Rallying for Deer Life

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CHITTENANGO, NEW YORK –Cindy McGinley understands the circle of life and death quite well. A former president and current trustee of the Henge of Keltria, her belief that all life is sacred includes a recognition that all life also must eventually end. It’s her love of animal life that led her to obtain a license to rehabilitate wildlife from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, a role which has sometimes required her to end the life of a creature which could not be restored to health.

Nevertheless, she now finds herself in a battle to save the lives of two does that she has been caring for at Rivendell Farm & Sanctuary, a 12-acre property she maintains mostly as a base of operations for her horse-centered life coaching practice. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has effectively condemned the deer, named Deirdre and Lily, to death. According to the DEC’s  assessment, McGinley overstepped the bounds of her license by keeping them. That decision was made in response to McGinley’s application for a new license specifically to keep the two animals for educational purposes, because she believes that they cannot be released into the wild.

Deirdre, now five years old, was the first deer McGinley rehabilitated, according to a story in the Legislative Gazette. She was found as a fawn by the body of her mother, who had been killed by a car. Several boys discovered her and brought the newborn home. They contacted McGinley when they learned that keeping deer without a license is illegal in the state.

Despite her training on how to avoid having the young animal imprint upon her, McGinley said it simply wasn’t possible given the intense ministrations needed to save Deirdre’s life. Moreover, as she later mused in a blog post, their meeting seemed foreordained by a shamanic journey that she had taken earlier that year:

And, quick as a flash, as my heart went out to the little creature, the realization dawned that this fawn was sent to me by Morning Glory, and was perhaps even the physical manifestation of the spirit fawn with which I had touched noses in the Spirit World. I did not know if the plan was to send her to me even as I met her in the Spirit World. I only knew that with the arrival of this fawn, Spirit was at work in my life once again. Our connection was instant and powerful. From the moment we locked eyes, I became Deirdre’s mother and she, my child.

Regardless of this connection, McGinley regularly evaluated Deirdre to determine if she was ready to be released, something she dutifully reported to the DEC in the mandated annual log of her work the year she saved the animal. The doe, having lost its mother after only one or two days, never acquired any of the skills needed to survive in the wild. McGinley told The Wild Hunt that she kept trying, but life circumstances intruded. She said:

In the wild, doe fawns stay with their mothers until they are at least 2 years old. When Deirdre was just 2 years old, I sustained a mild head injury, a concussion, that really threw me for a loop. I had to take a semester away from grad school because the post-concussive syndrome was so bad, and I’ve only recently achieved a full recovery, after physical and occupational therapy. So the paperwork for Deirdre slipped through the cracks. I did have hope, too, that last summer she might be ready for what we call ‘soft release’ — that is, a gradual return to the wild where she would still receive support, shelter and food until she was entirely able to fend for herself. (Incidentally, that was not an option offered by the DEC for her.)

Lily and Deirdre the deer

Lily and Deirdre the deer

Although Deirdre had imprinted upon McGinley, this is not typical in her rehabilitation work; other fawns don’t bond with their human host simply because the doe is present, allowing them to be released. Even as McGinley was recovering from her own injury, another fawn was brought to her farm, a doe who would come to be called Lily. Unlike Deirdre, she did have the chops for life on the outside, but Lily had problems of her own, as McGinley chronicled.

I had the vet come out and she recognized a thiamine (B1) deficiency. If fawns (and goat kids, incidentally) have a drastic change of diet, thiamine production in the stomach ceases, and that can cause brain swelling and blindness. Of course, losing her mother had created a drastic change of diet! We started her on (unfortunately, painful) B1 injections, and after the first 2 days, she would not let me near her to give her anymore of that! But the vitamin did the trick, because she was strong and aware enough now to run away from me. Unlike Deirdre, Lily had had the care of her mother for 3 months and the education of a wild fawn, so she was quite wary of humans, and the painful injections did nothing to endear us to her. Lily was a candidate for release when she was stronger.

Unfortunately, though she is now quite healthy and happily follows Deirdre around, Lily never regained her eyesight.

With two deer on her hands which she could not release, McGinley set about to apply for the special license needed to legally keep them on her farm. Six weeks later, she received a rejection letter that included strict orders on what to do. Lily should have been euthanized right away, she was informed. McGinley could either do so herself or turn the blind doe over to DEC officials to end her life. Those two options were also presented for Deirdre, along with a third one: lock her out and stop providing food and water. This was a far cry from the “soft release” for which McGinley  had hoped.

That notice came in June, and McGinley has worked to save Deirdre and Lily ever since. She agrees with the law preventing people from keeping deer as pets. However, she thinks there should be some avenue to appeal decisions, and consider gray areas. “There is no reason why these two does should not be allowed to live safely where they are, so I was shocked when the [license] was denied out of hand, sight unseen, with no cogent reason given as to why they denied my application,” she said.

An attorney was hired, and she took her case to the people. Perhaps it was divine intervention, but her online petition went viral and now has over 205,000 signatures, of which she says at least 12,000 are from New York residents. When there was just over 130,000 signatures, she delivered the petition via a disc to Governor Andrew Cuomo.  She got no response.  She then brought printed copies of all 200,000+ names to his office in the state capital of Albany. ” An aide met us in the waiting area of the executive chambers, listened politely to my plea, and took the very heavy box with the 3000+ double-sided pages of printed petition back to the office. She promised a response from the Governor, but I have to say, I am not holding my breath.”

The outpouring of support for the deer included shout-outs by actor Ian Harding, who tweeted about their plight and prominently featured them in his Instagram account and on Twitter.


On the legal front, the execution has been stayed while the DEC presents its case to a judge, and McGinley’s attorney has indicated he is hopeful some kind of deal can be reached. “I have directly spent $8500 to lawyers already, and I’ve raised maybe $5300 in donations to the legal fund,” McGinley said. “The cost will be directly proportional to how long the DEC continues to treat 2 rescued does in rural central NY like they are Public Enemy Number One. I’m certainly not going away.”  She is due back in court on September 8, so the animals have at least that much of a reprieve.

Most of the money raised was through Indiegogo campaigns, but supporters are also invited to buy a t-shirt to support the effort. According to longstanding legal precedent, wild animals are owned by the state, a philosophy so entrenched it is not likely to even be challenged in this case. The best hope is to convince the DEC that McGinley’s keeping these animals is neither irresponsible nor dangerous.

Supporters gathered in Albany

Supporters gathered in Albany [Courtesy Photo]

The Wild Hunt reached out to DEC officials for comment, but did not immediately receive a reply. Other media outlets to which department officials have responded suggest no room for compromise. The role of a wildlife rehabilitator is to treat and release, period. If that’s not possible, mercy killing is all that remains in the eyes of the law. However, McGinley remains committed to the cause. Asked if she had considered what she might do if the court battle is lost and the deer condemned to either an extremely short life in the wild or an intentional execution, she replied simply, “I can’t imagine that happening.”