Guest Opinion: Close encounters of the deer kind

While driving down Granite one recent evening I hit a doe — squarely and without doubt — like hitting a living bag of wet cement.

The doe, as is so often the case, had bolted suddenly from between cars to escape the rutting clutches of a 3-by-3 buck. Her yearling, close by, ran off into Lithia Park.

I was driving slowly enough that she was unfortunately not killed. Instead, both her front legs were obviously broken. At first she struggled to rise as I got out of the car, then when her front legs could bear no weight, she lay back along the yellow painted curb as if to wait for her inevitable end.

The buck hovered nearby, initially thinking that the downed deer would be an easy triumph. It was his fault, I thought. The buck did it. The hart with no heart. He's to blame.

A nearby neighbor came out with a .38 revolver. He offered me the gun to "put her down." As much as I wanted to end the animal's suffering, I knew the laws about shooting a firearm in the city limits — and, even if legal, a ricocheted bullet could easily find its way into a nearby home. No thank you, but instead I called Ashland Police dispatch.

My Subaru was parked with its blinkers on to ward off other traffic. I feared that a good-deed, animal-loving person would want to rescue an irreparably injured animal that needed to be euthanized. And as I waited for the police, a young woman driving by stopped and told me her best friend was a homeopathic veterinarian. I thanked her for her gesture and told her the police were taking care of the animal. I became a sentinel for the deer that I had crippled.

An older man, bundled with watch cap and Columbia jacket, walked across the street and said matter-of-factly that his name was Chuck. He told me he had graduated from Medford High in 1954 and had returned to visit relatives after having moved to Phoenix.

He told me how he had hit a Doberman pup while driving many years ago. The dog was injured but not dead, so he drove his car over the dog to end its suffering. Despite having introducing myself to Chuck, he insisted on calling me Neil.

An Ashland police car pulled up. I recognized Officer Caswell. He had given me a ticket for speeding on Tolman Creek, and had done so in such a professional and friendly manner that I had called the watch commander the next day to compliment him.

He was true to himself this time as well. He was obviously concerned about managing the animal's suffering humanely and he was also concerned about the community he served. Officer Caswell also noted my personal distress and reassured me that during the rut, there are more deer strikes. I would have been more at ease if the doe's injuries had killed her. Her attempts to rise were difficult to witness. Her quiet poise after her struggle was an example of grace.

Officer Caswell indicated that he would carefully move the deer out of the street and into the treed shelter of the park where he would sensibly do what was needed.

This was more than a lesson in safe driving. It was a lesson in driving and coexisting with the humans and deer of Ashland, who jaywalk in equal measure.

Joel Axelrod lives on the hill west of Lithia Park.

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