Our first white-tailed deer rescue - a tiny spotted orphaned fawn - arrived about the same time as usual this year on May 15, right after Mother's Day. I knew I had a steep learning curve ahead of me: as of 2017, the care of these delicate gangly-legged creatures became my responsibility.
As with any unfamiliar rehab, there is an initial adjustment period. I set up the first fawn, and the ones that followed, in my home, housed in toddler playpens. By early July, all of the fawns had outgrown the pens and were transferred to an outdoor enclosure built especially for them.
Deer, in general, are high-strung animals whose main defense against predators is their ability to evade capture by running. This adaptive trait is seen in fawns even at an early age, putting them at risk for injury while in captivity. We set up the outdoor enclosure with areas for them to hide and gather together where they would not see or become too accustomed to humans. By encouraging the fawns to live together as a new family unit, my goal was to reduce their stress. I had believed the fawn rescue season was now over. As it turned out, there would be one more!
On July 17, a concerned woman called to say a fawn was discovered in her neighbor's backyard with no way out. He had been running at their fence repeatedly until exhaustion and pain set in. Thankfully, they were able to catch the fawn, and managed to gently bind his legs and bring him to me.
The fawn was clearly exhausted, with wounds on his head and shoulders. Now I had to figure out how to safely contain him. Keeping his legs tied all night was out of the question and in his weakened state a sedative could be dangerous. I gently placed him in one of the playpens. If he survived the night I would sedate him and move him to the outdoor enclosure in the morning. The company of the other fawns might calm him down so that he could heal. I was also concerned about how he would react when he woke up. Again, my hope was that he would feel safe with the other fawns and not run himself to exhaustion once more.
To my great relief the plan worked. The next challenge was whether or not he would learn to eat.
Over the next few days, I hoped the new fawn would join the group while they suckled from the baby bottles in the feeding rack. No such luck; he wouldn't take fawn formula from a bottle, a dish, or a bucket. He would run if I even attempted to approach him. At least, I reasoned, he was in a safe environment that would allow his wounds to heal. He just needed time. By the third day, I noticed that he looked better, stronger in that his abdomen was not as sunken in. He was also walking with less pain. He must have been eating the browse and grains we were putting out everyday in order to wean the fawns off milk. After another week, I knew with certainty he would survive and be part of the herd of fawns to be released in September of this year.
Wildlife rehabilitation has always been a humbling experience for me. No training - not even veterinary school - can prepare you for all the possibilities. In the process of making myself available to wildlife in need, I have witnessed many miracles in the past 15 years. The fact that this oversized and very nervous fawn survived is one of them.
Of course, I could not have taken care of the fawns by myself. Wildlife rehab is a true team effort. At the Wildlife Clinic, we are lucky to have an incredibly dedicated group of staff and volunteers who give their all to save as many lives as possible. They work together to feed and house orphaned and injured wildlife, to provide necessary medical care, and to then return them to the wild.
We also have a wonderful group of people who donate supplies and money to make it possible for us to give animals a second chance at life. We value your continued financial support.