The Deer in the Garage

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange gets some interesting phone calls from people with questions about wildlife. This one was a doozy.

(LANGE) With farmers disappearing and old fields growing into forest, the wild animals and birds are returning. So I get phone calls from people who think I’m an expert on wildlife. They have red squirrels or feral cats in the attic, bears in the bird feeder, deer in the tulips and geese making a mess on the lawn.

My friend Phidias called me after dark. “Will!” he said, “I’ve got a deer in my garage. What should I do with it?”

“How’d it get in there?”

“Alice and I put him in.” You can imagine the rest of this conversation.

Phid’s wife had headed for town one of the coldest mornings of the winter and spotted a deer standing at the bottom of a little gully. When she came back three hours later, it was still there. So she called Phid to come home and do something.

Any wildlife biologist will tell you the best thing to do in such a case is nothing, and any conservation officer will tell you that doing anything else is illegal. But all of us were raised on the Little Red Hen and Peter Rabbit. To us, animals to us are people, with almost human feelings. We’re programmed to help.

Phid and Alice slid down the snowy slope with water and grain and held them up to the deer’s muzzle. Nothing. Phid pushed him to see if he’d move. Nothing. The night ahead was forecast to be below zero. So, with Alice pushing and Phid up front, they worked him up to the road, opened the back door of the car and loaded him in.

The deer hooked his front feet over the back of the passenger seat and put his head almost to the windshield. At the house, they walked him into the garage, closed the door and spread drop cloths on the floor. Phid cooked up some gruel and spooned some into him. Then he called me.

“Geez!” I said. “That’s illegal! You better call the game warden. If you can’t get him, try Fish and Game.” All Phid got were answering machines. So he covered the deer with a blanket and went to bed.

Fish and Game called back in the morning. The buck was probably suffering from trauma, they said – chased by dogs, bumped by a car. Put him in a shed with an open door and let him be.

They led the deer into the tool shed. An hour later he was still there. Three hours later he was gone. But Phid thinks he saw him again, a day or so later, with some others, standing on the far side of the yard. “We made eye contact,” he says, “and it must have been the same one. It looked grateful.”

I tell you what: Don’t call me. I’ll call you!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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