Read a story from the Veterinary Reflections Book


Oh Deer Me!


The local police seemed to have a knack for calling me out at antisocial hours. It was 12am on a cold Saturday in November when they called me out to attend to an injured deer at the roadside. It had been a long day – I'd only finished work at 9pm – and I had just gone to bed.
       Even though I care passionately about animal welfare, there are times when one is just so exhausted, especially when doing on call, that one cannot help but feel somewhat bad tempered and resentful at being called out of bed late at night. This was one of those times.
       The officer on the phone told me that the deer seemed to be badly injured, but the men at the scene were unable to catch it. This concerned me slightly because I didn't have access to a dart gun. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility that it may be quite unpleasant – perhaps the deer may be running round on a broken leg stump or similar. However, as a vet, I have learned that it is best not to have too many preconceptions about cases and situations because the job constantly surprises me!
       As I approached the scene, there were two police cars parked at the side of the road with their lights flashing, and a “CARE – POLICE, SLOW” sign to warn drivers of the consternation ahead. I slowed down and got the fright of my life when a large, burly officer leapt out in front of my car waving his arms in the air. He gesticulated to me to pull into the roadside much further back than the other two cars and approached my window. Before I had a chance to say or do anything, he loudly whispered, “Ssssshhhhh” at me and held his finger up to his lips. I had to conceal a smile because the officer was six foot four and very well built and here he was tip toeing and behaving like a young child on Christmas morning, taking a sneaky look to see if their presents have been 'delivered' yet!
       “Okay,” I whispered back, wondering what the poor deer would think of the police cars' flashing lights.
       The policeman beckoned me to follow him and we crept along a high wall towards a corner where a group of three officers where gathered around shining their torches toward something. As we tiptoed forward, I saw the tiny fallow deer crouched down, looking terrified. I scanned over her limbs, expecting to see some horrific injuries, but the deer looked perfectly healthy to me!
       The burly officer who had met me at the roadside bent close to whisper in my ear, “Every time we try to catch her, she runs off, so we've kept her cornered until you got here.”
       “Oh, er, I see,” I said, wondering exactly why they thought I would be any more able to catch a wild and apparently healthy deer any better than the four of them could!
       “Where exactly was she injured then?” I asked and the burly officer gesticulated toward her front right leg, which was, like her other legs, poised ready to spring her at least six feet into the air.
       I suggested we move back slightly so I could see her move and she trotted up along the wall perfectly. There was nothing wrong with her!
       “Erm, well, she looks fine to me,” I said. And at this, the little deer leapt up and sprinted past the officers, across the road and off into some gorse on the other side. She was as right as rain, but the officers still chased to try and catch her.
       I took some time to explain that there was no way we could get close enough to her to catch her and that the stress of doing so would actually be worse to her than any mild injury she might have sustained. There definitely wasn't any major injury like a fracture, which would have necessitated further intervention. It turned out that the deer had jumped in front of the car and they had stopped in time, but then she ran straight at the car, into the headlights, before running off to the roadside. This suggested that the impact would have been much less than if the car had been moving when she hit it - she had been very lucky this time.
       But the police were still very anxious about her welfare and nothing I said could reassure them otherwise, but really, she was fine and there was nothing more I could do, so I took my leave.
       As I drove home, my grumpiness and self-pity at having been woken in the small hours was not completely alleviated by the funny side of the situation – seeing the four policemen acting very soft over the little deer. In the light of day and after a good night's sleep, I would much rather be called to see an animal if people are in any doubt at all, but I was so very tired that night that I couldn't help but feel somewhat resentful. I put my foot down on the accelerator as I drove down a long, straight, deserted section of road, going faster than I usually would. I was probably doing about eighty in a sixty limit, I am ashamed to admit.
       Suddenly, another car appeared behind me, driving quite aggressively and close to my tail. This did nothing to help my bad mood, and instead of keeping calm and slowing down as the Highway Code recommends, I accelerated even more to try and get away from the other car. The car also speeded up and stayed very close. I was feeling really quite scared by this point and I thought I saw the flash of an arm from the passenger side, waving, which did nothing to reassure me.
       I tried a different tactic and put the brakes on, perhaps a little more firmly than I should have done, but I was feeling very angry with this other driver for their predatory behaviour. I thought perhaps they would overtake me once I had slowed, but they stuck close to me (after nearly crashing into my tail when I put the brakes on!!).
       Then I got the fright of my life! It was the police and they flashed their lights at me, telling me to pull over. Suddenly I felt sick and my legs went to jelly. Images of losing my driver's licence went through my mind. My job would be very difficult without my driver's licence. Oh no, oh no, oh no, I thought.
       I wound down my window as the policeman approached, mentally preparing myself for what was to follow. A likely charge of dangerous driving – and at least several points on my licence for speeding. I felt so scared that I wanted to cry.
       It was the burly officer who had amused me so much when he tiptoed and whispered around the deer. The shoe was on the other foot now!
       I took a deep breath and looked up at him, but he was smiling from ear to ear and looked delighted.
       “We just thought we'd let you know that we saw her again, running up the hillside, and she was fine. She jumped clear over a fence and galloped off.”
       “Oh. That's good,” I said and swallowed obviously, feeling a little shocked. So you're not booking me for speeding then, I thought.
       “We just wanted to let you know and to say thank you for all your help.”
       “Oh, that's no problem, glad she's ok,” I said somewhat breathlessly. I wondered if he could see my jugular veins pulsing and the beads of sweat that broke out on my head.
       “Drive safely then,” he said and gave a friendly tap on the roof of my car. I nodded and smiled, not yet fully recovered from the mental picture of losing my driving licence.
       I drove the rest of the way home well within the speed limit and I vowed never to speed again.

       I was reminded of something that night which is very important. It is easy for us, as vets, to become so used to dealing with sick animals that it’s no big deal for us – it can't be because it is what we do every day. We feel compassion, but the sight of an animal in distress doesn't affect us in the same way as it will affect a member of the public who is not used to dealing with it. So the policemen were very concerned about the deer's welfare in just the same way as I was terrified when they used their lights to pull me over when I was driving. We become accustomed and experienced in our own field of work, and I find it very useful to remember this when I am dealing with my clients, who often feel very stressed by the experience of simply taking their animal to the vet. If I can understand how they might be feeling in just a small way, I can remember to treat them with as much compassion and respect as I would wish to be treated if the shoe was on the other foot.
       And of course, most importantly, I was reminded that I shouldn't break the speed limit no matter how desperate I am to get back to my bed!!!

Mhairi Cameron


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