Susan O’Fallon doesn’t hate deer.
But after twice being stalked by does in two days and her dog being injured, she would like to see something done about Penticton’s urban deer.
O’Fallon was out walking her dog when the first encounter happened last Wednesday, June 20 on their last walk of the night, at about 10 p.m.
“I heard a noise behind us, turned to find a deer trotting up behind us. She stopped about five feet away from us,” said O’Fallon. “We started running home and thankfully, when I looked, she hadn’t followed us.”
The next day it happened again, and this time Bucky, her 13-year-old lab/husky cross, was injured. While walking down the street, at about 8 a.m., O’Fallon heard a noise and turned to discover a large doe running up behind her. Bucky, who is blind and deaf, hadn’t heard the approach.
The pair ran into a driveway, hiding beside a couple of garbage cans, in hopes of avoiding the doe.
“She came right up to me, three feet from me, if that. I was yelling and screaming at her but she wouldn’t budge,” said O’Fallon. “She put her head down and ran around me, struck my dog with her front hooves, jumped over him and turned to charge at him/me again.”
The doe followed as they tried to get away, hiding behind vehicles until two men eventually distracted the doe long enough for them to get to safety.
O’Fallon said it was clear that the doe was trying to hurt them, particularly Bucky, who is unable to bark.
“He wasn’t behaving aggressively towards her. He is blind and deaf and hasn’t any idea why I am forcing him to run with his arthritic limbs,” said O’Fallon.
Bucky has a limp from being struck by the deer, but O’Fallon said he appears to be recovering. Her nerves, though, are not. She feels trapped in her apartment, afraid to venture out, and jumping if she shes a leaf tremble in her peripheral vision.
“I carry an umbrella, a steel pot lid, my mace and a whistle,” said O’Fallon. “I just don’t feel I should have to protect myself this much.”
O’Fallon and Bucky only moved to Penticton recently. Like Bucky, she suffers from arthritis and was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
Coming from Prince George, O’Fallon is used to deer, but not ones that act like Penticton’s urban deer.
“The deer are wild up there, they’re not urbanized. “They don’t want to have interaction, if you yell at them, they will run off. Here they don’t. They’re just too desensitized to humans,” she said. “Before the encounter, I thought this is so cute, we are able to live in harmony altogether. Since this attack, I strongly feel these are wild animals, they should not be here to the extent they are.”
O’Fallon doesn’t want to see the deer killed, but rather some way to get them back to the wild. She’d also like to see the city’s bylaw prohibiting feeding the deer better enforced, worried that people are helping draw the deer in.
“The bylaw is going to have to be enforced, no feeding. Same with not building sanctuaries for them in the middle of town,” said O’Fallon.
“I don’t want them killed, but I also don’t want to have to run for my life and protect my dog at the same time.”
O’Fallon’s story is not a new one for Penticton residents. Urban deer have posed a problem for several years, but plans at the local level for culls or relocation have never progressed.
Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit said he appreciates the problem but doesn’t have a solution, adding that it all comes back to the provincial government.
“The animals are in their jurisdiction, and no one really wants to do anything about them because they are cute and cuddly,” said Jakubeit, adding that people here know that isn’t always so.
“I’m tall and young. If they intimidate me, what does it do to a grandma walking her little poodle?” he asked.
Zoe Kirk, Wildsafe co-ordinator for the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, says this type of protective behaviour by does reaches its height at this time of year.
“From now through to the end of July, you can expect does to be far more assertive. Let’s just call them aggressive,” said Kirk. “They are protecting their young.”
The problem is going to be the most intense until about the second week of July.
“That is when the majority of fawns are going to be born and that is when they are the most vulnerable,” said Kirk. The does will become less aggressive as the fawns become more able to get around on their own and learn to avoid danger.
“It is just at this peak time and then again a little bit in the fall when the rut happens and then it is delinquent males that are posturing,” said Kirk.
But the fawns born in the city are likely to stick around.
“They do tend to stay where they have been born and where their mother has shown them the safe places to be,” said Kirk. “They get used to traffic, they get used to loud noises, they can be become habituated to all that human activity.”
Unlike other animals that become a problem when they come into the city, like bears and cougars, deer are a prey animal.
“In other words, everything wants to eat them for dinner,” said Kirk, listing off the deer’s four main instincts or drivers: eat, don’t get eaten, reproduce and when you find a safe haven, defend it with your life.
“We plant things they love to eat, we provide them perfect safe space and shelter and the yards are fenced, so they feel they have those niches, where they can have a safer time of it,” said Kirk. “Now they feel this what they need to protect.”
Dogs, even an old disabled one like Bucky, are especially a threat, from the deer’s point of view.
“It doesn’t matter how mobile or aggressive the dog is. It’s a dog and it represents a threat,” said Kirk, who explains that when walking in areas where there are deer with fawns, she carries a graphite walking stick with a spray canister of dog deterrent spray attached to the handle to fend off an aggressive deer.
“If a deer was within five feet of me, I would be using the spray. Negative reinforcement” said Kirk.
Making city life as uncomfortable as possible for deer is the goal, or as Kirk recommends, “a no loitering clause for deer.”
In the case of backyards, that means making it uncomfortable for the deer to hang around, by making noise, using an air horn, even giving them a blast from a water hose.
At this time of year, though, making aggressive moves toward a deer is not advised.
“Don’t be afraid to use dog deterrent on the deer, make it uncomfortable. If we all did that, the deer would move to the fringes,” said Kirk. “If you just make it uncomfortable for them, they are going to move on.”
For now, Kirk said it is best to avoid dusk and dawn hours for walks, especially with dogs.
“Dawn is when they are out foraging, early morning between 5 and 9 are probably the worst time,” said Kirk.
Kirk also said people shouldn’t get excited if they come across what looks like an abandoned fawn. Does will frequently place their fawns in a safe place while they go off foraging, often for up to 12 hours at a time.
“Leave that fawn for 24 hours, because a deer can leave it for that long,” said Kirk, suggestive people hold off calling the Conservation Officer Service. “Most of the time, unless that mother has been hit by a car, they will come back in 12 hours.”
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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