Non-Lethal Options Under Consideration for All 11 Animals at Rochester Animal Rescue

By Jordan Nailon / jnailon@chronline.com

Washington Fish and Wildlife officials are asking the public for continued patience as they attempt to negotiate the final steps of a messy situation at For Heaven’s Sake Animal Rescue and Rehabilitation in Rochester.

Last summer, the WDFW received reports that 15 fawns and one elk calf at the volunteer-run wildlife rescue had become habituated to humans during the bottle-feeding process. After a cursory review, WDFW staff determined that the animals were “too friendly” for wild release and made the decision to attempt to capture and euthanize them all. During an initial attempt to round up the animals, four fawns and the elk calf were tranquilized and later killed. However, the 11 other deer refused to come near WDFW staff, and subsequent attempts to round them up were abandoned.

Following public outcry, the WDFW changed their hardline stance and decided to allow the 11 remaining deer nearly four more months to continue to “wild up” on a secluded 3-acre parcel at For Heaven’s Sake. That agreement allowed for three follow-up inspections of the deer and stated that the “WDFW will allow the remaining fawns to stay at the Rochester facility through March 16, 2018.”

In a press release from Dec. 18, 2017, Eric Gardner, chief of WDFW’s Wildlife Program, said, “We removed four animals that displayed signs of severe habituation, but we’ve agreed to work with the owners to find a mutually acceptable solution for the other deer in their care.”

On Friday, March 16, the WDFW visited For Heaven’s Sake for that final inspection, but no final decision has yet been made on the fate of the deer. In the meantime, they are still being cared for at the rescue facility while the WDFW hashes over the latest facts.

During Friday’s visit, nine of the 11 remaining deer fled from WDFW staff as they pursued them through the woods at the rescue facility run by Claudia and David Supensky. However, WDFW personnel were able to approach two doelings, getting close enough to touch them on the head. Brian Calkins, WDFW regional wildlife program manager, was on hand for the inspection, and the turn of events left him unsure of what will happen next for those two deer.

“It’s clear that the last thing we want to do is euthanize any animal, and that is the case here as well,” wrote Calkins in an email to The Chronicle. “We are glad to see that most of the deer are exhibiting characteristics of wild behavior. Over the coming days we will be evaluating options for the other two fawns which could include unique release locations that may reduce the likelihood of interactions with humans.”

On Monday, Claudia Supensky expressed hope that a favorable outcome could still be found for all 11 of the deer under her care.

“We went out there yesterday and we couldn’t get near them. We do know which two they are. They kind of hang out away from the rest of the herd and we weren’t able to get near them at all, but, oh well,” said Supensky. “I was hoping that there was still some hope that if they wouldn’t come near then (WDFW) might still change their mind, but I’m not sure at this point. It seems like once they make a decision it’s kind of set in stone.” 

Supsensky says she is still confident that any deer granted a wild release would ultimately adjust to their new surroundings. 

“The two deer that they were able to approach and touch, I know that in the wild, the real wild, they would go ahead and wild up even more,” said Supensky.180319.for.heaven's.sake.soc

She insists that there must be other, middle of the road options available that won’t require the killing of any more deer. She even wondered if the state might also be able to find a soft landing spot for the two questionable deer within one of their own operations.

“Maybe Northwest Trek would be interested? There’s just got to be a way,” said Supensky. “They are considered a zoo by the state, and the state oversees that. So it seems like if the state asked them to take them then they would be pretty inclined to do it. It would be like (WDFW) asking us to take in something. We would rarely hesitate to take in any animal. You’re always trying to keep everybody happy.”

In an email sent at 4:52 p.m. on Friday evening, Calkins wrote, “Please expect that it may take a few days for things to begin to take on any real shape.”

No updates have been provided by the WDFW since Friday, but Supensky noted that on Sunday she began discussions with WDFW regarding the logistics of safely capturing, removing and relocating some, or all, of the deer.

“I think the public would be really upset if (WDFW) euthanized them,” said Supensky. “Hopefully if they know that then they will try harder to find a place where they can stay, or let them stay with us until they do wild up.”