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‘People have got to learn to just leave the dang things alone’

Three 1-week-old buck fawns huddle in a pen at Dr. Luther McConnell’s Mt. Spokane Veterinary Hospital on Thursday in Mead. (Dan Pelle)
Three 1-week-old buck fawns huddle in a pen at Dr. Luther McConnell’s Mt. Spokane Veterinary Hospital on Thursday in Mead. (Dan Pelle)

Fawns mistakenly believed abandoned often turn into expensive wards of state

Sometimes the best intentions have disastrous results.

So it is with kind people across the Inland Northwest who see a lonely fawn, gather it up and either start to feed it or take it to a veterinarian.

“People have got to learn to just leave the dang things alone,” said Dr. Luther McConnell, a Mead veterinarian who’s licensed by the state as a wildlife rehabilitator. “They’re pretty much condemning them to death.”

Every day during the deer birthing season from mid-May through June, the phones ring at his Mt. Spokane Veterinary Hospital with callers wondering what to do with an “orphaned” fawn.

Often the family dog has scared off the doe and the callers are convinced she’s not coming back, McConnell said.

“But she will come back,” he said. “Sometimes it may not be for hours, but she’ll come back to find her baby.”

A fawn’s best protection from predation is to lie still in the grass. A doe might visit her fawn just once a day. It’s not neglect but rather the best way to avoid tipping off predators on the whereabouts of an easy kill, according to the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

McConnell said the only legitimate reason to bring a fawn to the veterinarian is “if they see mama deer lying dead on the side of the road with the fawn wandering around nearby.

“We’ll raise them up and kick them loose again one day when they’re ready,” he said.

It’s illegal to pick up fawns, and game wardens are keen on writing citations to residents who can’t resist interfering with wildlife, McConnell said.

What’s more, the state foots the bill for the fawns’ care.

According to the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, “Costs to care for a single fawn brought to the WSU veterinary college run from $1,500 to $2,000, and because they’re owned by the state, the state has to pay the bill.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife says state grants help compensate licensed wildlife rehabilitators like McConnell for care of sick and injured wildlife.

On Thursday there were three fawns at McConnell’s clinic.

All were there because of dogs, which find and often menace the baby deer.

Among those that are saved, once deer associate people with food it’s difficult to change their behavior.

It’s why fawns collected by do-gooders are often the first to get killed by hunters or predators.

“People have to let these animals alone,” McConnell said.



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