A pair of does lost in the city. Credit: Mike Miner

Earlier this month ABC7 closed the ten o’clock news with a brief item about a couple of young deer that showed up in someone’s yard in the 1900 block of West Cuyler. Anchor Alan Krasheshky reported that the deer spent about eight hours in the yard and finally jumped a fence and wandered east on Cuyler. They “made their way down the block,” said Krasheshky, “toward the wooded area nearby. . . so . . . they’re out there.”  

They weren’t out there long before they ran into my wife, Betsy Nore, who was coming home from a nearby playground with our two-year-old granddaughter, Elise. The two of them spotted a commotion, a group of high school boys escorting the deer east along Belle Plaine to Paulina. The deer turned north on Paulina and darted through the front hedge of our friend Leonard Aronson. Betsy rang the doorbell and told Leonard he had deer in his yard. Leonard opened a side gate, set out a pot of water just inside it, and lured them into his backyard.

Now they were his problem.

Even small deer are big animals, but these two had each other to keep themselves serene. They found an alcove between Len’s garage and a work shed he’d built alongside it, and that’s where they spent most of their time, occasionally emerging to make tentative tours of the yard. Len called 311. He wanted the city’s Animal Care and Control department to take over.  

But it didn’t. Because the animals weren’t injured, they weren’t the city’s problem, someone at 311 told him. He might as well just open his gate and let them go.

This isn’t the advice Len wanted. Chicago’s too understaffed to respond to human emergencies, he reasoned, so he could understand why it wouldn’t respond to healthy deer. But to just send them away felt irresponsible. Despite that “wooded area” Krashesky would mention, the deer would leave to face miles of city streets, not trees and streams. Maybe they’d come south along the Chicago River several blocks west, but would they ever find their way back there?

Len called the Humane Society. He encountered various prompts but never did reach anyone live. We sat on his back porch, watched the deer awhile, and wondered if there was some way to do right by them. After I left Len edged into his backyard. He took a chair by his picnic table and inched it toward them. “The deer really did gentle the air,” he says. “But once in a while they’d stand up and they’d be shaking, and how would you know what was going on in their hearts?” 

A fuller account of the deers’ earlier visit to Cuyler Street appears on the ABC7 website. The home owner is identified as Ray Carroll, who’d faced the same questions Len faced. Carroll put a garbage can by the back gate to keep the deer from fleeing toward the hazardous intersection of Irving Park, Damen, and Lincoln. And—like Len later—he called Animal Control.

Carroll was told what Len would be told—there wasn’t anything Animal Control could do. “Deer are protected in Illinois,” the online story explains. “In addition, Animal Control says the animals have a slim chance of survival if they are tranquilized and relocated.” 

So let them go do whatever deer do in a big city and cross your fingers.

The problem, as I saw it from Len’s back porch, is that even the gentlest deer doesn’t understand its obligation to stay gentle. It can rear up in fright and its hoofs are very hard. (I thought of little Elise.) I thought of the inevitable moments when these deer would cross streets, and of swerving drivers running into other drivers and pedestrians. I thought of a deer-triggered pileup on Irving Park Road and of the city trying to explain away its part in it.

“Having deer come into your life is a big thing here in Chicago,” Len says. “It’s not a big thing in the north woods of Wisconsin”—where he has a place. “Many people look on them as pests.” Len told me a story he’d heard in the north woods: Deer are frequent road kill up there, and there was the time a car hit one, and it flew through the driver’s windshield into his front seat and kicked him to death.

Eventually, reluctantly, Len decided to do what the city told him to do. He opened his gate and shooed the deer off. Where did they go? Could they still be roaming the streets of Chicago? Did they somehow reach some kind of wooded sanctuary? Are they dead?

The city gave Len no alternative. But sometimes the right choice can feel just as mistaken as the wrong ones.

The next morning I remembered that the mayor lives about a block and a half away. We could have walked over to the cop who’s always parked in a car in front of his house and put the whole matter in the mayor’s lap. I wonder why ABC7 didn’t. It’s safe to say that with “Rahm turns his back on Bambi” as an angle, the station wouldn’t have waited until 10:31 PM to put its story on the air.