Not many people pull over for an armadillo on the side of the road.
Especially when they're on their way somewhere. Like Jennifer Dory, who was heading to school one July morning on the Lillian Highway in Pensacola, Florida.
The 41-year-old was in her car, bound for a morning college class. The armadillo was looking very much dead; its shell cracked down the middle, exposing something pink and vital inside.
But Dory, an animal lover who writes short stories about her experiences in nature, isn't much for passing things by. Especially if there's even the faintest chance she can help.
"In my neck of the woods, they are hands down the most common road kill I come across, opossums trailing closely behind, she explains to MNN in an email. "I often look at the dead animals on the side of the road as I pass, just to make sure they're dead."
Were those little legs still moving, she wondered?
And sure enough, after pulling her car to the side and approaching the animal, Dory came to a stunning realization.
Even broken and bleeding on an indifferent highway, this armadillo was holding on; those legs still kicking, trying in vain to stand up.
Dory did the sad math: Armadillos are nocturnal. This one probably got hit before sunrise. It had been lying in the road, in terrible pain, for at least six hours.
She gently wrapped the ailing animal in a towel, thinking the least she could do was take it to a local wildlife clinic where it could be euthanized.
"I fell in love with this little one and marveled at what an amazing creature she was as we drove to the sanctuary," she explains. "Her exaggerated long claws. Her beautiful, shiny armor. The bristly hairs on her face, leading up to her pointy nose. Her smooth forehead. Her tiny eyes, filling with tears."
Then those tiny eyes closed, and she figured the creature had breathed her last.
When Dory arrived at the Wildlife Sanctuary of Northwest Florida, she was in tears. The armadillo lay still in her arms.
But the little animal wasn't dead. In fact, the animal may have just been exhausted from the whole ordeal. Staff at the sanctuary administered pain medication and stitched her up.
Staff told her they expected the armadillo to make a full recovery.
But when she called the sanctuary a few days later, the prognosis had changed. The armadillo had developed a bad infection. Dory was told if the patient didn't improve over the next few days, they would have to let her go.
Dory decided not to call again. She didn't want any more updates.
"I hope she suddenly improved, underwent the physical therapy that was waiting for her by the sanctuary's wonderful staff, and is now back in the marsh that runs along Lillian Highway, scavenging for bugs, and making cute little babies," she says.
"But if she's not, I'm okay with it. Knowing she didn't suffer anymore, knowing her belly was full, and knowing she knew the gentle touch of a loving hand, I can rest with her memory."
This little armadillo — one of countless animals that don't fare well on our teeming roadways — carried a poignant, hard-learned message for all of us.
"I didn't know her for very long, but I loved her. And she taught me a few things in the short time we spent together. The most important of which is probably that one story can make a difference."
Indeed, when Dory shared her experience on Pensacola's Community Bulletin Board, it struck a powerful chord.
"Over a million people read her story on Facebook," Dory notes. "And if only a tiny fraction of those people stop to look at injured animals — if only one person does — then her tiny little life made a truly wonderful impact on this big messy world."
"So cheers to the sweet little armadillo for a life well-lived."