Oh, Deer

Sassy, above, gives Teri Davis a smooch.

The loss of a pet is a difficult thing. The seemingly preventable loss of a pet is even more painful.

Teri Davis is in the second camp. Two months ago, her pet deer was taken by local Fish, Wildlife and Parks authorities and euthanized.

“She truly touched a place in my heart I didn’t know existed,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to create public awareness about the situation.”

To understand the situation requires some rewinding. Almost two years ago, Davis spotted the fawn, alone, near her home west of Belgrade. Davis said the fawn’s mother and sibling were killed by a dog.

Knowing that if she turned the animal over to the FWP that it would be euthanized, Davis decided to save the fawn. Her intentions were to give the deer a few days of love even if she couldn’t survive longer than that.  

“After two years, she ended up changing our hearts,” Davis said. “She became part of the family.”

Sassy was a potty-trained pet with a bed in the Davis’ house. Davis still hoped that one day she could help rehabilitate Sassy into the wildness. That dream was cut short when Davis said an unknown neighbor called FWP after spotting Sassy in an enclosed pasture.

A FWP official arrived at the Davis’ house and took Sassy to be euthanized.

Joe Knarr, a game warden with FWP, said state law prevents abandoned or “adopted” deer, elk and moose from being released back into the wild. The same state law makes it illegal to keep game animals as pets.  

And nine times out of 10, Knarr said people don’t realize that fawn’s mother is coming back.

“Quite frankly, this time of year, they’ll take their young ones and they’ll hide them somewhere,” Knarr said. “People find it and think it’s been abandoned. The only chance that little critter has is for people to leave it.” The “if you love it, leave it mantra” didn’t apply to Sassy’s situation, Davis said.

From her house, Davis watched Sassy with binoculars for days. Sassy’s mom never returned after being attacked. Other dogs would pass by Sassy and rough her up until the dog’s owner pulled it away.

Finally Davis said she couldn’t watch the small creature starve to death. She took Sassy in and bottle fed her with goat’s milk. Sassy slept and played with Davis’ three dogs. She pranced around the house and stood beside Davis as she brushed her teeth each night.

It’s been two months since Sassy was euthanized. Davis said she’s cycled through a gamut of emotions. She insists she isn’t mad at the FWP.

“I’m not lashing out at them because it’s the law,” she said. “And they’re just doing their job.”

Parts of the job, like euthanizing Sassy, are terrible, Knarr said.

“This is one of the most unfortunate things we have to do as an agency,” Knarr said. “It’s just awful because these people are attached to the animals.”

Another reason Knarr said adopted and abandoned animals can’t be rehabilitated into the wild is concern over spreading diseases.

“What we do know is we can’t take a deer, like we got from that lady, we can’t release it because of the disease issues,” Knarr said. “If the deer has one of these diseases, we can’t risk it.”

Davis said to mitigate that concern the state could test pet games animals annually and charge a fee. That would keep animals from spreading disease and earn the state money, she said.

Though there are many arguments she could make, Davis said she’s most concerned about examining existing state laws and getting feedback from others. To do that, she’s created a Facebook page, Sassy’s Deer Heart.

She posts pictures of Sassy alongside her story. Through the social media site Davis has connected with people from across the country who are eager to change state statutes about game animals.

In other states, there are rescue centers for orphan animals like Sassy. Davis hopes to start something like that in Montana. Davis said she also wants to re-iterate Knarr’s point about leaving wild animals in the wild.

“I also want to raise awareness to prevent people from taking a fawn they see alone,” she said. “Its mother is most likely coming back.”