What's It Like Being An Out-shelter Volunteer Manager?
— Jan Kennedy
The day the fawns arrive I feel a rush of anticipation and tenderness and responsibility. I have been rehabilitating blacktailed fawns for years, but I still consult my Fawn Manual* and am glad Carole and Marj are only a phone call away. Normally, Carole makes sure the fawns are healthy and have learned to come to the feeder for their bottles before she brings them to an out-shelter. But, because my husband is a retired veterinarian, I sometimes get injured fawns in need of follow-up care.
My large fawn enclosure is out of sight of the house on our secluded country property and away from human activity. There is an open-front shelter inside a high, sturdy wire fence with a strand of electric wire near the top. Native grasses, bushes and trees are allowed to grow inside the enclosure. In advance of the fawn's arrival, I have checked for damage, made repairs, cleared out fallen branches, and pulled out prickly weeds and thistles. I am ready!
Quickly, the reality of everyday routine sets in. Three feedings a day means lots of formula mixing, bottle washing, and cleaning yellow fawn poop off them and me. Pans must be kept clean and full of freshwater. Errands and appointments are scheduled between feedings. When I have house guests, I try to slip away at feeding time. Lively grandchildren are not allowed to race up the hill with me. I offer them my fawn photo albums and story books instead. I know how essential it is that these wild and wary animals keep their wildness if they are to be successfully released.
Soon the fawns are thriving and growing. As they eat more greens and grain, their poop changes to dark pellets. The enclosure is easier to keep clean. They are on two feedings a day and I feel free! But wait, now I spend my time roaming the fields and forest and roadsides gathering more and more wild greens and leaves to feed their growing need for solid food to supplement their formula. If the acorns are ready, I gather them too, shell them and put them on top of their grain. All this hiking and fresh air is making me feel trim and fit!
I am glad to see how healthy and active the fawns have become. They turn to each other for nuzzling, grooming, and playing: I am simply the bringer of bottles, greens, and grain. I especially love the early mornings when the fawns are funning and jumping in the soft light of the new day.
Soon enough, they are on one feeding a day, then none. Their spots are gone and they have bonded to each other to form their own fledgling herd. It is time to open the release gate. Most fawns will leap right out and begin exploring, but there is usually one who hesitates just inside the open gate, stretching its neck out and looking right and left before stepping out and racing to catch up with the others. I resist an urge to scoop them all back up into the safety of the enclosure!
Throughout the fall and winter they will browse in an ever-widening range, sometimes joining up with other deer. By spring they will have dispersed and become wild yearlings. Time for me to get ready for new fawns!
* Fawn Manual developed and written by Marjorie Davis, Wildlife Fawn Rescue Founder and Board President