We pulled down the lane to sprawling pastures, rustic buildings. There was a pen full of horses to our right. The horses were screaming and running around like lunatics as two young handlers seemed to be working to catch them, or maybe just calm them down.
“That doesn’t look encouraging.”
Jeremiah shook his head no, exasperation apparent.
“Part of me just wants to turn around and leave now.”
We had just pulled into the drive at a local summer camp. A new client of Jeremiah’s, they had called for trims earlier in the week. He scheduled with them–seventeen local trims in an afternoon is nothing to sneeze at–but he was vaguely nervous about the whole experience. He last experience with summer camps had led him to a corral full of ill-behaved horses with completely green handlers. (And by that I mean that they literally had never worked with horses before. Ever.) He was concerned that this one would be the same, an accident just waiting to happen.
I came along just in case. If no one there knew how to hold a horse for trimming, I was there to pick up the slack and try to keep Jeremiah safe. I would be able to manage vaguely naughty animals, but if they were truly dangerous, we would leave.
They were screaming and carrying on as we pulled up next to the horse barn and parked alongside a beater truck that probably belonged to the camp. As we climbed out, we were introduced to the director of the equine program at camp. She was on the shorter side with long, dark hair. Only twenty years old, a fact that she kept apologizing for, she was the one in charge of the seventeen horses in the corral and soon to be in charge of all the children who would ride them. As we made introductions, I watch another girl, her helper, climb out of the horse pasture carrying a fawn.
The director glanced over.
“I’m so sorry about the horses. They were spooked by the fawn just a few minutes ago and took off running.”
I think Jeremiah may have breathed an audible sigh of relief at that. When spooked, even good horses sometimes behave badly.
I watched the helper carry the fawn to the shade.
“How’s Bambi?” I asked.
The director shook her head. “Bambi got trampled by the horses, and I think she has a broken leg. I don’t think she’ll make it.”
Jeremiah set out trimming a couple of horses before asking about the fawn again. Remembering that he had his medical bag with him, he asked if he could take a look at her.
I’m not sure paramedic classes adequately prepare you to doctor fawns, but Jeremiah did what he could with what he had. Like the director, he was pretty convinced that baby deer had broken her hock when she was trampled, but he splinted the leg and did his best to make her comfortable.
The people at the camp didn’t have the slightest clue what to do with her; I have a feeling the vague plan was to “let nature take its course,” which would have most likely involved a long, painful, drawn-out death from starvation (as she couldn’t stand to nurse) or being ripped apart by coyotes that she couldn’t run away from upon nightfall. Either way, left where she was, that little girl absolutely wasn’t going to make it.
So we told them we would take her.
(…Because apparently doing that sort of thing is our jam.)
After Jeremiah spent five hours turning this:
We climbed back into the truck, the fawn on Jeremiah’s lap, and he began making phone calls. First he called Wildlife Prairie Park, the rehab center that took Dante the turkey vulture; we were hopeful that we would be driving directly there, but they informed him that they don’t take white-tailed deer.
They told us to call the game warden next. So we did. And he told us to shoot her.
Looking at the fawn, we honestly didn’t have high hopes that she could be saved, but shoot her outright without knowing??? She was alert and seemed otherwise healthy. There was still a shot… We wanted to at least give her her best chance.
“Well, I’m glad I just made some money.”
Why’s that?” I asked.
“We’re about to have another vet bill…I hope.”
Jeremiah called our vet–you know, the amazing one we have had since he came out for Edie–and asked him if he would be willing to take some radiographs on an injured fawn. Most vets won’t touch wildlife, but he agreed to take a look at her early the next morning before his clinic opened up. (Seriously, I adore our new vet. I cannot say that enough.)
With that we had some sort of plan. The appointment wouldn’t be until the next morning, and, until then at least, we had a fawn.
This sort of goes without saying, but just to be clear, neither of us had ever taken care of an injured or orphaned fawn before. Foals? Yes. Crias? Yes. But the small creature sitting on my husband’s lap with a splint around her rear leg was neither a horse nor a llama. The fact that we were in over our heads didn’t really need to be vocalized. We both knew that caring for the fawn was outside of our skill set. We also both know that sometimes you have to choose between logic and compassion.
When pressed, choose compassion.
So we drove directly to our local feed store. I left Jeremiah in the truck, fawn still sitting patiently on his lap, and I set off for supplies, having very little idea what I was looking for. I wandered the aisles until I found a livestock bottle and goat’s milk replacer, picked up a couple of sodas and candy bars (would you believe that in all of this we managed to forget about lunch?), and moved through the check out lane as quickly as possible.
Some facets of animal care translate across species better than others; for example, she would need to eat. Being injured, she would need to be largely immobilized until we knew the extent of damage. She would need to be kept warm. Those things we could do. The rest, I thought, we could research.
When we got home, I made a bottle of formula (calling on my mad baby-sitting skills from the late nineties and early two-thousands…). Jeremiah retrofitted a large dog crate as a Bambi bed. She begrudgingly drank the milk replacer (all the while looking at us like, “this is gross, guys…where are you hiding the good stuff?”). And we got her settled into our basement next to the few chicks still waiting to grow big enough to live in the coop. (So…basically our basement is currently an extension of our barn. Is anyone surprised?)
I went upstairs feeling defeated. Even though I knew we had done the right thing in bringing her back home… Even though I knew she was warm and safe with us until we knew something more… It still felt massively unfair.
I went to bed and tried not to cry. I was roughly ninety-seven percent certain that the next day’s appointment would end in euthanasia. If that were the case, it would still be far kinder than starvation, far kinder than the coyotes…but it was not even a little bit fair.
One of my all time favorite bloggers, Glennon Melton of Momastery.com, says that life is “Brutiful.” That is, brutal and beautiful in equal parts. I tend to agree with her, but the thing is, out here, sometimes you get an awful lot of the brutal all at once. And it gets overwhelming. Lately, having to put down pet after pet (we lost two of our turkeys, including Igor, and one of the chicks we raised this year in roughly the space of a week), being overwhelmed with unexpected bill after unexpected bill after unexpected bill, having (seemingly) all of the important farm equipment break piece by piece, and getting bad news from every direction, I had had just about enough of the brutal.
Early the next morning, before chores, Jeremiah and I piled into my Jetta, the fawn, who I had since taken to unintentionally calling “Honey” (as in, “Oh, Honey, I’m sorry” or “Oh, Honey, we’re trying”) sitting on his lap. I drove, keeping my sunglasses on so Jeremiah wouldn’t see me tear up; it didn’t work.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“It’s just so unfair.” I replied, wanting to scream. “I need a win.” I continued. “Just one little win. I need something to be ok.”
He held my hand as we drove, understanding exactly what I meant. There weren’t any words to make this better, so he didn’t try.
Our vet pulled into his empty parking lot just a few minutes after we did. We carried Honey to the back of the office, and he arranged her leg on the x-ray plate. I petted one of his two rescued cats who wander the office investigating (this one was tri-pawed but didn’t seem to notice) while Jeremiah held Honey still and Doc took a quick radiograph. It only took a few moments.
He glanced at the x-ray.
“It’s not broken. Hold her.”
And with that, he popped her leg back into joint and began splinting it in place.
“She tore…well, pretty much everything I would suspect. Tendons, ligaments. That’s why the leg hangs like that. But there isn’t a break. You’ll have to keep it splinted for a good long while, but it should heal.”
I nearly cried with relief. Honey did cry in dismay as her limb popped back into place. She wasn’t out of the woods by any means, but she had a chance.
We checked out at the front desk, happily paying the $105 bill. I smiled like an idiot when the man at the front desk commented on how adorable Honey was and asked what we were going to do with her.
“I have absolutely no idea.” I replied, gleefully. There had been no plan beyond the vet because we didn’t think we would need a plan beyond the vet. I was overjoyed that we were now stuck with a fawn and had no plan.
For the rest of the day, Honey was left in the care of Jeremiah’s little sister, my mother, and his mother. I wanted to stay, but Jeremiah needed to travel to the St. Louis area for shearing, and I was to hold alpacas for him. (Shearing is one of those few times when I know more than him, and he actually needs my help.)
I felt like a new parent as I spent the day calling to check on Honey and getting pictures texted to my phone.
Pictures like these:
I spent the day researching white tails on my phone. Information on how to care for them was sparse. (Most resources spend most of their time reiterating that just because you find a fawn without a doe doesn’t mean it’s been abandoned; I know, guys. I know.) Information on wildlife rehabilitators was equally hard to find. There is no comprehensive list. Some rehabilitators I could find only took, for example, squirrels or turtles. Very few took deer. Most who took deer only had experience with orphans, and Honey’s injury made her far more complicated to raise than an average orphan.
I hadn’t completely ruled out the possibility of raising her ourselves, but I wanted to make an informed choice, and if we were going to raise her, it would be because it was her best chance, not just because she was so cute or because I had become attached.
The next morning, making calls off of incomplete lists of wildlife rehabilitators, I stumbled upon a nonprofit rehabilitation center in the Northern half of the state. I nervously dialed their number and asked if they took wildlife from outside of their own county, if they dealt with deer, and if they had experience with injured fawns. They answered yes to all three. When I asked if they could take Honey, their “yes” left me elated. I hurriedly showered and canceled my plans for the rest of the day.
It was a two and a half hour drive to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. Honey rode in the backseat this time, having this car ride thing down.
Throughout all of this, my best resource was a blogger friend at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way. She and I had been in contact since we found Honey, and she filled me in on the things that internet research couldn’t. I called her as I drove. She shared my joy that I had found a place for Honey, and she affirmed that it was the right decision.
I think that conversation made it easier to give Honey to the rehabilitators at Flint Creek. They couldn’t believe we had made the drive for her. (What they didn’t know is that I was about ready to stick Honey in one of the airplanes at work and fly her to the first place that was well prepared to take her…)
We told them everything we knew about her injuries and left her in the care of the staff and volunteers. They told us Honey would be raised with other fawns. (Even then, they had several in the back with similar injuries.) If she made it, she would be released with the others into the wildlife preserve in the Fall.
I teared up a bit as we left (and, for the record, I am not really a crier, but this fawn had a way of bringing on the salt water…), but I knew, walking away, that leaving her with them unequivocally gave her her best chance, which was our goal all along.
They don’t usually do updates (as they take in so many animals) but the staff at Flint Creek told us they would make an exception since we brought her so far. Updates would take place in two events: they would let us know if they had to euthanize her, or they would let us know when she was released.
So far, no news is good news. Keep her in your prayers, guys. And hopefully I will get a happy email in the fall.