The incredible story of a Great Dane from Vancouver Island befriending an adorable fawn has made news from Britain to Japan, been featured in the Los Angeles Times and on The Ellen Degeneres Show. This week, the tale hits stores in the form of a children’s book, Kate and Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story. The book chronicles how Isobel Springett, a Vancouver Island photographer, found a fawn on her property, and, afraid that it was orphaned, brought it into her home, bottle-fed it powdered goat milk, then watched in amazement as her 110-lb. dog mothered the baby deer.
Springett’s photographs are gorgeous but biologists and conservation officers worry there’s something wrong with the picture. “You’re not allowed to take in wild animals. That’s the law,” says wildlife biologist Jeff Morgan, who has studied the behaviour of black-tailed deer on the island. “In the case of deer, very often the mothers will leave the fawns and go off to forage, and they will leave for prolonged periods of time. People see this and mistake it for a case of abandonment. With good intentions, they will take that fawn, but, unwittingly, they’re removing that fawn from its natural environment and its mother.”
“Fawn kidnapping is the lay term for it,” explains Kari Marks, manager at the B.C. SPCA’s wild animal rehabilitation centre (Wild ARC) in Victoria. Fawn-nappings are so common on the Island, the SPCA now posts online information about what to do if you find a fawn by itself. “Don’t touch it, call us,” says Marks.
The temptation to rescue an apparently abandoned fawn can be great, especially as the hours turn into days. Marks recalls one woman who called about a lone fawn she’d been watching for two full days. Marks told the woman not to intervene because if a fawn is lying still, like a rock, chances are it is completely fine. “Fawns curl up into a ball and you can go right up to them. They truly won’t move, they’re the most obedient babies in the world,” she says.
Another caller reported a fawn sitting perfectly still in the middle of a road, deposited there overnight by the mother, even as traffic whizzed by. In that case Marks told the person to scoop up the fawn, not by hand, but with a piece of tarp, and move it to the side of the road. “It’s only when the fawn is up and walking around and following anything it can find, that’s a sure sign that something’s happened to the mom.”
Last summer, Wild ARC launched a program to reunite kidnapped fawns with their mothers. When people bring in what they think are rescued fawns, staff find out where they were found and return them to the same spot. The animals are rubbed down with grass to mask the scent of humans. In 20 cases, the mom eventually came back and picked up her baby.
Springett said when she took in the fawn the animal had been on its own for three days and was near starving. In the opening lines of the book, Martin Springett, Isobel’s brother, writes, “The fawn lay still and quiet. She was alone and afraid as she waited for her mother to come back.” But Sylvia Campbell at the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association disagrees with that interpretation. “Unfortunately, this woman is an uninformed person. I’m really against this book. I don’t believe this is a healthy story to get out to people.” In the YouTube videos, the deer can be seen wearing a collar and a bell, which Springett says helped her find the fawn in the long grass for feeding.
Springett says her intentions were honourable, and the fact that Pippin, as an adult deer, has raised two fawns of her own is a testament to her upbringing. Even so, wildlife officials in British Columbia have a message for anyone else tempted to rescue what seems like an orphaned baby deer. “If you find a fawn,” says Gord Hitchcock, a conservation officer with the Ministry of Environment, “it’s a requirement to notify an officer.” If the fawn is truly orphaned, the animal should be taken to a wildlife refuge, says Campbell. “We’ll raise it. We put them in with other fawns where they don’t have any imprinting on humans. They shouldn’t have any human attachment whatsoever, and then we let them go.”