Fawn Memories: Deer Carried Out Of Forest By Dog Now Thriving At Desert Museum

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When Mary Ferguson, a photographer from Canada, met a rescued fawn at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum while wintering in the Tucson area earlier this year, she was mesmerized.

"She was incredible," Ferguson said. "She'd come right up to me."

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Strawberry, the fawn carried out of the woods by a Rim country dog last summer, has settled in at the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum. Strawberry loves her new surroundings and her keepers, according to Shawnee Riplog-Peterson, the museum's curator of mammalogy and ornithology.

The fawn was recently transferred from the Bradshaw Mountain Wildlife Refuge where it was taken after a dog carried it out of the forest near Strawberry last summer. A story in the Roundup recounted the fawn's rescue and delivery to Bradshaw Mountain, which is located near Mayer.

Meanwhile, one of two whitetail deer in the Desert Museum's mountain woods exhibit had died, and Shawnee Riplog-Peterson, the museum's curator of mammalogy and ornithology, was looking for a companion for the remaining whitetail.

Enter the fawn from Strawberry.

Media hypes arrival

"We were fortunate to get her in here and put her on exhibit where she is today," Riplog-Peterson said.

The fawn's arrival on Jan. 7 was a media event at the museum. A subsequent story in Tucson's Arizona Daily Star was headlined "Dog's foundling moves in."

Ferguson stayed in the background that hectic day, but visited the fawn every day for the next few weeks.

"I watched over about three weeks as the older doe just fell in love with her, and it was something to see," Ferguson said. "The older doe was arthritic and hobbling around when the fawn came. By the time I left, she was running around."

By chance, a friend of Ferguson's mentioned the fawn to another winter visitor, Beverly A. Bear from Oregon. Bear, a writer, was working on a book about step parenting and she thought the story of the doe and fawn would be a wonderful metaphor.

Winter visitors fall for fawn

She met Ferguson, saw the photos of the fawn, and the two started hanging out at the Desert Museum.

Equally mesmerized, Bear decided to write a children's book about the fawn, who she named Strawberry after the community where she was found.

"I'm writing a children's story that will teach them what to do when they encounter wildlife," Bear said. "I'm using the wonderful pictures Mary took and I'm telling the story from the viewpoint of the fawn."

To research the project, Bear backtracked the fawn's life to the Rim country. She visited with the dog's owner, Strawberry resident James Colenso, and met the dog himself.

"This dog is really a character, almost more interesting than the fawn," she said.

An animal's animal

Colenso, who got the dog at the Payson Humane Society when he was 6 months old, named him Winston, after Winston Churchill.

"But he doesn't smoke cigars," he said.

Winston, who is 3, has always been an animal dog rather than a people dog, according to Colenso.

"I think he was abused as a pup, and he's not a people person," Colenso said. "It's taken me two years and I can pet him sometimes."

Colenso thinks Winston is an Australian shepherd mix.

"Being a shepherd, he's not aggressive with other animals," he said. "We had an encounter with coyotes and he wanted to play with them.

"He chases anything that will run, but I don't think he would ever hurt them."

Fawn settles in

Meanwhile, back at the Desert Museum, Strawberry is all settled in. Although the 16-year-old whitetail recently died of old age, the fawn, now a year old, loves her surroundings and her keepers.

"We're convinced she's got some of that dog in her," Riplog-Peterson said. "She just loves the water."

For future reference, the best thing to do if you come across a fawn in the forest is to leave it alone," Riplog-Peterson said.

"The mother has the youngster and they tuck that baby away under a bush and they go out and forage," she said. "They feed the youngster in the morning and come back in later in the afternoon.

"Usually when people come across young fawns they come across them because the mother deer has left them there and they don't move. That's how this dog picked it up."

New disease headed for Arizona

A new concern is CWD, for chronic wasting disease, a deer and elk affliction that will arrive in Arizona sooner or later.

"It's a devastating disease," Riplog-Peterson said. "When it gets here, we will no longer be able to rehab these animals."

People who live in and around the forest have a responsibility to the forest and the creatures who inhabit it, according to Riplog-Peterson.

"Learn about your surroundings, the area you live in and the natural history of the animals you're lucky enough to live with," she said. "It can be beneficial to both parties, and that way you don't end up with single fawns or animals in wildlife rehab."

While Arizona Game and Fish officials discourage leaving water or food out for wild animals, Riplog-Peterson takes a more practical view. "We'll never be able to stop people from putting out water and food," she said. "But with the West Nile Virus, it's important to be mindful of stagnating water. It takes about three days for mosquitoes to lay eggs and the larva to hatch."

Besides changing the water frequently, the best thing you can do is add a couple drops of mineral oil, which interrupts the breeding process.

Also, never feed human food to wildlife, Riplog-Peterson admonished, and be careful not to allow wild animals to become dependent on you for food.

"If my neighbor feeds javelina, they're going to come to my yard when they go on vacation," she said. "If they have young and one accidentally gets cornered, all of a sudden here comes the rest of the herd.

"Enjoy wildlife, but remember the first part of that word --wild," Riplog-Peterson said.

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