One Heck of a Backseat Driver!

Every rescue is a special one. Each one has its specific challenge, for us as rehabbers and for the rescuers. But the one I am going to tell you about this month is a humdinger!

Our Authorized Wildlife Custodian Debra Spilar received an urgent text; Caledon OPP officers had found a large adult doe on the side of the road at Hwy 50 and Old Church Rd. She had been there for two hours. She was cold, wet, and out of it, but no injuries were visibly seen. Suspected to be hit by a car; most probably head trauma. The officers called Dr. Sherri Cox but she was out of the province, Procyon was then called.

The OPP officers stayed with her until Debra arrived. Then the male officer, as Debra put it, “a big burly man,” and the female officer, a tiny lady and Debra, another small lady, had to set a plan in motion to get this beautiful doe into Debra’s truck. First, the doe’s head was covered to keep her calm, if by chance she became aware of what was going on. She was about 150 to 200 lbs. Nothing to fool around with.

They laid a tarp on the ground, and a blanket, then the three of them struggled to lift her onto them. They wrapped her up into a burrito. It was a challenge to then lift her into the back seat of Debra’s truck. Not an easy task at all.

She was in. But then the deer moved and started to wiggle. She wiggled right onto the floor between the front seat and back seat. As Debra told me she was even better and safer down there. But time was critical. This doe’s eyes were open and seemed bright but was just not with it. But for how long, was something Debra did not know. With 4 ways flashing, she hit the back roads, safely navigated stop signs, and focused on getting that deer to the centre, fast and safe.

If she had come out of it, I’m guessing with her size and healthy condition that burrito blanket would have made a fast exit off her body, leaving the deer loose in Debra’s truck, in with her. She would have made one heck of a backseat driver. One with whom, Debra did not want to share her space. And I am pretty sure the doe would not have been at all impressed or willing to sit quietly in this weird moving contraption. She would have wanted out ASAP.

A non-eventful drive led to not such a non-eventful ending, since once at the centre, this 150 to 200 lb. deer would now have to be lifted out. This time by three small ladies. Only two volunteers were in and both were small. Time again was critical. What to do?

Debra parked her truck as close as she could to the deer pen. They managed to slide the deer out, but now she was lying still in her burrito in the mud. So much rain has been falling recently,  making the ground very soft and mucky. Recent work made these muddy conditions even worse since this is the time of year when rebuilding and restructuring projects are done at the Centre. The volunteers were not strong enough to lift her and carry her the rest of the way to the deer pen. The mud made every move difficult. An idea! The wheelbarrow!

The women each took a part of the tarp and managed to lift the doe into the wheelbarrow, at one point her head became uncovered during the move but was quickly covered back up to continue to keep her calm. They got her into the deer enclosure, which was close by, got her onto a nice bed of straw in the deer shed and left her to recover quietly. She showed no signs of injury, and there was no blood anywhere to be seen. No visible broken bones anywhere either, although there was some swelling, all in all, she was in magnificent shape. She was huge. And extremely lucky.

After the deer was taken care of and was comfortably recovering, Debra went to move her truck, however, it was stuck in the mud. Good and stuck. She called one of the male volunteers who lived nearby. He came with his truck to help get her out. They used wood chips and chains. It took two hours, but they got the truck out. This all started at 7 am. What a day! And on top of everything, there was one chain of events after another. Along the way with deer in tow. Time was of the essence, there was a lot of praying that this back-seat passenger did not become suddenly active. Adrenaline was pumping. The deer was now recovering its first hurdle. She was safe.  Head trauma the main suspect for now. A volunteer went to check her after the truck was out and back on the driveway. She was still down; he was very concerned. Another volunteer showed up a bit later, Sarah, at which point the deer was up and walking around. Incredible.

They got some meds into her, although she was still out of it and was not too bothered by the volunteers. The next day, more meds were given, and the third day also went well, however, after that it was impossible to get meds into her. To even go in to feed her was difficult; then it became impossible. But there was plenty of food in there for her to graze upon, and volunteers could see her grazing through our outdoor cameras. She was monitored day and night from the Centre’s cameras.

She was feeling much better, but there was still some swelling that concerned us. She was grazing well, but if she saw anyone she bolted, right into the trees and fence. Our fences are covered in the deer pen to protect them. But an adult deer is a major challenge. And this girl was thankfully starting to feel better. Meaning now she became a tough patient.

As there was still some swelling, we asked Dr. Sherri Cox from National Wildlife Centre to come and look at the doe when she got back to Ontario. Not wanting to disturb the deer, she stood at the gate with binoculars in hand, to safely assess the doe. She was weight bearing on all four legs, not limping and clearly wanted no part of being penned in. There was still some swelling, so it was decided to leave her be, to hopefully finish mending on her own, for another 4 or 5 days, keeping her quiet,  then a release plan would be put into action for her. She needed to be free.

Crystal our animal care coordinator would be the only one caring for this doe from here on in. Figuring out a way to feed her without going in. It was a challenge, but fortunately, it went very well. Over the years there have been 3 or 4 adult deer at Procyon, but this doe is the first adult for approximately 8 years. Not a common occurrence at all.

So, as you can well imagine, this deer rescue will not be forgotten any time soon. She is a magnificent animal in good health otherwise, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  The head trauma however was a huge help in her rescue, being able to rescue her successfully. She thankfully was a good backseat driver during her rescue time.

I am sure Debra’s stress level was on high alert mode en route and thankfully she ran into no traffic along the way. And it was incredibly lucky that two very caring Caledon OPP officers came across her and gave her a good look over to see that this doe needed help ASAP.  A big thank you to those two officers for their compassion and fast-acting. You saved this life by checking her over to make sure there were no visible broken bones or blood and making that decision to get her help. There is no doubt that she had head trauma, which is what actually saved the day for a successful rescue and outcome and which made us able to get at least a few days of medication into her.

As luck would have it, we were able to keep our deer relatively calm. She was a special visitor for whom we did everything so that we could get her better and back out into the wild as quickly as possible. As safely as possible. She needed to be free, she was terrified of people and she was strong and healthy now and had recovered well. Perfect outcome.

Since this doe was going to be a threat to herself, the vet and the volunteers had to catch her in a safe way, to avoid horrible injury or worse, to herself or others.

It was unclear how this could be accomplished safely, after many conversations between the MNRF and Debra, an exception to the rule, was made. Normally, adult animals must be released within 1 km of where they were originally found, however, under these circumstances, Debra applied for this special release and permission was granted to her by MNRF. The doe would be released from the Procyon Centre. This agreement was made to protect the health and safety of the deer, volunteers and vet.

On Friday, October 30th, early in the morning, just 9 days after her arrival, she was set free! When the gate to the deer enclosure was opened, she quickly bolted out to the tree line surrounding the pen area and disappeared never to be seen again. Fully recovered, free and safe. Perfect release. Perfect outcome.

Thank you MNRF for granting Debra permission to allow Procyon Wildlife to safely release this doe back to the wild.

And now a quote from Sarah who did the release:

“It is so rare to be able to save an adult deer, and this was an extra special moment for us. To see her run off freely was a magical moment.”

Well said Sarah, and absolutely beautiful.

Be free and be safe. We all wish this doe a safe, wonderful and healthy life ahead.

Remember: “HELP is in YOUR hands.”

Jennifer Howard
Procyon Wildlife Rehabilitation & Education Centre.
Beeton, Ontario.

The following pics are courtesy Debra Spilar and Jennifer Howard

One Heck of a Backseat Driver!
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