UCLUELET, B.C. – Inside their one-storey, metal-roofed, plywood shack on Vancouver Island’s rugged west coast, Janet Schwartz and her domesticated deer, Bimbo, are returning to their normal lives.
Against the background noise of a buzzing generator, professional wrestlers jostle across the screen of a satellite TV as Bimbo snatches and then gobbles down a cigarette from the lips of a couch-bound, 70-year-old border named Mike Miller.
The law — represented by men and women dressed in black uniforms and carrying guns — is no longer threatening to forcibly separate Schwartz and Bimbo, freeing the 10-year-old doe potentially to the fates of the surrounding rainforest and its hungry wolves and black bears.
Once again, a sense of peace permeates this home that flies a faded and weathered Canadian flag from the corner of an outside wall.
“We love each other,” said Schwartz who turned 70 on Saturday. “She’ll come up to me and she’ll kiss me right on the lips, like a man kisses a woman. She does the same thing. She kisses.”
For four days last week, Schwartz’ life turned as rocky and pitted as the undulating logging road that connects her life to the outside world.
Conservation officers had arrived at the property beneath snow-capped mountains and at the bottom of a remote valley near Ucluelet, B.C., with orders to release Bimbo from the thin tether the deer is attached to when outside, said Schwartz.
Schwartz was told she wasn’t allowed to touch Bimbo any more.
It seems somebody had complained, said Environment Minister Terry Lake earlier in the week, noting it’s illegal to keep wild animals as pets.
During those tense days, sleepless nights were made even more restless by nightmares, said Schwartz.
There were news stories and Facebook pages, and by Friday, the government had changed its mind.
Schwartz could keep her pet with the help of a veterinarian and conservation officers.
“It makes me feel good,” said Schwartz of the announcement. “She is my life, OK, and I’ve had her since the day she’s been born.”
The relationship began when a friend found the orphaned fawn along a nearby logging road, more than a kilometre away from her current home, said Schwartz.
The friend brought the fawn over because she knew Schwartz had raised a buck before.
Schwartz named the fawn Bimbo, based on a Gene Autry song that was playing inside her home at the time, and began feeding the animal goat’s milk and Pablum.
“She is my family, as though I bore her,” said Schwartz. “It’s like I had her myself. That’s how I feel.”
Days turned into months and years, and now Bimbo’s a part of the family.
At night, Bimbo sleeps on a blanket on the side of Schwartz’ bed, and once in a while, she kicks Schwartz off her bed, forcing the senior onto a nearby couch.
In the middle of the night, Schwartz gets her up and guides her to a square-metre plastic tub where Bimbo urinates.
Bimbo spends the day outside where she is tethered to the home, joined by three dogs and a goat that roam a property dotted by broken-down vehicles and metres-tall piles of cedar planks and other refuse.
Sometimes, supported by two canes or even a walker, Schwartz strolls the rocky property, smoking her favourite cigarettes, Number 7s, while searching for fresh foliage to feed Bimbo.
When that’s not available, especially in the winter, Schwartz said she drives into town to buy food.
Recently, a friend brought over a buck, said Schwartz, and now Bimbo is pregnant.
When Bimbo gives birth, Schwartz said she’ll keep the animal tethered, and keep the babies until they are old enough to do what they want to do.
“Sometimes it’s a pain in the head, but I enjoy it,” said Miller when asked how he feels about sharing his life with Bimbo. “I wouldn’t part with her for nothing now.
“She’s got attached to me.”
Among Bimbo’s favourite foods are apples, oranges, cookies, but right now it’s chocolate, said Miller.
Jane Hunt, a veterinarian who also lives on a rural property not far away, said she first met Bimbo when the doe was just three weeks old.
Hunt said Schwartz has looked after Bimbo “a little too well,” noting with a chuckle that the animal is a little heavy right now.
Nonetheless, Hunt said she believes Bimbo is better off with Schwartz.
“It has no previous experience with being a wild deer. It wouldn’t last in the bush. The wolves would have it in no time.”
She said the deer and Schwartz have bonded and co-exist happily.
“That’s who keeps me going,” said Schwartz. “If I lost her, I’d probably just die myself because she keeps me going, she keeps me active and that’s what I like about her.”
Schwartz said she hasn’t yet talked to anybody from the government about Bimbo and she’s still afraid conservation officers will return and order her to free the doe.
But she remains positive, noting somebody has offered to build a fence around the property so Bimbo can run free without a tether.
“I know one thing, I’m not going to let her go,” she said. “I’ll go to jail first.”