Should Lilly the Deer Stay With Her Human Family?

Takepart.comJune 5, 2013

A Michigan family has hired a lawyer to fight the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) for the custody of a deer they rescued five years ago. 

The couple, who requested anonymity on Good Morning America yesterday, said that the deer’s mother was hit by a car outside their suburban home back in 2009. Before dying, she gave birth to “Lilly.” The family says when they asked a policeman at the scene of the accident if they could try to save the newborn, he said they could try, but that it was unlikely to live even 15 minutes.

Five years later, the couple says Lilly has become “like their child” and has is accustomed to “sleeping on the couch, watching TV, and playing Frisbee” with their sons. But when a neighbor’s friend saw the deer in the family’s backyard, she contacted the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which came and confiscated the deer.

Currently, there are several petitions supporting Lilly’s domestic situation on Change.org, one with 5,646 signatures at the time of this story's publication. A fund has been set up online to help the family with legal fees. And yesterday, a “Save Lilly the Deer” Facebook page was created, which is now filled with posts like, “The DNR's mission is to PROTECT wildlife, and if they put Lilly back in the wild, or euthanize [sic] her because she is unfit for the wild, they are effectively causing Lilly HARM, not PROTECTING her,” or “The DNR needs to spend OUR MONEY on more important areas. Stop wasting the peoples [sic] money on such stupid stuff.”

The DNR responded on its Facebook page with this statement:

We want to update you on the deer that was taken in by a family in Genesee County. First, we are working with the family on options to resolve this situation, including finding a suitable place for the deer to reside, and those options are very limited and finding a suitable place is both expensive and difficult. We will keep you all posted on the outcome. Keeping a deer as a pet is illegal in Michigan. Second, we cannot emphasize enough that it is critically important that wildlife remain in the wild. Wildlife should never be taken out of its natural habitat -- doing so is dangerous and does nothing but create difficult and untenable situations for everyone involved. If you see a fawn in the wild that is alone, the odds are very high that it was NOT abandoned. It is normal deer behavior for a female deer to leave her fawn unattended in the wild for long periods of time. Why? Because fawns are born without an odor. A female deer will leave a fawn by itself so her scent does not attract a predator. Again, please help us avoid situations like this in the future by leaving wildlife in the wild. If you are certain the mother has been killed or is dead, then call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, who is specially trained to handle wildlife and care for it until it can be re-released into the wild. A list of rehabilitators is available at our website at http://www.michigandnr.com/dlr/

Lilly isn’t the first abandoned deer to be coddled by animal do-gooders. In 2007, an Oregon family pleaded with Department of Fish and Wildlife for eight hours after they came to their house to take away their doe, Snowball, and her yearling buck, Bucky. Their “owner” Jim Filipetti flipped out. He later told The Oregonian the story of how he’d “adopted” Snowball.

Filipetti said he was driving home one day when he saw a white fawn with brown speckles. She was “weak, and had deformed back legs that curved inward.” He loaded Snowball into his car and took her to a veterinarian. The vet fitted her with leg casts until she could walk like a normal ariodactyl (cloven-hooved ungulate).

According to Care2.com, Snowball lived inside Filipetti’s house until he moved her to the backyard. There, she mated with a blind buck, Mr. Magoo, who Filipetti had also rescued. Mr. Magoo soon died. But when Bucky was born, he and Snowball roamed the yard with Filipetti’s pigs and roosters. All was like Charlotte’s Web until September 12, 2007, when Fish and Wildlife received an anonymous tip about Snowball and Bucky. State Troopers found the deer and hauled them away in a trailer, with Oregon Fish and Wildlife later writing in a public statement that they were “committed to finding a solution that provides proper care for the deer...[plus] protects public health and all of Oregon’s wildlife.”

The outcome for Snowball and Bucky was about as good as could be imagined. Snowball went to a petting zoo at Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon; Bucky was released into the Bull Run Watershed, a forest reserve. But in March of this year, yet another family—this one in Rio Lindo, California—fought, and failed, to stop the California Department of Fish and Wildlife from confiscating their black-tailed doe, “Floracita.”

Lilly in her living room with cat. Photo: WNEM

Juan Cervantes told the Sacramento Bee that he found Floracita when she was also a fawn. She was on the side of the road still attached to the umbilical cord of her dead mother. He took her home and “bottle fed her when she was little.” Despite that, the Sacramento Bee reported that officials came to Cervantes’s home, “took Floracita,” and a couple days later released her into the wild, which was believed by the experts interviewed to be premature for an animal raised in captivity.

As for Lilly? Accoring to Saginaw, Michigan’s WNEM.com, a woman named Hillary Aspin, who owns a farm for deer born into captivity, has offered to take her. She believes Lilly would be a “great fit” in “the [deer] haven,” though most likely the DNR won’t allow it. According to DNR rules, “you can’t hold a wild animal captive,” says Aspin. Regardless, the family says it’s “not backing down” from their battle to keep Lilly at home, in their living room.