Just after dark, a family, heading home, rounded a bend in the winding road and barely missed hitting a doe. This doe had just climbed a steep embankment from the creek and was leading her young fawn along the edge of the road, heading toward the path that would gradually lead them to the top of the hill where they would find food and safety.
The young girl sobbed as she spoke to me on the phone. “Dad swerved to keep from hitting the doe. The doe turned, stomped her fawn, and knocked it down into the ditch. Dad stopped the truck and we jumped out to rescue the fawn. The doe leaped up the side of the hill and just left her baby there in the ditch. She abandoned her. When we picked up the fawn all four legs were broken. It can’t stand up. Why would a mother do that to her baby?”
The family took the fawn home and wrapped it in a blanket to keep it warm until they could find help. Early the following morning I listened to the girl cry heart brokenly as she related their experience to me. “Can you make it well?” she pleaded. I had heard similar stories about fawns with four broken legs, so I told her not to worry, I would leave at once to check out the fawn and take it to a vet, if necessary.
As I pulled up, the family came out to greet me. The young girl carried the fawn so carefully. “Look at her,” she said. “She can’t put her legs down at all.” Again she told me how the doe had ‘stomped’ her fawn into the ditch and left the crippled baby alone. Again she tearfully asked, “Why would she do that to her baby?” The family solemnly nodded to confirm the awful deed.
The fawn looked at me, head and ears up, eyes clear and alert. Not crying in pain, not in shock. No blood, no broken bones. A lovely, obviously healthy fawn. I opened the back of the Fawnmobile, took the fawn and said to the family, “Now watch. You’ll learn a really interesting lesson about fawns.” I put the fawn on the floor of the enclosed camper shell. It immediately sprung toward the back of the camper. It jumped and hit, with a slight thud, into the window, trying to escape. “Look at her, look at her!” the girl shouted joyfully. “Her legs aren’t broken! She can stand. She can jump!”
I closed the fawn into the camper and then told them the true facts about the doe and her baby. “The doe was protecting her baby from danger when she pushed it so instantly down into the ditch. The she sprang onto the hillside away from your truck. She saved her baby’s life. She kept it from running out into the road. Fawns are trained to flatten their small bodies to the earth when they sense danger. They will lay that way until the doe returns for them. This is the way they camouflage from predators. They have no natural odor, and if they lie completely still they are rarely seen. The trick is not to move, not to stand or try to run. These babies do exactly as they are trained to do. This fawn was following mom’s directions. ‘Stay. I’ll be back.’ A good mom and a good fawn. Now they are both alive because of that instinct for survival.” Nature’s way. “Isn’t it great?” I asked. “When a human, who is a predator to wildlife, tries to pick up a fawn, it will hold its legs tightly under its body hoping the person will put it back down where it belongs. I get lots of calls from people who tell me the fawn has four broken legs. I know at once that the fawn is holding its camouflage position.”
"Now," I continued, "You must show me exactly where you picked up the fawn so I can reunite her with her mom." Father and daughter climbed into their truck and I followed with the fawn lying quietly in the back. I could see the path where the doe and her fawn would have begun their climb up the hill. I explained to the family that I must take the fawn up the hill to home. We must go alone so that the deer who lived there would not be frightened. The family immediately agreed, so very happy to know the fawn would soon be with her mom where breakfast was waiting. The family had wisely not tried to feed the fawn.
I parked as close to the path as I could maneuver. I wrapped the fawn tightly in a blanket so it could not jump from my arms. I slowly began my long steep climb. The fawn lay perfectly still in my arms. When we reached the top of the hill a large meadow spread out before us. Paths lead in every direction. Deer beds under the trees. Brush for browse and hiding lined the paths. A totally natural haven for wildlife. Perfect deer habitat. But, unfortunately, they must cross the busy road to find water. Long ago that road wasn't there. Now, as more humans move into their habitat, the ancient paths to the creek have been destroyed.
At once the fawn began to cry out and struggle to be free. She smelled home. I opened the blanket, she leaped form my arms and ran toward a familiar path. She stopped about fifty feet away and turned to give me a piercing 'get lost' glare. Then she slowly turned and leisurely rounded the corner to vanish behind the bush. There was no need to check on her the next day as we do with infants. This fawn was old enough to be following the doe, knew her home territory and where to find mom.
Shortly after this incident, I answered a call where, once again, the caller thought a fawn, lying beside the road, had been hit by a car and all four legs broken. If this six-pound fawn had been hit in such a way as to break all four of those tiny, fragile legs, the fawn would surely be dead. I found the fawn flattened to the ground, head straight out in camouflage position. The caller waited anxiously beside him. We spotted the doe nearby in the brush, watching intently.
I carried the fawn over and set him down in the camper to observe his behavior. He immediately stood firm on all four feet and gazed at us directly, eyes wide with fear. I quickly carried him up a short grade to a level space where I put him down for the doe to retrieve. I left at once, heading up the winding road to find a turnout. On my return, I slowed on the way past the spot where the fawn had been left. Both the doe and the fawn were gone. Does do not abandon their fawns. We don’t always see them, but they are there. They know where they left their fawn and will accept them back even if they have been touched by human hands.