On Friday morning, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife made a scheduled visit to For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester. The visit was supposed to be the last of three agreed to by both parties earlier this winter that allowed the WDFW to evaluate 11 deer that had previously been deemed to be habituated and “too friendly” for wild release.
Everyone involved hoped Friday’s visit would be the final chapter in a long, dramatic story that began when three other fawns and an elk calf in the care of For Heaven’s Sake were euthanized by the WDFW back in November. The 11 deer remaining at For Heaven’s Sake were also slated to be euthanized by the WDFW but managed to escape capture. After public outcry and testimony in front of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, the WDFW ultimately changed course and carved out a window of opportunity for the deer to establish wild instincts and then be released into the wild. Unfortunately, the possibility for a simple happy ending died when a Washington Fish and Wildlife representative was able to approach, touch and even pet two doelings during that final test on Friday.
The inspection was led by WDFW Regional Wildlife Manager Brian Calkins. He and another WDFW staffer, along with a volunteer from For Heaven’s Sake, walked into a secluded 3-acre parcel of pasture and woodlands on the property, where the deer have been kept all winter, in order to check their level of caution around humans. According to Calkins, as the group walked up a hillside they spotted a doe bedded down in the sunshine and he began to approach the animal. Calkins and the volunteer both agreed that he was able to get within about 12 feet of the deer before it got up.
If the deer had run away, that would have likely been the end of the story, its fear having earned its pardon and wild release.
Instead, the deer approached Calkins and reached out to sniff his hand. Calkins said he was then able to scratch the deer under the chin and even pet it on its head before the group moved on to find the remaining 10 deer.
Soon the deer were spotted along a path beneath the forest canopy. As the inspectors approached, nine of those deer fled to the far corner of the enclosure and dispersed into the trees, but one doe lingered behind. Calkins said he then had an “identical experience” with that doe as the first he had encountered on the day. The For Heaven’s Sake volunteer who accompanied the WDFW during the inspection and was present during Calkins’ conversation with The Chronicle did not object to any of the claims.
After the inspection, Calkins said he was unsure of what the future would hold for the two deer that exhibited friendly behavior toward him. He noted that during the first inspection of the deer back in January two does were also able to be approached and touched by WDFW staff. He said that there is a high likelihood that the deer in both cases are in fact the same two does. However, he was much less sure what will happen to those deer now.
“From here we have some in-house discussions to have,” said Calkins. “To me it is apparent that we do have some deer here who are suitable for release.”
Calkins said that the WDFW would begin their discussions to figure out the fate of the two friendly does immediately, but noted that the more time-sensitive task is to begin the process of capturing, tagging, transporting and releasing the nine deer that successfully proved their ability to “wild up” over winter. He said that the WDFW is in the process of acquiring moving crates to facilitate the relocation as soon as possible. The deer will be released to a 1,000-acre preserve in South Thurston County.
“At this point we want to get this done as expediently as possible,” said Calkins.
Both Calkins and Claudia Supensky, who operates For Heaven’s Sake with her husband David, made sure to assert that the outcome for the two friendly deer had not yet been determined. Calkins said several options will be considered.
Calkins noted that during the second inspection of the deer the entire herd seemed determined to run away from the inspectors as a group. At that point the WDFW believed that all of the deer had become too wild to be rehomed for use in scientific studies.
However, after Friday’s interactions, Calkins said that option is “back on the table.”
At the conclusion of the inspection, Calkins told the Supenskys that he would likely be able to report back with more information regarding the next steps for all of the deer soon after he spoke with the rest of the decision makers at the WDFW.
According to Claudia Supensky, her lawyer’s interpretation of the agreement between For Heaven’s Sake and WDFW stipulated that March 16 was the last day that the deer could be in her possession. So when the examination was over and she was still left with 11 deer and the threat of multiple fatal outcome lingering in the air, she was left unsure how to feel.
“I’m disappointed that these two did that,” said Claudia Supensky. “I sure didn’t expect it to go that way.”
David Supensky is still holding out hope for the future of the friendly does and told Calkins he would like to see the WDFW come to a “favorable” conclusion, one way of the other.
“I always like to be optimistic. The last thing I think Fish and Wildlife wants to do is have them euthanized because then it will get back to the problem and all of the problems that have come from this,” said Supensky. “I hope Saint Patrick is waiting for them.”
Claudia Supensky announced earlier this year that she would scale back operations at the rescue to focus on owls due to the controversy.