Oh, deer! Boys rescue newborn fawn by the Blackstone River

Oh, deer! Boys rescue newborn fawn by the Blackstone River

CUMBERLAND - Hayden Felice has caught plenty in the Blackstone River - too many fish to count and even a 25-pound snapping turtle.

But on June 15, he and friend Casey Hogan could not have imagined that when they left the house with fishing rods, they would return with a baby deer.

The newborn female fawn was having trouble walking in the "mush" along a section of a Lincoln canal, as Hayden described it, and crying out when he and Casey came upon her.

She started heading closer toward the water so, worried about the current, Hayden, 14, and Casey, 15, grabbed her.

"We can't just leave it," Hayden said he remembers thinking.

At first, the fawn was "yelpy," Hayden said. "But then she got comfy and chilled out. I think she was tired."

The boys, both Cumberland High School rising sophomores, offered her pieces of an apple they had packed, but she wasn't interested, Hayden said.

He said by the end of the mile-long walk to the Blackstone Valley Outfitters to get help, the deer was licking Casey, who is away on Cape Cod for the rest of the summer.

They arrived at the shop and called Hayden's mother, Heidi, who walked the mile back with the boys to grab the fishing gear they left behind.

Blackstone Valley Outfitters owner, Don Martin, then called his wife, Sheila, who works for the Cumberland Animal Hospital, coincidentally the veterinary practice the Felices use for their dog.

Mrs. Martin said the deer was found on one of the days that the river was at its highest.

"They're good kids," she said, without whom the fawn "wouldn't have had a chance."

Once the animal hospital took custody, they spent hours calling for a more suitable placement before finding room at the Rhode Island Wildlife Clinic with Dr. Meredith Bird, president of the nonprofit Wildlife Rehabilitators Association of Rhode Island, who also has a practice in Wickford.

"She's doing great," Bird said. "She was brand new. Twenty-four hours old, if that."

The fawn, who has been nicknamed "Pig Pen" because of her messy eating habits, still had curled ears, Bird said. Ears usually uncurl when a deer is between three and five days old.

"She was a new, new baby," Bird said, weighing only about 4 pounds.

Bird has been acting as her mother, bottle feeding her until she is ready to be put in a pen with the six other fawns currently residing there. Once they get to that stage, bottles are dispersed through machine, so that the animals do not develop a dependence on people.

"If they don't get raised wild, they'll get killed," Bird explained.

Once they are ready, the group of grown fawns will be released into the wild together, she said, at an undisclosed location. It usually happens in late summer or early fall.

Bird said she has seen groups of deer she raised in the clinic who are now out in the wild and have survived through the winter.

She said the fawn's mother may not have been so lucky over the last few weeks.

The doe may have been killed, or she could have been waiting for predators to leave, when the fawn was found. Hayden said neither he nor Casey saw any other deer in the area.

In the first two to three weeks of life, fawns cannot keep up with their mothers, so they camp out in a bush while Mom hunts for food, Bird explained. But if there is a predator nearby, the mother will wait until the coast is clear, even up to eight hours if she has to, leaving the fawn alone.

Once she returns, she can then move the fawn to another location if she feels the need. But in the meantime, sometimes the fawns "get parked in really weird places," Bird said, even the middle of the road.

"We try to encourage people to leave them," she said, but sometimes people have to intervene because the fawns' strong cry used when the mother is not nearby can attract coyotes.

Hayden and Casey made the right decision jumping into action, she said.

"I just want to thank the kids," Bird said.

"Bless their little hearts. She's only alive because of them."