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Why I Didn’t Rescue the Fawn

The following article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

It was clear that he wanted my help. He was the cutest baby I had ever seen, covered with white spots, mewing a soft call as he walked toward me with pleading eyes looking straight into mine, ears perked forward inquisitively. I had never heard that plaintive sound before—and I’ve spent plenty of time watching deer. But here he was, giving me a decision to make.

Should I rescue this poor animal, make friends and be one with nature, save an innocent fellow being in need? Or turn a cold shoulder and walk on by?

If you’re ever faced with an animal rescue situation and local officials won’t help, please know that PETA’s Emergency Response Team is on call 24/7 at 757-622-7382, option 2. I’ve stored that number in my cell phone. But first, it’s good to know the basics on how to handle an emergency.

I have a lot of wildlife around my home, since I treat my yard as a sanctuary and do what I can to live in harmony with nature.

Usually, my wild friends need no help from me, even when it is heartbreaking to watch. Hawks claim an occasional bird or rabbit whom I counted as part of the family. Not every baby bird fledges the nest, not every squirrel or rabbit survives the winter, not every wren finds a mate. The seasons of life come and go with or without me. But there are situations when wild animals do need our help, especially when the creatures are traumatized or injured by human activity. We must try to help animals who have been injured by cars, electric lines, window strikes, and so on.

Feeding wildlife is harmful because it inspires animals to stay in areas that are dangerous to them, or that wouldn’t normally support/sustain them. Artificial food sources will also cause animals to breed at an accelerated rate, meaning more birds, raccoon,  and deer. The more animals you have in a small area, the more likely they will be perceived as overpopulated or as a nuisance, especially when the birds nest on eaves and raccoons chew on buildings. Animal cruelty can result. Most cases of animal abuse (involving wildlife) happen because kind-hearted people lure the animals into danger by feeding them.

The fawn who recently approached me in the woods enjoyed a happy outcome. He walked up to me, intent on closing the distance between us as he mewed and looked me in the eye. It was then that I spotted his mother about 30 feet away, staring at me, ready to bolt, fearing the worst. Our fawn was just plain confused: I was not the parent he was seeking. Perhaps the oncoming thunderstorm had something to do with it. In any case, I would hardly be doing him a favor by being his friend—a lesson that could be deadly when hunting season rolls around. He’d be far better off not trusting people in general. So I clapped my hands, stomped my feet, growled at him, and made a hasty retreat to break off this relationship before it even started. From a distance, I watched through binoculars as mother and child reunited. A doe stays with her fawn for a year or so and will often leave to forage for food. People sometimes mistakenly think the young have been abandoned when, in fact, mom knows exactly where her child is. “Rescuing” babies while mom is healthy and feeding causes far more harm than good. I backed off, wished this pair well, and hoped that they would enjoy their lives together for many more summer days.

The experience for me was uplifting. To share that intimacy with such beautiful animals was something special. An omen, perhaps?

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  • Ursula says:

    I agree with Deb and Ashley-P, no reason to worry about a fawn left alone for such a short time. Holly, there is no way to prevent painful animal deaths in nature…that is part of nature. What else would you suggest the hawk eat? What would you do about predatory cats, crocs and alligators, larges snakes, etc? You can’t give these animals pamphlets and guilt them into eating vegetables to prevent ‘painful animal deaths’. Human intervention in those matters would not only be counterproductive….ie, sooner or later the animal will probably just eat the intervening human, but it would also be senseless.

  • Deb says:

    Great article. Comment to Margie – it is very unlikely that a deer with a broken limb can recover from that injury. Deer stress very easily and sometimes the transport alone can stress them enough to become fatal. Usually euthanasia is the only option and a properly placed gunshot is authorized euthanasia in most states. For Holly – hawks eat rabbits/squirrels and keep their populations in check and the environment balanced. For AnimalLover – 20 minutes is not long enough to worry about a fawn being alone. A doe may leave them for 4 – 6 hours before returning to nurse. Fawns are born without scent and the mother purposely leaves the area to not draw predators to her baby.

  • Margie says:

    This is a good article. Sometimes you just don’t know what to do. I once saw an SUV clip a fawn. It had a broken leg. I called law enforcement and they told me to move along while they proceeded to put the animal down. I felt horrible. I’m glad that you are providing information on how to handle these situations.

  • Heather Kincaid says:

    Thanks so much. Very helpful info!

  • Holly says:

    “Usually, my wild friends need no help from me, even when it is heartbreaking to watch. Hawks claim an occasional bird or rabbit whom I counted as part of the family. ” I don’t think it would be a bad thing to interfere here, might even be a good thing if you scare the hawk away before it does any damage – sure, the hawk will feel hungrier, but you’ve spared the bird/rabbit a painful death! Most people assume that you should “let nature run its course”, but if it’s good to interfere with nature in order to help humans (security, law, medicine etc.), then why not for animals too? Why assume that the course of nature is a good thing? Evolution is apathetic! Although I’m obviously not suggesting that we interfere in a huge way at the moment, because it will probably all go wrong and end up doing more harm than good!

    Your article is generally making a very good point though 🙂 I just think it’s good to give people some food for thought about interfering with e.g. painful animal deaths, even if it is “natural”.

  • Jenn says:

    Very interesting article that I learned a lot from as well as Ashley P’s comment. Thankful to now have the emergency number,too. Thank you!

  • Nikki says:

    This is a very good article…I think it’s important for people to understand the difference between rescuing an animal and interfering with nature, causing more harm than good. Exellent information 🙂

  • Ashley-P says:

    Fawns are purposefully left alone by parents during the daytime (to reduce chances that they will be discovered by predators: Fawns are scentless so as long as they remain still, they typically go undetected by predators. Parents on the other hand are easily spotted by predators since they have a strong scent and are large/mobile). So if a mother doesn’t return to a fawn between dusk and dawn, that would indicate there is an issue. If a fawn is seen calmly sitting in grass, that’s normal. Wandering and calling out during daylight hours is a sign of distress for spotted fawns. Deer with no spots do not need assistance.

  • Sylvia says:

    Thank you for posting this. I work at a college that has numerous deer, as well as other wildlife. People see the fawns alone, and the first thing they want to do is rescue them. Unfortunately, it is usually too late for the fawn. We try to alert people of the dangers of does abandoning the fawns after being human imprinted, but they don’t listen.

  • animallover says:

    i want to know when you do not see momma even after 20 minutes what should you do? Do you have a number for Michigan?

  • Ashley-P says:

    Hey Mukesh! If you’re in India, you can contact PETA India after-hours using this number: (0)98201 22602.

  • Ajith says:

    Very true. Good read.

  • Mukesh Tanwar says:

    I will save this number but is there any such number for PETA India, as I see alot helpless animals here who I desperately wish to help.