I have a soft spot for animals that gets the best of me. This soft spot clouds my judgment, drains my bank account and sometimes threatens my health. I guess it’s a desire to help things that can’t express themselves — creatures that want to be loved and need to be cared for — as if I don’t have children at home requiring the same.
But I’m wrong about something: Animals can express themselves. Sure they bark, meow, hiss, chirp and whistle. Sure they’re depressed when we’re on vacation and they’re glad to see us when we come home. It’s more than that. They worry.
This past Thursday, I let our Golden Retriever and Beagle out for a run and other morning rituals. Within five minutes, both of them starting carrying on as if someone had invaded their territory. I ran to the window to look over our backyard, and that’s when I saw a mother deer cleaning her new fawn. She stopped what she was doing to study the dogs, which were making so much noise I was afraid they’d wake the entire neighborhood. It was a chaotic scene as I chased, tackled and wrestled them to hook leashes on their collars to pull them inside. I kept reassuring “Mama” that everything was OK, as if she could interpret the words I called out in panic.
When I made it upstairs, I looked out and noticed the fawn, heaped on the ground behind our fence, appeared stillborn. Its eyes were open and its head rested out from its body instead of coiled up in a fetal position. Mama kept working on her baby, unruffled by what had happened on my side of the fence.
I woke the girls and told them to peek out their bedroom window to see the baby deer. Our youngest daughter is as addicted to animals as I am, and she becomes easily attached to anything with paws or claws. We watched Mama and Baby for an hour, but the fawn never responded. Soon, the mother ran off and I tiptoed around the side of the house to snap a few pictures from a safe distance. Baby lifted its head finally, but then put it back down.
Perhaps it’s shocked; disoriented. After all, it’s less than two hours old.
I waited for Mama and noticed that she was standing over the hillside looking up at the mound of tan fur and white dots. Only her ears twitched. The baby’s did not.
Perhaps it’s just scared. I hope Mama comes back…
After a dental appointment and a visit to Capitol Market for ingredients to make BLT sandwiches for lunch, we checked on Baby from the kitchen. This time, it was huddled in the ivy behind a tree that had fallen some time ago. It never moved. Mama remained over the hill, looking up at her little one but never getting as close again.
By noon it was clear that the fawn had died.
I had to tell Maryn that Baby didn’t survive. Instinctively, she sensed something was wrong. The fawn never moved in a rain shower and it didn’t move when the hot sun broke through the clouds. It didn’t move when our dogs barked at the UPS truck, and it didn’t move when trash collectors tossed bins back into the driveway.
My little one cried off and on for the remainder of the afternoon. Down below, Mama began to pace. She hiked the hill slowly and carefully, looking around each bush and tree limb to check her surroundings. When she spotted our dogs in the yard, she charged the side of the garden shed and kicked over pots and containers. She rammed her head into the fence panel and stood up to try to jump over into the area that held the two beasts she held responsible.
I ran outside with a broom in case I needed protection while pulling my dogs back to the porch. She looked at me and snorted. She huffed and puffed and had the ability to kick our house down. I kept reassuring her that she was all right — but she was not.
And she wasn’t all right that evening when she circled the area behind our neighbor’s yard, and she wasn’t that night when she charged the fence again.
The fawn had to be moved because of 90-degree heat, rain and the threat of pests that roam the woods at night. A neighbor disposed of Baby in a humane manner according to DNR recommendations. Mama was waiting on all of us when we opened the shutters this morning. There she stood, over the hill, still looking up at the patch of ivy that remained empty.
She was in agony and she was angry. Heartbroken.
I watched her hunt and stoop and search and smell and stop and stare. There was something very human about her pain, and it made me realize that a mama-baby bond is an awesome thing. And I don’t use that word very often because it’s been ruined in a modern vocabulary. But this was one of the most fascinating things I had ever watched — or experienced since I was one of her targets.
A few minutes ago, I looked out during another cloudburst to see how the trees were holding up with saturated roots. Off to the side stood Mama in pounding white rain, staring at me without any reaction to the storm. As I finished typing this last paragraph, I checked on her again. She wouldn’t move an inch and neither would I…as if to prove to a fellow mama that I understood.