Jilly D.

Deer vision

In Grief, Off-The-Grid Memoir on May 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

AFCU Class Swenson & Cooper Work 20100521GHAs Sweet Pea matured into adulthood, I worried about Sam’s attachment to this wild Whitetail deer. Sweet Pea’s hooves grew sharp and her affections toward Sam grew more amorous. From our research we knew the real possibilities of injury and death from domesticated deer that turn on their human caregivers at any moment without warning.

Our dear deer continued to thrive. While somewhat confined, she got exercise, fresh air, sunshine, good nutrition and supplements. She wasn’t going to get run over by a car or shot by a hunter here. She was well protected from the threat of coyotes. Our two goats in the barn still had their horns.

Goats have horns for good reason. A year earlier Sam had walked into the barn in the morning. Blood and guts from floor to ceiling but the nanny goats were content, unscathed and eating. A coyote who ventured into the barn lost a fight with two horned goats.Ithaca NY May 29-June 9 2009 Trip 111

That fall we harvested field corn but Sweet Pea wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic about the crop as she had been the year before. Salt and mineral blocks went untouched in November.  We tried a sweet crunchy 16% protein feed with some molasses and beet pulp that seemed to stimulate her appetite.

Then I noticed she didn’t eat her carrots and apple. We didn’t talk about it, though we had noticed a shift in Sweet Pea’s behavior.

“Sweet Pea is blind in one eye. I think she may be losing sight in her other eye,” Sam said one evening before dinner in early December.

I dashed out to her pen. The iris in her left eye had gone a ghostly blue overnight. She seemed to stumble around. She turned her head so her right eye could see me. It looked cloudy. She sniffed my hand with her nose to make sure it was me.

I got on the internet at the library and started searching for information, if not answers. The University of Georgia-Athens had several experts on deer vision in their vet school with whom we consulted. We found other deer farmers and wildlife experts but no one had heard of such symptoms.

Sweet Pea wouldn’t eat. She paced back and forth, round and round, this way and that. Despite all the wonderful people who offered us advice, research, references and referrals our Sweet Pea went blind in both eyes within a week. She was wasting away.

Our farm vet didn’t know much about wild deer except how to hunt them. She tried her best, but Anne couldn’t save Sweet Pea. She’d run blood tests and examined her, but nothing obvious showed up and she’d called upon her resources at Cornell University and the large animal vet community.

Wild Whitetail deer do not tolerate anesthesia as well as other large mammals. The antibiotics and other drugs given to domesticated species are known to be poorly tolerated by wild Whitetail deer. We had to let Dr. Anne put her down to stop the suffering of our baby deer.

For 18 months Sweet Pea lived with us. Sam told me when he found her that he had heard growing up that a man who could catch and tame a deer would live forever. The day she died, Sam didn’t want to live another day without Sweet Pea looking him in the eye and nuzzling his moustache and beard. Living forever seemed like a curse.

Sam Warren

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  1. I weep for Sweet Pea, for Sam, and for you. Not to speak of the young deer I killed with my car on the way to the airport this morning. This life is alarmingly fragile and somehow we have to make peace with that fact in paradise. I love your stories. (My car is banged up but drives fine. We made it to the airport in plenty of time.)

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