I hear a scream. I look out, expecting to see the last breaths of a dying rabbit. But instead of a rabbit, I see a stoat.
It is hanging from an antiquated drain cover in our front garden, head wedged between the metal bars so that its body dangles below them like a hooked fish. It is suspended by its neck and cannot touch the floor.
I rush into the garden and grab the stoat by its open jaws, forcing them shut. It battles me with surprising strength. It looks so helpless, yet even in this precarious position it is full of searing energy. Gently, I try to manipulate its head back through the metal bars. But it glares at me. Fights with me. Then it stops moving.
Its head, almost feline in shape, lolls to one side and releases a muffled breath. Its frantic eyes close and its mouth, which up until this moment was all teeth and anger, slowly fades into its pure white chin. I panic. Rushing inside I cry out to my partner: “Quick! Have you got anything that cuts metal?”
The drain cover, which is large and heavy, is held in by a number of cumbersome flint rocks. Quickly, we remove them, tugging and forcing them free until we can get a spade under the drain cover and prise it off the manhole. As soon as my hand will fit underneath the drain cover I grab the stoat’s lithe, serpentine body and lift it to ease the pressure on its neck. As I do, it springs back to life. But it is still caught between the metal bars. My partner rushes to get a hacksaw as I hold the drain cover and the stoat, so that it is not crushed under the weight of this elaborate metal trap.
As the hacksaw touches the metal fresh panic floods the stoat. I feel one of its back feet clutch at my hand with such force I fear it might draw blood. It starts to thrash about frantically, grimacing at us both as if we plan to kill it. Its intensity is astounding, like a furry bolt of electicity. And then it is gone. Before the metal was cut, it flung its shoulders around so wildly that its neck slipped to a place where the metal bars had partially eroded, finding half a centimetre of extra room. That was all it needed. Its thin body slipped through in an instant. It hit the ground running and did not look back.
The drain cover is now lifted off of the drain cavity, held open a good five inches by flint rocks, so that if ever a stoat comes up that way again, it has an easy way to escape. Of course, this does make it fairly useless at preventing debris from going down the drain. But that’s better than any more strangled stoats.