As Bud Basham sipped a cup of coffee on the porch of his new Strawberry home Sunday morning, he noticed a neighbor's dog walking down the road carrying what appeared to be a rabbit in its mouth.
"It was about 5:30 a.m., and here comes this dog and it looks like he got himself a big jackrabbit," Basham said.
As it turned out what the dog had was a white-tailed fawn it had found in the woods.
"He's not a very large dog, and he's holding his head up high so the legs won't drag," Basham said. "There wasn't a toothmark on the baby deer, so the only thing we can figure is that this dog is a sheep dog by lineage and there was just something in his nature that made him bring that deer home so carefully."
Basham, 82, and his wife Bess, 83, retrieved the fawn, took it into their house and began making phone calls to get help. But since it was Sunday, their calls generally went to answering machines.
Finally they roused somebody at Arizona Game and Fish, and were told to return the deer to the precise spot where it had been found and the mother would return for it an impossibility since Basham had no idea where the dog found it.
Eventually, they tried the Pine-Strawberry Fire Department and were referred to Michele Powers, a local animal care specialist. Powers, in turn, contacted Pine resident and Tonto Natural Bridge park ranger Cathe Descheemaker, a licensed animal rehabilitation specialist.
Descheemaker, who has experience rehabilitating deer, drove to Strawberry and picked up the fawn.
"The Bashams were trying to feed it goat's milk with an eye dropper without much luck," Descheemaker said. "By the time I picked her up, it had been 11 hours without much to eat and she was really hungry. She still had the umbilical cord attached, so she was less than a week old. I'd guess she was maybe 3 or 4 days old."
Descheemaker took the crying fawn home and stayed up all night feeding her Pedialyte formula in a baby bottle. The next morning, she and fellow park ranger Arlene Finger drove the fawn to the Mile High Animal Hospital in Prescott, where deer rehabilitation specialist Francois DeMartini works.
DeMartini also owns and operates the Bradshaw Mountains Wildlife Preserve in Mayer, the only facility in the state that accepts deer and elk. After work, he drove the fawn to her new home where she joined six others in various states of rehabilitation.
Later that evening, DeMartini called Descheemaker and the Bashams to tell them the fawn was doing fine.
Descheemaker speculates that the mother was nearby when the dog came across the fawn in the forest.
"Mothers never stay with the fawns during the day," she said. "They hide them in the grass and stay close by where they can see them. That way they can sleep while the mother goes out and feeds, and then she comes back for them. She most likely did her best to distract the dog so it would leave the fawn alone."
The fawn will eventually be released into the forest along with the other six at the Mayer facility, probably when they're about a year old. But not all such stories have happy endings.
In fact, Descheemaker says it's best to avoid such encounters if at all possible.
"People shouldn't allow their pets to roam freely in the forest," she said. "It's for their own safety, as well as that of the wildlife they might come across."
And well-meaning hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts can do more harm than good by trying to help a young animal they find.
"People who find a fawn laying in the woods often assume it's orphaned, but that's rarely the case," Descheemaker said. "The best thing people can do if they come across a fawn is leave it alone. Just don't touch it."
"It would be great if this story could be told so people will know what to do in these situations," she said.