MONTGOMERY CO., Va. (WDBJ7) The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries made the decision to euthanize a deer that a hunter in Riner tried to rehabilitate, out of fear of paralysis and possibly rabies. The rabies results came back negative.
The VDGIF says the deer found in Montgomery County posed a serious public health risk and had to be euthanized immediately.
"The last thing we want to happen is somebody die from having rabies when we had the opportunity to keep that from happening," VDGIF outreach director Lee Walker said.
The bottom line: The state does not mess around when it comes to men and women being exposed to rabies. VDGIF says the mortality rate of that type of exposure is practically 100 percent.
"Time is of the essence," Walker reiterated. "There's an emotional factor built in having to deal with a situation like this. It's hard on us as well as the folks who are calling for assistance."
The hunter, Brandon Parsons, found the deer, which he later named Bucky, injured and freezing in the snow last weekend. He tried to rehabilitate it himself and contacted VDGIF to get it checked out by a wildlife veterinarian.
The veterinarian confirmed that the animal could not use its limbs and did not exhibit a normal fear response when being approached, which is an indication of brain damage.
The state's motto when it comes to wild animals is "keep them in the wild." Spring is a prime time to find orphaned animals. If you do, leave them alone and do not bring them in their house. The state says you are practically seeing the animals fate by touching it or moving it without professional assistance.
"They may look fuzzy, adorable and cute but again these are wild animals," Walker said. "They're not meant to be kept in captivity."
Part of the decision to put down Bucky the deer was out of concern that it may have had rabies, which can only be tested after the animal is dead. Test results are now back, and it turns out that Bucky did not have rabies.
Parsons was upset that the VDGIF and the Health Department took the deer before he could get home.
The state says it operated under a strict CDC and Department of Health protocol requiring a quick response to any cases of humans being in contact with rabies by a wild animal.
Here's more information on what to do if you find a wild animal: dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/injured/.
Here is the statement from VDGIF Outreach Director Lee Walker:
Many people are understandably upset about the decision of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to euthanize the paralyzed deer in Montgomery County on January 10, 2017. We appreciate the public’s concern for all wildlife and hope that they recognize that we also struggle with the outcome of this situation. While the safety of our fellow citizens always comes first, the people who work for the Department value the lives of all wildlife. In this particular case, our course of action was heavily influenced by an abundance of caution for people involved in the situation and concern for the welfare of the deer.
By law the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) is the lead agency that responds to wildlife issues in Virginia. Among the many difficult wildlife issues faced by the Department, responding to wildlife with injuries and those that present safety or health concerns for humans are among the most challenging. Because preservation of public health and safety are paramount to the mission of the Department, decisions involving the confiscation and disposition of rabies suspects need to be made in a timely fashion, evaluating possible alternatives using the best information available at that time. In this situation, the Department acted appropriately using the available information and response guidelines for ensuring public safety.
On Tuesday, January 10, 2017, the DGIF wildlife veterinarian, a wildlife biologist, an environmental health services staff member from the Montgomery County Health Department, and a Conservation Police Officer visited the premises where the paralyzed deer was being housed. Upon examination by the wildlife veterinarian, it was confirmed that the deer was unable to use its limbs, did not appear to be able to feel pain in all of its limbs, and did not exhibit a normal fear response when approached, all suggestive of neurological impairment. There were no obvious signs of trauma besides a mild bloody discharge from the nose, believed to be incurred as a result of thrashing in the stall.
Due to the fact that rabies may present as any sort of neurological impairment, the deer was considered by both the wildlife veterinarian and the Montgomery County Health Department to be a rabies suspect. Rabies is spread via saliva, and direct contact with the saliva was confirmed on a video tape showing the deer being force-fed with a syringe by an individual not wearing gloves. Due to the fact that rabies is nearly 100% fatal once clinical signs appear if post-exposure treatment has not already been initiated, and the fact that rabies can only be tested for once the rabies suspect has died, the decision was made to euthanize the deer and submit its brain for rabies testing.
In addition to potentially exposing humans to rabies, the deer had a very poor prognosis for recovery. For nearly three days, the deer had reportedly not eaten or drank anything on its own and was still unable to rise and walk. Unlike domestic animals, the healing process for wildlife is often slowed down by human interaction and hands-on therapy because they may view humans as predators. Although usually done with good intentions, an attempt by an untrained individual to care for a wild animal is often more stressful and harmful than helpful. In this case, it was likely that the deer had experienced a significant amount of stress and at least some degree of pain for several days already. As a result, euthanasia was deemed the most compassionate action.