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Bambi's got nothing on Midwest deer drama
December 14, 2013
Charlotte's all grown up now.
She's still got those big, liquid brown eyes.
She's a rather petite 90 pounds, and she really loves bananas.
"And if it wasn't for your readers, they would have come and killed her," Marvin Graaf of Lake Geneva, Wis., told me the other day, recalling the great deer drama of 2011. "Your Tribune readers saved her. So you can thank them from me again and tell them Charlotte the deer is still hanging out with the horses. She's doing just fine."
Charlotte the orphaned deer was found when her mother was killed by the side of the road. The fawn wouldn't leave her, and neighbors thought she'd be eaten by coyotes. They brought her to Graaf.
He let her hang out on his little hobby farm with his horses, hoping to quickly find her a home in a wildlife refuge. But there were state prohibitions against moving deer from zones affected by chronic wasting disease. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources moved to seize Charlotte.
Graaf resisted and was charged in a criminal complaint. A reader up in Lake Geneva tipped me. I wrote a few columns in mid-December two years ago.
Readers got angry. Gov. Scott Walker, who knows a good Christmas story when he sees one, made national news by pardoning Charlotte. The charges against Graaf were dropped.
There's even a catchy Christmas-style song about Charlotte on YouTube, written by a fellow who calls himself Maximus Squirehogg. The tune is called "Charlotte the Cheesehead Orphan Deer."
"I really like that song," Graaf said. "Don't you?"
"She's alive and doing well," Graaf said. "My whole goal and intent was that she would leave and have a normal life. But she's too used to people now. So that probably won't happen. My fear is that if she would ever get out ….
"I just don't want her walking up to some hunter and saying, 'Give me a banana.' Because she loves bananas. She eats the peel first, then she eats the inside. She eats them out of my hand. She takes a little bite, then another little bite, and it's pretty cool."
Graaf is a hunter. He doesn't believe people should have wild creatures as pets. Every so often, a wild doe comes up to the fence to greet Charlotte.
"They're wild for a reason," he said. "You take them in, they become habituated to people. But what was I supposed to do? Leave her for the coyotes to get her?"
He doesn't normally allow people to visit her.
"My thinking was, just let her live her life. I didn't want some bureaucrat to get interested in her again. So I pretty much stopped talking to anybody about it. Only a few people can see her — and you're one of them.
"People say, 'Can I see the deer?' and the answer is no. Some stop by down the road and watch her running with the horses. That's OK. That's cool. But I didn't want it to become a big thing. Then, over the summer, there was that little baby deer killed. They called her Giggles. The DNR killed her."
Giggles, an orphaned fawn, was found just across the border in Illinois and was left at the Society of St. Francis Animal Shelter in Kenosha, Wis., in July. The shelter's president, Cindy Schultz, said that just before she could transport Giggles to a permanent shelter, the DNR raided the shelter.
"They sent in a 15-person DNR SWAT team, and sheriff's deputies, and a search warrant," Schultz told me Thursday over the phone. "They raided our shelter, rounded up all the workers, then they killed her. They shot her with one of those bolt guns, not a real gun, but one of those pressurized tools you use to kill cattle."
Like that device used by the psycho killer in "No Country for Old Men"?
"Yeah," said Schultz. "They carried her out in a little body bag. I mean, she was tiny. She still had spots. And I was about to drive her to a shelter when they came with all their power. When Walker heard about it, the you-know-what hit the fan."
Walker, knowing a bad story when he sees one, ordered the bureaucrats to develop new policies for orphaned deer.
"Gov. Walker didn't know," Schultz said. "They made damn sure Walker didn't know. Believe me, they didn't want another Charlotte. So they figured, if they killed it quick, it'd be over and who'd complain? They can't just run around killing baby deer."
William Cosh, spokesman for the state DNR, said it is best for wild creatures not to become habituated to humans.
But the fallout from the Giggles killing caused the state to change some policies. Now, orphan deer found within chronic wasting disease zones may be rehabilitated.
Other changes are pending approval of the state legislature, Cosh said in response to my email.
Is Charlotte safe now?
"Yes," he replied, in red type.
Will she remain safe, or is there a possibility the DNR will have her transferred?
Again the red type: "The DNR has no plans to transfer or interfere with the deer."
The deer. The DNR wouldn't even refer to Charlotte by name. And Graaf remains unconvinced.
"I know Gov. Walker wouldn't like it, but I keep worrying that someday I'll come home and they'll have taken her," he said. "But they've got to know that I'll call the Tribune."
And if you have to call, we'll firstname.lastname@example.org