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Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 23, 2005

Close encounters of the fawn kind

By Nicole Fay Barr

With heart pounding and legs burning, I peddled my bicycle along a tranquil country road to my husband, Matt, who was off his bike and quietly motioning to me. He pointed to the meadow before him.

I squinted and saw a tiny fawn lying in the tall grass, about 10 feet away. He was hard to see at first since his body was small, about the size of my cat. Matt and I just stared for a moment, and then the fawn rose to his feet.

"Oh, wow," I whispered.

Then, better yet, a cry. The fawn looked at us with big deep eyes and wailed like a baby. His cries were soft and short and, as he shrieked, we could see a mouthful of pink gums — no teeth.

Then he began to stagger toward us. As though he were teaching himself to walk before our eyes, the fawn moved his thin legs awkwardly. I studied the patterned white spots on his light brown fur. He looked so soft, so pure.

The fawn continued to watch us and cry, as if asking for comfort. I broke my frozen stance and said to Matt, "We need a camera."

He, too, watching the fawn like a statue, melted into reality. Without discussion, he jumped onto his bike and peddled fast. After a second, he disappeared down the country road, heading toward our house, a half mile away.

I sat on the side of the road and watched the fawn. He immediately moved toward me, almost falling on his unsteady legs. I held my breath, still not believing what I was seeing.

I was sitting with my legs in front of me. The fawn put one of his slender legs over mine and began to sniff my sneaker. His nostrils flared in and out.

A long-time hunter, my father always taught me to respect wildlife and the environment. I wondered what he’d say about this. I considered getting up and walking away. Is it bad for a fawn to get close to a human like this" Would my scent cause his mother to abandon him"

But I couldn’t move. I was too entranced by the little deer as he again began to cry. So, I resolved not to touch him.

He moved closer to me, practically begging for a hug. With each wail, my maternal instincts beckoned me to cuddle him. I remained frozen, but I spoke softly.

I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think I sang something like, "Little baby deer, don’t cry."

Now in my lap, the fawn sniffed me and put his nose under the sleeve of my T-shirt. He pulled his head away from my arm and looked at my face. His tongue hung out and he panted, as the hot sun beat down on him.

A deer fly landed between his eyes. I wanted to swat it away, but I thought this would scare the fawn. After a minute, the insect flew away and a tiny red drop of blood formed on the fawn’s head.

It seemed now like Matt had been gone for an eternity. The fawn will be gone by the time he gets back, I thought.

The fawn started to walk away; he moved onto the road. Then Matt appeared. It was as if the fawn knew Matt was coming and wanted to greet him.

"You didn’t touch it, did you"" Matt asked.

"No," I said. "But he touched me."

"Hmmm," Matt said.

The fawn sniffed Matt’s bicycle tire as we put film in the camera. And then, we took some amazing photographs.

We wondered what to do next as the fawn stood in the road, now sniffing my bicycle. Matt decided to lure him back into the woods.

"C’mon, baby," he said, as he slowly walked through the meadow and toward the tall shade trees.

The little deer followed and I photographed the pair. Matt walked in a zig-zag path, luring the fawn further away from me, until I couldn’t see him anymore.

We quietly got on our bikes and peddled away. We didn’t want the fawn to come back to the road. We could still hear him cry and, looking behind our shoulders, we saw a doe walk toward the sound.

I hoped that was his mother; I wished we didn’t do the fawn any harm.


This week, I told state wildlife pathologist Ward Stone about finding the fawn.

"You did exactly what you were supposed to do," he said.

The fawn we found was probably just born, Stone said. The fawn didn’t know what Matt and I were, Stone said, and was sniffing us, looking for something to feed on.

Most doe give birth in meadows and then leave their fawns, he said.

"That’s because they don’t want to draw attention to their fawns," Stone said. "They want to keep predators away."

A doe will visit her fawn every few hours to feed him, and then leave, Stone said. It only takes about a minute and a half to feed a fawn, he said.

Many times, people find fawns near their flower beds or in their yards and think they’ve been abandoned, Stone said. But, fawns are very rarely abandoned, he said.

People need to know this, Stone said; people taking fawns and trying to raise them on their own is a big problem.

Once a deer is tame and he’s not afraid of people, Stone said, he won’t go back to the wild. People also hurt fawns by trying to feed them cow’s milk or trying to raise them on their own, he said.

"The best way for a fawn to be raised is with its mother," Stone said. If a person finds a fawn’s mother has been killed, he or she should call a wildlife rehabilitator, he said.

If a person finds a fawn on the side of the road, he or she should take the animal to a safer spot, back away from the road, Stone said.

A common misconception is that, if a person touches a fawn, his mother won’t accept him, he said.

"It’s best not to let it touch you, but, if you have to get it away from a congested area, you should pick it up and move it," Stone said.

Doe have better hearing than humans, Stone said. My fawn’s mother probably heard him crying, and watched me from a distance.

It’s highly unlikely the doe would have shown herself to me, he said. However, doe have been known to attack coyotes, dogs, and foxes that are threatening their babies.

"They try to hit with their hooves," Stone said.

As I hung up the phone at the end of my interview with Stone, a huge wave of relief washed over me. My wish had come true: I hadn’t hurt the fawn.

That magic moment my husband and I had shared with a gentle newborn creature was no longer tarnished with misconception.

"What we did was perfect," I told my editor.

"Good," she said. "Now write it, so everyone else will know."

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