Animal shelter workers are outraged after law enforcement officials who said they were following policies and state requirements removed and killed a baby fawn that was being held at a no-kill shelter in Bristol.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it was all over finding a baby deer,” said Cindy Schultz, president of the St. Francis Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. “Instead of letting us explain where she was going, they sent in an army and killed her.”
Schultz said Department of Natural Resources personnel executed a search warrant at the shelter at approximately 11:35 a.m. on July 15 after receiving separate complaints of an unlawful possession of a baby whitetail deer on the property.
The baby deer reportedly was brought to the shelter by an Illinois family worried she had been abandoned by her mother.
Schultz said St. Francis wasn’t planning on permanently housing the fawn on the property and had plans to relocate it to an Illinois wildlife rehabilitation facility.
“Everyone at the shelter knew it was illegal to have the deer, but they also knew that since the moment she got here, the owner was trying to find a place for her,” shelter employee Ray Schulze said. “I told the DNR she was scheduled to go to Illinois the next morning, but they said it was their policy to kill her, which I don’t understand.”
The shelter staff had named the fawn “Giggles,” because she frequently made a noise that sounded like she was laughing, Schultz said. Schulze took care of Giggles for the two weeks she was at the shelter. He hand-fed her goats milk out of a bottle and gathered fresh straw for her, among other things.
“To me, them killing that deer was like them coming to my house and killing my dog, but they have that authority,” he said. “What they did was totally senseless and useless.”
Schulze also said the DNR “raided” the property and even looked in cupboards and drawers.
In any search warrant, the DNR said its important to first make sure its staff is safe, according to Jennifer Niemeyer, DNR conservation warden supervisor for the southeast region. The department had to search more than 10 buildings on the property.
“We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario,” she said.
Wardens asked an individual in charge at the shelter to voluntarily give up the deer when they arrived, Niemeyer said. The worker reportedly replied, “What deer?” and failed to comply, leading law enforcement to execute the search warrant, she said.
Staff members from the shelter were held on the west end of the property and the deer was located in a barn on the north side of the property. The fawn was then given an injection to relax, wrapped in a towel and placed in a kennel for transport, Niemeyer said.
“At no time was the fawn in a body bag, and at no time was it thrown over anyone’s shoulder, like some people claimed,” she said.
The fawn was alive when it was removed from the property, and it was euthanized off scene, Niemeyer said.
The law requires the DNR to euthanize animals in situations like this because of the potential for disease and danger to humans and other animals, Niemeyer said.
“It’s important to look at this case through a few different lenses,” she said. “We do believe everyone working at that shelter was trying to do the right thing, but in actuality, the fawn was stolen from not only its mother but also the public. When they took that deer out of its natural habitat, they sealed its fate.”
Niemeyer said due to the deer being held in an area known to have chronic wasting disease, the animal could not be released.
CWD is mostly found on the south side of the state and may be transmitted both directly through animal-to-animal contact and indirectly from a disease-prion contaminated environment, according to the DNR. Studies indicate CWD prions exist in the saliva, urine and feces of infected deer and can shed from an infected individual, bind to the soil and can persist there for long periods of time.
“If a deer is held in captivity, we can’t release it into the wild or another environment, because it could have the disease,” Niemeyer said. “Additionally, in this case, the deer was not an adult, so we couldn’t test it for the disease.”
Niemeyer said the DNR is required to protect deer and other animals through both state statutes and internal policies.
“We know this is very sensitive to a lot of people, and we’re empathetic to that, but there are laws about these things,” she said. “We were doing our jobs and followed through with enforcing those laws.”
Niemeyer said there were violations found throughout the search warrant execution, but no one was cited for them, because at the time, it was more important to deal with the situation at hand and ensure the animals would be safe.
“Wild animals are just that — they’re wild, and they are supposed to stay that way,” she said.