Pinckney resident Diane Solecki has spent the last 23 years helping to rehabilitate White-Tailed Deer fawns to the wild.
Since getting her own deer rehabilitation license from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) a few years ago and starting her website, Fawn Care, Solecki has also helped fawns across the country through calls from Virginia, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, California, New Hampshire and Vermont. She even talked to somebody from Vancouver Island in Canada last year.
Solecki, who works at the Howell Nature Center, is one of five licensed deer rehabilitators in the state and the only one in Livingston County.
She calls last year, one of the worst as far as numbers, with 21 fawns that came in - only 17 survived. Some of them were in life-threatening situations, but others were taken from their mothers by well-meaning people who didn't know any better, according to Solecki.
Solecki said her job is "more about telling people how deer behave in Michigan."
"They (deer) stake out a territory," she said. "It's their baby in that territory - and they don't stay with that baby. This is the biggest misconception that people have. They expect a doe to be standing guard or that baby to be running with her. For the first two to three weeks of their life, they're really like infants. They sleep 23 hours a day and they're not strong enough to run with the mom. The doe leaves the fawn for up to eight hours while she feeds and drinks and her milk replenishes. They're nothing but skin, bones and hair."
Solecki said the problem is when people see a fawn, they right away think that it is starving to death because of how small and skinny it is - so they take it with the intention of rescuing it. Because a fawn's natural instinct when it senses danger is to freeze, it will not run away.
Tips for spotting dehydration
Solecki said, while it's difficult to make the decision if the fawn is truly in danger, the best thing to do is to check for dehydration by pulling the skin up on its back to see if it snaps back or tents up - tenting is a sign of dehydration. Another sign of dehydration is sticky saliva, which can be checked by putting a finger in the corner of it's mouth - it won't bite, Solecki assures.
Another sign of dehydration is the small indentation in the fawn's skull, directly behind the eye, going up to the ear. Fawns are born with a thin layer of fat, so when healthy and hydrated, the depression is barely visible.
Solecki said people are usually afraid to touch a fawn because if the mother is around, she will smell it on the baby.
"Everybody is under the impression that if they touch that baby, the mom will reject it," she said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth. She's full of milk and uncomfortable and she looks for her baby for two to three days in the last place she left it."
Solecki said the doe will come back and know that her baby has been found.
"She'll move it so far away, you won't find it again," she said.
It is against state law to raise fawns when you do not have a license to do so - they cannot tolerate cow's milk or baby formula.
Fawns also need to see others of their species to keep them from imprinting on humans, Solecki said. Imprinting is when a young animal learns how to behave from its parent.
"You get a cute little buck and it's sweet when it's little, but if it's raised as a person, it thinks it's a person," Solecki said. "We've had several instances of that. Come rutting season, they come looking for people, not other deer. It happened out in Rochester with a whole neighborhood complacent in raising this baby, then come fall, the buck started mounting the kids waiting for the bus. And that's really dangerous. That's what people don't realize."
It's just the start of the season, but Solecki already has three fawns. She wants people to be aware of when intervention is needed, and when it is not.
Immediate intervention is needed when a fawn is:
- Found curled up next to a dead doe
- Crying out (bleating) for hours
- Affected with diarrhea, maggots, severe scrapes or deep puncture wounds
- Severely dehydrated
- Found with extremely low body temperature
- Found with something broken
- Found lying on its side with outstretched limbs
For more information about how to tell if a fawn is truly in danger, visit www.fawncare.com.