by Catherine Sampson
While away doing the horse show thing in late June one of the farm's boarders discovered a wee fawn lying in the tall grass at the fringe of our woodland property. They decided to leave the fawn for the moment on advice of one zoo, but returned the following day only to find it was still there. With all good intentions of saving it from harm's way, especially since we were about to cut the hay fields, they cradled the tiny fawn in their arms and brought it home to their city dwelling. They placed it in the confines of their kitchen until they could figure out where to find a suitable zoo or animal welfare agency to take him. None was forthcoming.
After a week of desperation and regular intense feedings in rather crowded quarters, the farm was contacted and asked if they could take the fawn until a suitable home could be found for the "abandoned" little one. Their attempts to find a rescue organization was fruitless. When it was learned that the deer was a buck I jokingly finished a conversation, asking the family to "take good care of Bucki" hence the name stuck. After consulting with a veterinarian concerning any disease which a deer might carry that could affect horses, the farm agreed to keep the diminutive 16" fawn on an interim basis. So life began anew at the self-proclaimed temporary wildlife orphanage better known as the Trillium Morgan Horse Farm.
The general suspicion was that the fawn was not abandoned but simply the result of a misguided, but well meaning "kidnapping" (a term used by animal rescue personnel). During that same period a young doe had been spotted on a daily basis in close proximity to the discovery site so it was presumed that the baby was hers. Eventually, the doe moved on leaving Bucki totally dependent on human kindness for his very survival.
Now the monumental task at hand was for the well being of this young deer while searching for an appropriate home. What to do?
First priority was to establish a volunteer group of foster moms to handle the demanding feeding routine of this newborn fawn. A schedule was quickly drawn up with feedings dedicated at four hour intervals. For the first while finding volunteers wasn't a problem but as the month passed by it was evident that more foster moms were needed in order to maintain the feverish feeding timetable Bucki required. By word and mouth, trying to keep a low profile as not to exploit the young deer with curiosity seekers, the farm recruited others to help out. Bucki grew and grew under the constant eyes and attention of his care givers and the company of Morgan horses.
No one had ever had the inclination or opportunity to raise a deer before so the frenzied search for information on "Cervidae" began in earnest. This was the infancy of the internet so finding credible advice was scarce. Through libraries and in conversation with deer farms and zoos these sources produced some insight. With the farm's knowledge of raising foals, this too was added to the stash of applied deer management. But it was Bucki himself who taught us about Bucki. He showed us his alien habits which of course are quite normal for a deer; he showed us what food stuffs he preferred and how we were to communicate with him through posture and deer language, sort of mimicking "the road runner" beeps. Talk about linguistic barriers!
On his outside adventures restrained by a cat harness, Bucki took a shine to the old Morgan stallion, Foxy. With "David and Goliath" muzzles meeting, Foxy blew typical warm horse greetings into Bucki's inquisitive reaching nose. Bucki quickly retreated from the acquaintance. Yet, day-after-day he would steal a glance of unquenched curiosity as he silently tip toed by the old horse's paddock carefully avoiding that big wind in the face.
Then came the day when Bucki found some meager semblance of freedom. He was introduced to the expanse of the indoor arena. He would quickly learned that this was playtime!!
Dutifully, he would follow his foster mom passing the horses in cross ties focusing warily on the barn cats and dogs before entering into the arena. He was a stand up comedian, entertaining on all four long reaching legs. Speedier than the swiftest racehorse, quicker than the fast twitch of a cutting horse, there went Bucki, flying full tilt with rapid fire of dirt pluming behind him, dodging imaginary logs and rock. And that tail - flagging straight up - trotting like a park horse and sniffing the air with a regal presence and who can forget those radar ears and enormous angelic eyes, full of innocence and mischief. That was our Bucki.These White Tails are marvelous creatures, perfectly adaptable with a conformation design in harmony with their natural environment and ultimate challenge. The strength and power in their hind legs can be menacing yet they appear as graceful as a ballerina and as silent as a cat.
Bucki had his favourite moms who devoted most of the time to him. I was his early morning mom. I had the honours of giving Bucki his first feed of the day. I was eagerly greeted with hordes of deer kisses and loud howls of hunger as he clambered onto my lap reaching for the temperate bottle of warm nourishment. During these 5:30 a.m. meals, Bucki downed each bottle with utter contentment as he suckled hard and fast, pulling and pushing on the nipple with gusto. It wasn't unusual for him to polish off 34 ounces at one go making room between bodily functions of course! Finally satisfied, he would drop to his knees in solitude and curl up for a little nap as his neighbours munched away on their morning hay.
Laurie handled the majority of Bucki's afternoon feedings and outdoor exercise time. At the end of each session, Bucki could be heard wailing through the barn for his companion. Laurie always offered him lots of hand rubs while making gift offerings of apple slices and clover buds to chew on.
He warmed to her company and soft assuring voice as she positioned herself in a restful pose on the foot stool, strategically placed within the camouflage of the converted horse stall. The miniature Sherwood Forest was designed to encourage natural foraging admist an assortment of tree branches, dandelions and the like.
But his most trusting mom was Ruth. Ruth got the night shift with Bucki and it was during this feeding that he became the most active and playful. Anyone who knows Ruth, knows the patience and love she has for animals. Bucki bonded completely with her over the many late hours of evening quiet. He would hasten to her call when she would cheerily announce "Bucki ---- it's you're nighttime mom." It would be Ruth who would come to the rescues in the scary thunder storms and the perils of harness catches. It would be Ruth who would gently wipe the crust of sticky pablum from his nose and forehead. And it would be Ruth who would have the last of the goodbyes when he was given over to the care of Chris and Pete for safekeeping and final release.
By the middle of his third month it was evident that we could no longer give him what he needed. Bucki was becoming bigger and stronger with each new light of day. In just two and a half months he had grown six inches at the shoulder and gained 30 lbs. in weight. It was difficult to maintain him in the small dog harness he had graduated. He strained to run free when his walks took him from the stall to the arena. The playing had become more aggressive too.The hind stance, the bunting and the "catch me if you can" was increasingly more energetic and prolonged. He was eyeing the kick boards and was now able to reach the top edge of them when he jumped up to greet his moms. The daily log book was consuming two pages of detail rather than just a paragraph. It was time to move on!
Although we had found domestic deer farms that would take him, all of us knew that he deserved a chance to be returned to the wilderness if possible. He would not be happy confined nor would his wild inbred spirit betray him. And so it was through contacts at the Ministry of Natural Resources that a wildlife sanctuary was found.
Since the location of the deer keepers cannot be divulged for the privacy and security of the animals, we can however tell you that Bucki adjusted well at the Sanctuary as witnessed by his transporters. When Laurie, Ruth and I opened his crate in the large dense natural bush compound, he very cautiously took his first steps out of the carrier and onto the path which would eventually lead towards ultimate freedom.
Greeting him was another young fawn. At first Bucki was a little taken aback. He'd never seen another fawn before. Soon after he introduced himself to 17 other fawns of similar size and circumstance as he explored the grounds of his new home leaving not a twig unnoticed. Bucki now had 18 new friends that looked just like him! He had in essence entered deer academy. The human influence would now slowly be withdrawn allowing him to act more on his instincts.
The next summer, the wildlife sanctuary reported that all of their 23 rescued fawns had been successfully released, including the tiny fragile three legged doe. She had lost her hind leg in a farm machinery accident. And what about the affectionate and cheerful Rudy and her curious friends and the big late summer buck who would stomp in defiance at our approach? All of them were free at long last to travel and revel in the timberland forest uninhibited by fence or hand. They were declared real bona fide deer no longer wards of humanity's goodwill.
Bucki became love struck about mid March, just as the weather started to break. A faint scent of spring anointed the cool and silent still air. The north had seen a heavy snowfall that winter past stunting last autumn's six foot high chain link fence. The less imposing fortress would entice the deer to explore their outdoor domain beyond the protective bounds of the wire.
A wayward doe, lingering outside the compound had made her presence known to our Bucki. He must have seemed utterly irresistible! With the lure of the soft eyed doe Bucki went head over heels, or rather heels over fence and found a mate to share the early spring with. He and his young miss returned on occasion to the easy feeding grounds of the compound area. They were not seen again.
In the magic light of a cool fall evening, the White Tails will come again to browse on the hay field for the last feast of summer's sweet alfalfa flowers. When the flag is raised and bounce engages, we'll wonder how Bucki’s life was. He will be welcomed by the applause of the poplars in a gentle breeze, sheltered by the mothering arms of the great spruce, pine and balsam, we bid him adieu.
Postscript: There were hard lessons learned here. Public education about wildlife is needed.To share with you our experience is our way of helping bridge that lack of knowledge and ignorance.If you find a fawn by the edge of a field or forest, leave it unless you know for certain of its mother's demise.The doe places her fawn in a quiet area and teaches it to lie still and silent. The fawn doesn't travel with its mother for the first while. It stays in the same location, unless moved for safety.The doe doesn't stay for long periods, as fawns are born without scent as a protection against attracting predators. Therefore, the doe doesn't want to leave her scent on her helpless fawn. White Tail deer are primarily browsers and are not like the domesticated European deer in petting zoos who generally graze. Deer chew cud, just like cows, enabling them to eat, flee danger, and finish their food later. Deer are very timid but social and will take to humans readily if given the chance. (Not wise when they are to be returned to the wild and the presence of hunters, their most dangerous adversary.) Finally, in Ontario it's illegal to keep deer without a permit. Let's face it, a doe makes a better mom and teacher than we substitute humans could ever be.