I saw the deer as I drove down a hill on Kansas 468, the ‘farmer’s turnpike’, a two lane blacktop that runs parallel to the Kansas Turnpike between Lawrence and Topeka.
“Deer!” I remarked to Rose, and swung my arm to point at where it was standing by a fence that separated the green space and two-lane blacktop from the turnpike. Then I saw the deer was caught, one leg twisted up above her back.
“That deer is hung up on the fence”, I said. “We have to go back.” I turned the car around, drove back, and parked on the shoulder. My wife, Rose, and her sister Lucille stayed in the car while I slid down the grassy slope to check on the deer.
At my approach, the deer, an adult doe, struggled to escape and lunged away from me. The fence separated us. When the deer had hurdled the fence its right rear hoof had slipped through a loop of wire, a thousand to one chance of happening I guess. She was snared tightly and probably painfully. Wire had cut into her leg and blood dripped down onto the fence. I had seen many deer tracks, but never before the hoof of chisel-shaped horn that made them. I saw that her other hooves couldn’t reach me if she kicked, so I pulled on the wire trying to loosen the loop. The deer struggled, bellowing in fear.
I yelled up to the car.
“I can’t get it loose with my hands. Bring a tire iron.” Lucille made her way down the slope, carrying the crank for the car’s scissors jack. At Lucille’s approach the deer struggled again to free herself. I took the crank, a thin metal bar, inserted it between the wires, and pried. The deer tried to pull away, frantically bellowing in fear again. Blood dripped onto the fence and my hands. Her panicked movement had thrown freckles of blood onto my face and shirt.
“I can’t watch this”, said Lucille, and she headed back to the car.
“Find a farmhouse”, I said, “and have them call the highway patrol. See if they have wire cutters.”
Rose and Lucille took off, and I was left alone with the deer. Prying at the wire panicked the deer again and she flung herself away from the fence, but the wire held and bit into her leg. More blood ran down the wire. Her head hung and her tongue lolled. I feared that she might soon die from exhaustion or fright. I could not work with the wire loop while the deer plunged about shaking the fence. I had to try something else. I began to speak in a low voice, slowly and softly to the deer, the way I do to our cats when they are upset.
“It’s all right”, I murmured. “You’ll be all right. I’ll get you loose. You’ll be okay.” And so on, over and over, hoping that the tone of my voice would soothe her. Then the deer stopped struggling. She turned her head and looked at me, her large, black, frightened eyes only three feet from mine. Her big ears flicked toward me as if honing in on my voice. She trembled but did not lunge away as I carefully tried to pry the wire loose, still speaking softly. “That’s right, you’ll be okay. I’ll get you loose, you’re doing fine.”
The idea to speak softly to the terrified deer was probably influenced by the behavior of a friend of mine, Gavin, who used to take me for drives in the country while I was recuperating from an operation and needed to get some fresh air. Farm dogs would rush out at us, barking at the car. Gavin would slow the car way down and begin to speak baby-talk to the dogs. Inevitably the dogs would stop barking and approach our car, their tails wagging. Some even tried to get in the car with us! I always remembered Gavin’s way with animals and do the same thing myself now, though I use more of a “Hi there, how are you doing?” pitch rather than baby-talk. It works, even with cats. I now carry dog biscuits in my car for friend’s dogs or those I happen to meet on the road. The right combination of prying and non-struggle loosened the wire and the doe pulled her leg free. She tried to stand on all fours, almost fell, then changed to a three-legged stance and stood, shivering. She took off then, limping but moving along all right just as Rose and Lucille returned.
I pointed to the deer making its way up the hill. I was elated but felt physically and emotionally drained because of the tension, maybe also because I had absorbed some of the deer’s own fright. They saw the doe just before it disappeared.
We drove back to the farmhouse and told them the deer was all right. The couple were in their pickup truck, just getting ready to come. The man held up bolt cutters, indicating he and his wife were on the way to help. It had taken awhile for him to find his bold cutters. We would have freed the deer sooner or later, working together, but I’m glad I did it alone. I won’t forget for a long time the deer’s black eyes fixed on me, wide with fright, the doe shaking with fear, but waiting for me to free her.
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