When Sault Ste. Marie's Hunter Berto saw a moose critically injured by another truck Monday night on Highway 17, he pulled his rig off the road, sat down on the snow with the animal, comforting it during the final minutes of its life.
Other drivers were running over the injured animal’s hind legs before Berto pulled it to the side of the highway.
"It was last night. I was between Thunder Bay and Upsala," says the young trucker, employed since September by Big Freight Systems Inc. of Steinbach, Man.
Berto, 24, drives all around North America.
Last week, he was in Montana and Wyoming.
On the night of Jan. 23, he was on Highway 17, hauling lumber from Weyerhaeuser in Kenora, headed for New York State's famed Finger Lakes region.
"The truck in front of me hit its brakes," Berto told SooToday during a stop in Blind River.
"Out of the corner of my eye I saw a moose pulling itself off the highway, with its front legs."
"It couldn't move its back legs at all. It was right on the edge of the highway. Once it got to the snow bank, it couldn't get past that."
"I hit the brakes, stopped, and called the police."
Berto then left his rig with the lights on so passing vehicles would slow down.
"I backed up and pulled [the moose's] legs off the highway because people were actually running over its legs."
"I got out and went and sat with it until the police showed up 10 or 15 minutes later."
"I just sat in the snow bank with it. It let me get right up to it. I was petting it and it put its head right on my lap."
"I just sat there until the police showed up and they were able to put it down."
"MNR [Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry] were not far behind to take it away."
Hunter Berto has been known to have a unique gift for animals and birds since his earliest years.
His father, Brad Berto, tells SooToday that Cottage Life magazine once published a photograph of Hunter standing between two young cow moose when he was just four or five years old.
That was on Havilland Shores Drive.
Hunter spotted the animals and just walked over to introduce himself.
"I've got pictures of him walking right up to a hawk on the side of the highway one time, as a young man," Brad says.
He attended St. Basil Catholic School and the new St. Mary's College in the city's urban areas, but grew up in rural Havilland.
How do certain people connect so naturally to wild creatures, while most others keep their distance?
For Hunter Berto, the difference is fear.
"They don't really scare me," he says. "They're more scared of us than we are of them."
"I was raised in Havilland, raised to not be afraid of animals, because growing up out there, there were animals all around and you had to learn to just live with them."
"And doing this job, a lot of my friends have never even seen a moose, and I'm constantly seeing them everywhere."
"Just show comfort and relate to an animal when you want to get close to it."
"But don't show fear. Don't show aggression."
"Just try to relate to it, like we're all just here."
Does Berto talk to animals?
Of course he does.
What did he say to the moose dying in his lap?
"I just kept saying: 'It's okay. It's okay. Everything's going to be okay. It's okay to let go. You're not alone.' It was just looking at me in the eyes and that was it."