They arrived at our E.R. clinics, one in North Charleston and the other in Mount Pleasant, separately and about 3 days apart.
The baby deer were each virtually comatose, ice cold and dehydrated. Left alone, they were a few hours from death. They were exquisite, among God’s most beautiful creations, with their oversized ears, brown liquid eyes, dark red fur with dappled white spots, and their cloven hooves, like polished brown loafers.
So, nevermind that there are too many deer in these sub-urban areas or that we should let nature take its course. These problems will persist whether these two live or die, and these problems are of our making, not theirs. Letting them die was not even a consideration.
In went the jugular catheter, delivering warm fluids and dextrose. The body warmer was applied, and a technician gently encouraged them to drink a bit of milk. That’s when I (Henry Bianucci) came into the picture. Knowing that Keepers of the Wild, wildlife rescue, is stretched thin on resources, and being completely smitten at the first sight of these deer, I entertained the idea of fostering them, on one condition: They had to be guaranteed a safe place to go when they were bigger.
I didn’t want to raise them only to be killed by dogs, a car or hunters, because I hadn’t prepared them for life in the wild.
Anyone who has read the yearling, knows that keeping a pet deer may end in heartbreak, so I wanted my bases covered.
(As an aside, it is normal for a baby deer to be left alone; the mothers return intermittently to feed them, so as to avoid attention. So babies found should be left alone unless they are in imminent danger, unattended for 24 hours, or obviously debilitated.)
I was informed that there was an opening at Charles Towne Landing, and that they could be accommodated. Perfect! They could be fostered through to adolescence, enjoyed, and safely placed in a wonderful and protected home.
One was a buck and the other a doe. We named them Dixie and Dixon, but we mostly referred to them as “the babies.” The first night home was uncertain for each of them. They would not eat and were very weak. My wife and I were up every couple of hours getting some goat milk into them.
Within a few days, they were feeding well and quickly gaining strength. I have seven dogs, three of which would love to take down a deer. Suddenly, there were two miniature deer, in their house.
Their relationship went from predator-prey to prey sucking on noses, ears, and other “parts,” while predator practices quiet restraint. The babies eventually adopted our lab mix, Nigel, as their four-legged surrogate mother. I don’t know why, other than that he would lick them maternally, but when they saw him, they would make a beeline for him.
The babies folded into our daily routine. They slept in a large cage in our bedroom. We would let them out in the morning and give them their bottles. They would then go into the yard to browse, play and hide in the bushes. With each feeding, they would seemingly float to us, tails aflutter as they jauntily trotted our way.
They had a signature head bob when they wanted to play. The head dropped and quickly raised as if sparring. They would then run and vault, oftentimes getting ahead of their abilities and clumsily falling down. As they matured, the falling episodes ended, and they became the epitome of grace, speed and athleticism.
At night, they came into the house. Believe it or not they were house-trained. This was when we would really interact. First it was a couple of bottles, then chopped carrots and apples, and sometimes a cookie or other treat. Then playtime.
They figured out that the bed was springy, and amused themselves vaulting off of it. They would investigate the house, jump on and off the bed or couch, and eventually lie on the floor with the rest of the dogs.
When playtime was over, all the deer wanted was to sit with us and have their heads rubbed. But they were quickly growing. The other night I was in my backyard, and I looked up and two deer were looking out the window at me.
We both began to feel it at the same time. The sick heavy feeling in your heart that something wonderful must come to an end, and the sadness of it is inevitable. I kept telling my wife that the deer are killing me softly.
It was enhanced with a sense of betrayal. The idea that one day, soon, this sweet life for the deer would abruptly change and they would not know why. Doesn’t that sound stupid? I don’t know what deer know, or if they are capable of knowing or feeling in any way similar to ours. Do they truly know us, or about anything, or are they of pure instinct, reacting to their world rather than knowing or feeling it?
This question could be applied to any human-animal relationship, whether the species is canine, feline, equine or cervine (deer). It is ultimately, unknowable, but why is it important? After all, against astronomical odds, we shared the same time and place in the world.
They were a part of our lives. We nurture them and they make us happy. We feel that they love us, and no one can really dispute it. Is it the same with each species? Of course not, but we are wired to care for, and love them all. So, we get attached. Spoken like a true hoarder, right? But I think we all share this trait to some degree.
Well, this week they began their lives at their new home, Charles Towne Landing’s Animal Forest. I know they will be safe, happy and well-cared for. They have left an indelible impression on us and serve as another example of what an enriching gift animals can be in our lives.
Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.