I was just writing how we had not picked up a road kill in so many years (see previous blog) that I can’t remember when the last time was, when BAM! I was down at our mailbox on Rt 895 and I heard the loud thud. I looked over in front of our neighbors and there was an SUV pulled over with a badly smashed grill and radiator and a young deer withering on the roadside. It was young and small and was struggling badly. “Oh no! “I said. “I think that might be one of our neighborhood deer that we see every day and lives in our woods.” I was filled with compassion for the poor deer and never minded the man, who at second glance was visibly shaken. He was more concerned with his vehicle than the deer and wondered if he could drive it. He drove away and I ran up the mountain to get Todd to help put it out of its misery and one of our vehicles to toss the deer into. This young deer would not go to waste and rot alongside the road., bloated and buggy. We will eat use it to nourish our bodies and give thanks to it at every meal.
It was a young buck. Its legs were broken badly and it had internal damage. It was dead by the time I returned, thank goodness. After we gutted him, we raised him with a block and tackle at Todd’s chainsaw carving site and proceeded to skin it. I prepared the sink for cutting up meat and all evening long we cubed and sliced and carved meat off the bones to throw into a hamburger pot to be ground up later. I ripped off sections of freezer paper and stuck lengths of masking tape on the counter for wrapping and labeling.
Todd took the bones out in a bucket and buried some and threw the rest in the woods. Some remains went over the bank by the septic field. “That’s where our neighborhood deer walk,” I reminded Todd. “What if it’s one of our doe’s children and she sees his remains?”
It got me thinking about the heart of a mother deer and what kind of empathic pain they might go through when they see and know that their children are gone. How about smell? Most animals know their children’s scent and like the thousands of penguins, mothers know their baby’s individual cries and scents.
“It might be some other deer,” Todd tried to reassure me.
But this morning, after I kissed Todd good-bye and he headed out, I was surprised to see him quickly return at the door. “There’s only two in the orchard this morning. It was one of her children,” he solemnly announced. Oh sad. And it got me wondering about deer and what they are actually cognitive capable of knowing and what they can actually feel. We know they experience pain and fear. That’s a given. I went about exploring on the web to gain some knowledge.
I came upon a story about a man who hit a young deer and returned to finish the suffering youngster off. His mother was soon standing by it side, grunting pleas for her fawn to get up, nudging it with her nose trying to get it to stand up and live. Even as he put a bullet in into the chamber to end its suffering, the mother would not leave and continued her, what appeared to be, display of deep grief.
This is what else I read in www.rationalskeptism.org
“The nervous system of a deer is complex and less organized than found in humans. Deer have a “high tolerance” for pain, which is better explained as the neurons don’t signal pain in the same way, speed, or intensity as it does in humans. Also, deer produce in their blood, high levels of steroids and other morphine-like chemicals like cortisol which help reduce inflammation, pain and speed the healing of the wound.”
Well, that makes me feel better for the young buck who got hit but what about the mama doe? She might be caring for her sister’s yearling as we used to see two mothers and two young ones all year long in our orchard and now we are down to one doe and one yearling. The remaining doe is probably pregnant for we saw a big buck snooping around the property in the rutting season. Maybe this summer we will see a tiny spotted fawn added to the family as it will add to our enjoyment of living with our neighborhood deer. And why was the young buck out on his own trying to cross the busy highway? Was he dispersing from the group for he was growing older and needed to go out on his own? Was this his first foray away and had spent most of his life on the top and sides of Red Mountain. Did he did not know about highways and fast cars? It was 3 in the afternoon when they are normally bedded down for the day.
My friend Bill May, who spent his life working in the food and cover department of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said that the young buck was probably traveling in his regular group of three and perhaps they were spooked by someone in the woods or even a coyote, which disturbed their normal daily rhythms of bedding down in mid-day. He said they probably crossed that highway many times in his young life, just this time it was fateful. He said the young buck would not be kicked out of the group or go off on his own until the late summer early fall when he would get stirrings of wanting to mate for the first time.
What is amazing is how little distance this little family of deer seemed to travel. All my neighbors have been seeing them in their backyards too and in that recent snowstorm I found them bedding down just yards from my writing cabin in a thicket of hemlocks. (The research I did said that does are pregnant now and sticking to the home range and could have a home range of about a 1 square mile, or up to 3!). They truly are our wild neighbors and they must have felt safe living in our presence.
Some might feel that this is “just” a deer that we are talking about but it is not “just” any deer in my life, but a special neighborhood deer. Just like the dead mouse we caught in a trap last night was truly “just” a mouse in my opinion and one that I do not want in my house. However, the mouse, Mr Jingles in The Green Mile, was certainly not “just” a mouse to the star inmate in that film. It depends on how that animal has impacted your personal life and how much value and worth you have attached to it.
I want to be a good steward and care for our neighborhood deer as best I can and that means honoring them by harvesting their meat and giving thanks for their presence in our lives, however short lived.
NEWS ALERT: Today, April 12, Todd saw three deer out in our orchard so the little family is together so the young male that got hit at our driveway who is in our freezer, is not our “neighbor” that we intimately know- Now the meat will taste a little better!
PS From my veterinarian friend, Lee Simpson….
Hi Cindy; enjoying your expressions of love and grief and compassion for our wild neighbors. The only thing I’d add is that I think it is total BS that they don’t feel pain like we do. No animals, including our pet dogs and cats, show that they have pain as we do. They just soldier on, doing their best in spite of it.
Pain is the body’s way of protecting itself and avoiding injury, so all critters have similar pain fibers. The difference is how the white matter responds to the pain. I learned this first hand when I worked with dairy cows. People often treated them harshly, since they are big and slow moving. I once sprayed a tiny spray of water out of a syringe on a cow’s leg. She kicked because it tickled, I guess, and that day I learned how very sensitive they are. Just like we are, in spite of their thick hides or thick fur. Poor groundhogs and possums and deer- they just can’t know or protect themselves from the deadly speeding vehicles.