Powell family upset TWRA removed deer they raised as family

Powell family upset TWRA removed deer they raised as family

Posted: Updated: Aug 15, 2013 11:38 PM
From their front porch, Verlin and Lorene McCarty have welcomed a menagerie of animals onto the property From their front porch, Verlin and Lorene McCarty have welcomed a menagerie of animals onto the property
For 14 months the McCartys cared for the deer, which they nicknamed Buddy. (source: family photo) For 14 months the McCartys cared for the deer, which they nicknamed Buddy. (source: family photo)
The McCartys will never believe that the deer they raised would ever harm them or anyone else. (source: family photos) The McCartys will never believe that the deer they raised would ever harm them or anyone else. (source: family photos)
"Once you open your home up or open your door and allow that animal to come in, it becomes a captive wildlife situation," Matthew Cameron said. "Once you open your home up or open your door and allow that animal to come in, it becomes a captive wildlife situation," Matthew Cameron said.
"They imprint on people and so they don't realize they're a deer," Dr. Marcy Souza said. "They imprint on people and so they don't realize they're a deer," Dr. Marcy Souza said.

By GENE PATTERSON
6 News Anchor/Reporter

POWELL (WATE) - It is illegal in Tennessee to domesticate or hold captive a wild animal, but the law did not stop a Powell couple last year from taking in a white tail deer after it was literally left on their doorstep.

Verlin and Lorene McCarty say the deer, barely a few days old, would have died had they not intervened.

For the past year, they cared for the animal, even naming it Buddy.

All that came to an end last week when the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency got involved.

For more than 40 years, Verlin and Lorene McCarty have lived on seven acres in the Powell area. They have seen their children and now grandchildren grow up.

From their front porch, they have welcomed a menagerie of animals onto the property. They've even nursed a baby squirrel back to health.

"I've about 50 wild turkeys come here," Verlin McCarty said. "I feed them and raccoons. I don't know how many raccoons come here to eat.

A year ago, a baby deer, a fawn, was brought to the McCarty's.

"Somebody brought him here because they knew we'd raised one," said Verlin.

That's right, the McCartys had raised a female that they say is now back in the wild, fully adjusted.

In this case though, this deer was a small white-tailed male.

"Tiny, about a day old," Verlin said. "Barely alive."

Verlin says the animal would have died had it not been brought to their house.

"He couldn't hold his head up," Lorene McCarty said. "I had him right here because he couldn't hold his head up."

"He was like one of my kids," Lorene added.

For the next 14 months the McCartys would care for the deer. He slept on their porch and spent time around the McCarty family.

As the months passed, Buddy grew from a fawn to a yearling.

"He was just a wonderful baby. He loved me dearly," Lorene said. "He would kiss me, hold me, hug me. He was one of a kind."

The McCartys say were aware it is illegal in Tennessee to domesticate or hold captive a wild animal. Still, they say they didn't feel they were breaking the law because Buddy could come and go as he pleased.

"He was a pet in a sense, but he was still wild," Verlin said. "He went out in the woods, stayed half a day, sometimes all day. He wasn't tame, not that tame."

But according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, he was too tame.

The agency became aware of the animal more than a week ago and after warning the McCartys once, they returned to take Buddy away.

"Once you open your home up or open your door and allow that animal to come in, it becomes a captive wildlife situation," Matthew Cameron, public information officer for TWRA's Region 7 said. "It was pretty obvious to the officers that the deer had been in the house and become quite accustomed to it. Had its own food and water bowl and its own bed."

Taking the deer was a major trauma for the McCartys, especially Lorene, who had grown extremely fond of the deer. She asked the agent where Buddy was being taken.

"He told me they was going to take him to Grainger County and get him used to the wild, which he already was," she said. "I said, 'Can I go see him?' They said yes. He lied," she said.

TWRA offers a different version.

"The officers told the McCarty's they were taking the deer to a facility in Grainger County to hold it until they got further direction from their supervisor about what to do with the deer," said Cameron.

The officers described to their supervisor, Capt. Willard Perryman, how the animal behaved toward them. Based on that, Perryman made his decision.

"In his words, when they took the deer out of the wild and made a pet out of it, they essentially signed its death notice at that point," Cameron said.

TWRA officers killed the deer.

Lorene McCarty only found out this week what had happened to Buddy.

"It upset me. He was my baby. He really was," she said amid tears. "I begged them not to take him. He was in good hands here."

TWRA's actions have upset the entire family, including granddaughter Amanda Wagner, who describes what TWRA did as an abuse of authority.

"If they took it away to protect the deer and them and putting it somewhere safer, that would be one thing," Amanda said. "But that wasn't the case. They took it away and they euthanized it. To me that was more harm than anything."

TWRA defends its actions, but 6 News sought another opinion. We turned to the University of Tennessee's College of Veterinary Medicine and Dr. Marcy Souza to see if another course of action could have been taken.

Dr. Souza doubts it. She says while the McCartys may have been acting in good faith, what they did in the long run was create confusion for the animal.

"The big problem is if you have a fawn that you're raising. They imprint on people and so they don't realize they're a deer," Dr. Souza said. "They think they're a person. And so in about one or two years, when they reach sexual maturity they see people as a potential mate or an adversary. So they'll try to mate with people or attack them."

The McCartys will never believe that the deer they raised would ever harm them or anyone else.

"Yes, it is wrong, very wrong. I loved that little boy. He loved me too," Lorene sobbed. "I'll never get over it. He was our life."

6 News asked TWRA for the complete investigative file on the McCarty case. We were told it may take several weeks before the file is available to us.

If you find an animal in the wild, you can call the TWRA Region 4 office during normal business hours at (423) 587-7037 and from 4:30 p.m. to midnight at 1-800-831-1174 for emergencies only. 

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