as witness. Return weekly to observe.

  11. Accept the reality that what you have just found is one of your best friends. Allow your body to tremble as long as it needs to before you pick him up and carry him back to the house that you have been sharing with him for the past 6 years. Scream his name straight up into sky as loud as you can. Blow your nose. Make sure you let copious tears drip on his forehead. Cut a slab of sandstone tall and narrow and grab a shovel.

  12. Move if it is safe to do so but my husband and I still bless those we can’t reach (highway etc) and mark their spirits passing, note that they existed. We save who we can and move to quiet places those for whom it was too late.

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