Officers find a case to 'fawn' over

Baby deer taken to a Polk County rehabilitation center
By DeeAnna Haney | May 12, 2014
Waynesville Police Officer Billy Benhart holds a fawn before it was taken to a rehabilitation center in Polk County.

Waynesville police officers came across a case to fawn over last week after they received an unusual call from a concerned citizen.

Sgt. Heath Plemmons and Patrol Officer Billy Benhart were the first to respond to a call from a passerby who saw a person walking a fawn down the sidewalk on Commerce Street with a small rope tied around its neck as a leash.

Upon arrival, both officers approached 37-year-old Jamie McAlister, who led the officers to his vehicle. Sure enough, a baby deer was curled up in the bed of the pickup truck with the string still around its neck. The officers immediately called the Wildlife Resources Commission.

Master Officer Tim Godwin with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission quickly arrived at the scene to find the deer lying in the floorboard of the patrol car.

"I'm pretty sure that fawn was only two to three days old judging by its size, and it couldn't really walk too well," Godwin said.

After speaking with McAlister, officers learned the man had purchased the fawn for $20 from a friend in South Carolina the night before. He brought it home to Haywood County and intended to raise it as a pet.

However, McAlister had only fed the baby deer a Starbucks Frappuccino instead of milk, and it was weak and hungry.

Godwin immediately purchased a baby bottle and goat's milk from the grocery store to feed the baby deer and took it to a fawn rehabilitation center in Polk County.

Though McAlister seemed to be unaware that what he did was wrong, he was charged with unlawful possession of wildlife, which is a misdemeanor.

It's illegal to transport a deer, dead or alive, across state lines. That's because chronic wasting disease can be spread easily and can quickly wipe out an entire deer herd, Godwin said.

"Within a month or two they are dead," he said.

It's also illegal to carry any part of the deer head or spinal column across state lines.

Godwin said people carrying fawns out of the woods is an issue the Wildlife Commission deals with regularly statewide.

"Mother deer can leave them two to three hours at a time and the fawn won't move because when they are initially born, they don't have scent glands that put off any smell," Godwin said.

But when people see a fawn by itself, they assume it's been orphaned or abandoned.

According to a NC Wildlife Resources Commission press release, handling, feeding or moving any wild animal can harm or even ultimately kill it and it poses a risk for human health and safety.

Though it's legal to keep a wild animal as a household pet in South Carolina, it is not legal in North Carolina.

"Well meaning people can do tremendous harm," said Ann May, the Commission's extension wildlife biologist. "No matter how cute, how cuddly or lost or scared it may appear, the best thing to do is avoid any human interaction."

Many species, including white-tailed deer, do not constantly stay with their young and only return to feed them. So while a fawn might look abandoned and alone, it is often just waiting for the mother to return.

Officer Benhart had a chance to hold the fawn and snap a photo before it was taken away to rehab.

"It laid its head on my chest and was nuzzling me and nibbling my ear," Benhart said.

Benhart is an avid hunter, but said he is a huge advocate for wildlife protection as well. He believes that hunting, when it's done legally, is a great way to control animal populations and keep them healthy.

Though he's seen many wild fawns out in the woods while hunting, he's always known never to touch or move them.

"I just want to make sure people know to leave wildlife alone," Benhart said.


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