Why rescuing an ant matters

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Will, with two abandoned puppies we rescued, socialized, and found homes for. Compassion must be embraced, whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself.

Most of the time, rescue at our house means a stray dog, an injured cat, and the occasional wild animal. It means bottle feeding kittens and finding homes for abandoned puppies. It is always a family affair. We do what any caring people would do under the circumstances and countless people have: we rise to the occasion. But recently, my son Will was called upon to do a different kind of rescue; the rescue of a wayward ant.

Most people would probably not give an ant a second thought. Even those who are circumspect about ants and do not intentionally inflict harm would not think about the term “rescue” when it comes to ants, but this is a mistake. Ants are social creatures, they communicate and cooperate with one another, and even provide medical intervention to help injured comrades. And like dogs and cats, they can get lost, the results of which can be catastrophic.

Last week, an ant hitchhiked on our son’s backpack from school. He must have crawled onto it when my son placed it on the ground and we discovered the little guy when he got home. Ants who become isolated from their family die quickly even with food and water. According to one study, ants that live alone have one-tenth the lifespan of those that live in small groups. They die of loneliness.

Loneliness means sentience and sentience means suffering and suffering is a call upon our conscience. That means we not only had to get him to other ants, but we had to get him back to his other ants, as outsider ants can be enslaved by other colonies.

So we gave him some sugar and put him in a small Tupperware container overnight. In the morning, my son returned him to school where he had set his backpack on the ground. When he was released, the ant was greeted by his tribe, they sniffed and they probed, and then, just like that, he and they went about their ant business. My son watched him get lost in the crowd; his crowd.

I am not naive and realize that at this time in history, for some this may seem silly. But beyond providing for the immediate needs of a lost little ant whom it was well within my son’s power to assist, I value the larger lesson my son takes away from such events: that as a member of the most resourceful species on Earth, he has an obligation to use his intellect and abilities to lend a helping hand whenever and to whomever he can. When that help includes one of the tiniest, “lowliest” creatures on Earth, the beautiful vastness of the moral universe I wish him to embrace opens up for him, and the debt of kindness and consideration we humans owe to all other creatures of the Earth becomes apparent.

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