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Fawn rehabbers cope with mounting costs

Cletus Brown bottle feeds one of the white-tailed deer fawns he is currently working to rehabilitate.

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

Vale resident Cletus Brown’s love for animals has prompted him to care for a variety of animals over the years, including pit bulls and ducks and currently deer, but with the recent economic slump, he’s in jeopardy of not renewing his fawn rehabilitator’s license for another year, forcing the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) to potentially put down any injured fawn found across the county.
Brown, who was raised on a dairy farm, said he gets calls every day about wounded deer.
Although the NCWRC website lists a number of rehabbers and their contacts from across the state, Brown said most have stopped their duties because of the high expense involved and refer individuals to him.
“People can’t afford it,” he said. “We’re dropping rehabbers.”
Since 2003, Brown has purchased out-of-pocket all formula, milk and medicine needed to care for his sick animals, spending in excess of $6,000 last year on 31 deer and more than $200 this year on eight deer.
“We don’t get that (money) back,” he said. He also noted formula has recently doubled in price at tractor-supply companies where he purchases the food. Depending on a deer’s condition, Brown usually treats each one between four and six months, during which time he said his six-year-old daughter will name them.
Some deer are in danger of having to be put down without a rehabber to care for them because state law doesn’t allow individuals to treat injured fawns without a specific fawn rehabilitator’s license.
“They’re gonna have to let Mother Nature take its course,” Brown said, “which is never a good thing.”
Rehabber Beth Knapp-Tyler, owner of nonprofit organization Wild at Heart Wildlife Rehabilitation in Rutherfordton, told the Times-News on Friday that the state allows no person to care for wildlife without a permit and is even more strict about fawns, preventing people from even keeping one overnight.
She dismissed the myth that the NCWRC automatically kills the deer they receive.
“The state’s definitely not all about killing them,” she said.
Instead, she noted that the state officials often turn the animals over to local rehabbers unless the fawn has become too sick to treat. She said people often take in a fawn and keep it for several months before turning it over to the correct caretakers. By that point, the deer’s poor condition is unable to be reversed.
Even though Brown’s financial status looks bleak, with him on disability and his wife out of work, he refuses to stop doing what he loves.
“I’m not gonna turn the animals away,” he said.
With the season just beginning, he expects to care for even more sick deer than last year on his four-acre property on account of the area’s lack of a winter season and increase in the amount of land being cleared, forcing the deer out of their natural habitats.
Brown’s neighbors also let him utilize their 15-acre land in addition to the Catawba Valley Wildlife Club’s 100-acre property nearby.
Each year, Brown renews his rehabber’s license. He said to obtain a license, which is free, wildlife officials scope the person’s property to ensure it meets the standards necessary for hosting sick animals.
“They make sure you’re qualified and know what you’re doing,” he said.
Afterwards, they send the person to another rehabber to watch and learn the tricks of the trade.
Most of the fawns that come to Brown have broken bones and gashes, but the worst condition he’s encountered involved a deer “eaten up” by maggots and flies, he said. In addition, another deer had no forehead.
“He was an ugly deer, but he pulled through,” Brown said.
Of the more than 200 deer he’s treated over the years, he lost no more than 10.
While it’s difficult to watch the fawns suffer, he said he finds much delight in watching others interact with the deer, some of whom return to the property after being let loose.
“The most joy we get is watching other kids come and see the little deer and people’s reactions,” Brown said.
While people do have run-ins with the deer, he tries to keep them together in an area away from frequent human contact to ensure that they’ll adapt more quickly to their wildlife environment once they’re healthy and released.
Brown said some rehabbers care for one or two deer at a time, but that releasing five to six at once into the wild helps make the transition easier for them.
“If you turn a bunch loose, they’re gonna go back to the wild but will stay around if you turn just one lose,” he said.
Knapp-Tyler noted that only between 18 and 20 percent of fawns found actually need help. The other 80 percent, she said, should be left alone.
Brown agreed, stating that mothers naturally wander from their fawn but later return, making it appear as though the baby deer have been abandoned.
“People need to leave them alone, and their mother will come back,” he said.
Knapp-Tyler particularly pointed out the dangers of humans having too much contact with deer.
“It’s a danger once they get so imprinted,” she said.
While she noted that does are not as threatening as their male counterparts, bucks have been known to spar and even kill people after just a year old.
For more information on how to become a rehabber or other state wildlife rules and regulations, visit ncwildlife.org.

Image courtesy of Jennifer Sills / Special to LTN

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