“Hey babe, come check this out,” my wife said from the backyard.
When I approached her, I saw a small creature with huge spots and ears. About the size of a medium-sized dog, but perched on slender legs, I looked into the eyes of the fawn peeking over the property line.
“Hmm,” I said, “Little fawn. Nice little friend.”
My wife, always ready to accept a stray dog and have to walk past the tail gaiters with free puppies at Wal-Mart, looked at me with the same eyes that the fawn had. “He looks lost! Can we stay with him?”
I took a sip of coffee and went back to the kitchen, “okay. He’s not lost, just wandering around.”
She was heartbroken and demanded to know how she could tell with just one look.
Well, here it goes.
Identify an orphan fawn
White-tailed deer, like those found in abundance throughout Mississippi, emerge in the fall and winter, leading to thousands of small deer being born from late April to mid-July of the following year. At birth, these fawns will have more reddish fur than their parents and will be covered in hundreds of small white spots. These spots help the fawn blend in with the myriad of wildflowers and weeds that bloom in the spring and summer when it hatches. As an added protection from good mother nature, the fawns don’t have any consignments, which prevents predators from sniffing them. As such, the mothers of these nursing fawns try to stay away from their young as much as possible so as not to erase their own scent. In October, young fawns typically lose their spots and at that time they are foraging for food rather than suckling, on their way to adulthood.
With this in mind, if you see a spotted fawn in spring and summer, it is most likely not with its mother next to it. Mom is most likely hiding in a nearby bush while the children explore the world. Alternatively, Mommy Doe may have left Junior so she could go get some food, as he’s still eating for two.
One of the best signs to see if a fawn is orphaned and distressed is if it is dehydrated. A dehydrated baby deer is a deer that is unable to nurse for some reason. Maybe mom is dead, or maybe she’s sick and she’s not making milk. In any case, these dehydrated fawns can be easily identified by the position of their ears. A dehydrated fawn will have its wide ears bent back at the tips or, in later stages, it will collapse and not respond to stimulation. If a fawn has nice narrow ears and is walking, it is most likely not an orphan. Let it be. Mom will be very alert to human odors in her baby and may not want to have anything to do with it if you try to play fawn cuddle. Worse still, if the fawn is carried, the doe’s milk will begin to dry in as little as 24 hours.
As veterans say, “The ears are straight, the fawn is great. The ears are curled; it is alone in the world.”
What to do if you find one?
Then you have an orphan deer on your hands. Your baby is sick, his ears are bent, and he’s just plain pathetic. He has watched the fawn for hours and has not wandered away or a mother has come to take care of him. As confirmation, you may have even found a nursing doe killed by a car a few blocks away. What are you doing now?
The best and most correct answer is to find a local wildlife rehabilitation group that can take the animal away. While not advertised due to lack of funding, these little-known wildlife heroes are state / federal licensed wildlife rehabilitators, keepers, or veterinarians located throughout the state. A good resource for finding one locally is MS Wild Life Rehab.org. If you come up short, call your local conservation office as soon as possible.
Until the animal can be picked up or taken to a rehabilitator, keep it warm and dry and do not attempt to feed it any other food other than running water.
Can you have it as a pet?
The simple answer is no. Now reread that sentence if you have questions. In Mississippi, it is illegal to keep a deer as a pet. If you are arrested with one, you face at least a Class 3 offense, and you could be fined up to $ 1000 (plus fees) and / or up to 6 months in jail. It is also illegal to import white-tailed deer into Mississippi. This is for the good of the animal.
Wild animals that are accepted as pets are no longer wild, but they are never really pets. Once the steps are taken down that path, the animal finds itself in a strange situation. It can never be released into the wild because it has become so dependent on humans that it can never learn to take proper care of itself. However, it cannot be vaccinated and cared for enough to be anything but an easy target for passing poachers.
Domestic deer were recently banned in Arkansas. In neighboring Tennessee, it is illegal to keep wild deer as pets.
So remember all of this when your wife calls you to the deck with doe eyes.
I need to get that woman a dog.