Blacktail Deer are a daily sighting out here at the Queendom. In fact, I would dare guess that the deer population of the Courtenay/Comox area is equal to the human population. Some people lament the damage that deer do to their flower and veggie gardens, spending exorbitant amounts of money on deer-fencing. But most people don’t mind the deer and even catch themselves smiling when they spot one in the woods or by the road.
The Queendom is a deer haven and we like it that way. Our property is an open clearing which allows our hoofed buddies to roam around and graze. But if danger is sensed, the deer easily hop our 4 ft fence and are able to disappear in the thick forest that surrounds us on three sides.
On our first morning as new caretakers of the Queendom in April, we met three of the permanent residents. We deduced that this was a mama deer with two of last years fawns.
We could spot these three every morning at first light and every evening at twilight. They were initially frightened of us but, over the months, they became only slightly wary of our presence.
Soon we could see the personality of Stumpy emerging. He was definitely a young buck and he spent much of the early summer tormenting his sister and playing ‘king of the castle’ with the dirt piles during our excavation work. He would tirelessly chase and run and kick before collapsing for a snooze under his mama’s watchful eye.
Soon enough we could see his fuzzy antler buds and noticed that his left antler was stunted. The name Stumpy seemed fitting and it stuck. More and more throughout the summer, we saw Stumpy on his own, as his mama distanced herself and forced him into independence.
In September, things began to change. We spotted Stumpy standing at the edge of the pond, glassy-eyed and foaming at the mouth. He stood in the same spot, statue-like, for hours and his stance was awkward. His belly was bloated and his rear-end was tucked under. You could almost feel his abdominal pain just by watching. He had a racking cough. It was a wet, mucus cough that made his whole body convulse. It was terrible to watch.
For about two weeks, we surveyed him and the only change was for the worse. Soon, he began to bed down at the very edge of the pond so that he could drink without having to get up or move.
Not knowing what to do, I made some inquiries with the local animal rehabilitation centre After describing his symptoms, a veterinarian wrote to me with a diagnosis of ‘high lungworm loads and pneumonia’. She said that there was no treatment for this and that he needed to be put down. She told me to contact the local Conservation Officer who would come and euthanize Stumpy.
Feeling absolutely sick, I called the Conservation Officer. When I described the situation and the diagnosis, he laughed at me. He told me that one sick deer was hardly a concern for him with a local population of +/- 50000 deer. He wasn’t going to come all the way out to the Queendom unless the animal was practically dead. “Call me when he can no longer get up and no longer has a fear of humans” he said. I asked him, if Stumpy dies, would his department come and collect a dead deer. “Nope,” he said. “If he dies on your property, then you would be the proud owner of a dead deer”.
And so. Let nature run its course. We kept a daily watch on Stumpy and occasionally we would walk close to Stumpy’s Beach. Each time, Stumpy would slowly get up and hobble away from us, showing that his fear of humans and his will to live were both still strong. He even hopped (ungracefully) over the fence once when I got too close.
About a week later, I noticed that Stumpy had moved to a different area and he was grazing! He started to bed down in different areas and returned to his regular pattern of early morning/early evening visits. His body stance changed back to normal and he was far more alert. He had survived his illness and was on the mend! I felt such relief, knowing that winter weather was around the corner and he needed to be strong to survive this first winter on his own.
Stumpy sightings became scarce. I always kept an eye out for him but only saw him once or twice over the past month.
Yesterday, FM told me that there was a deer lying on the side of the main road into town – about a kilometre from our place. As we returned from some errands in town, we stopped and had a look at the road-killed deer. It was Stumpy.
It is a sad day indeed. Stumpy has lived on the Queendom longer than we have. He was probably born there and spent much of his youth playing there. He could have waited out his sickness anywhere but he chose the Queendom as a safe place that had all he needed with no imminent dangers.
FM and I have never had pets together. Although we each had a dog when growing up, our spontaneous travel lifestyle and FM’s allergies have prevented us from jumping on board the pet owner train. This is the closest we have come to taking on a pet.