Chris Smith said he would have done things differently.
The Snow Shoe Township man drove home Wednesday afternoon on Route 144 and spotted an injured 2- to 3-month-old fawn on the road. He thought it had one broken leg and felt it could be rehabilitated, so he took it to his home a half-mile away.
Once home, he called the Pennsylvania Game Commission – and waited for 15 hours.
“It was going into a state of shock, but I thought with just one broken leg it could be rehabilitated,” he said. “But then (on my property) I noticed it had a second broken leg. At that point, I knew they’d put it down.”
“I can tell you it’s the worst day on the job when you have to euthanize an animal,” Pennsylvania Game Commission Information and Education Supervisor Doty McDowell said. “You never get cold to it. It’s a really tough thing to do.”
Smith said he called the commission several times throughout the evening and kept getting the same response that someone would respond soon to euthanize the deer. He offered to put it down, but said he was told not to, that it would be illegal to kill a deer out of season.
“As a state agency, we have to make a decision,” McDowell said. “We have to focus on the overall health of the population instead of an individual deer.”
McDowell, who said the white-tailed deer would not have been rehabilitated even if it had one broken leg, was the supervisor Wednesday evening.
He said it’s possible a dispatcher told Smith an official would respond “soon,” but as supervisor that night he had already made the decision to send out an officer the next morning.
“We’re not a typical police department where we always have officers on duty,” McDowell said. “We don’t have that ability.”
The nearest wildlife conservation officer that would normally euthanize the deer was not available, according to McDowell. Smith, who said he called that officer directly, also learned he wasn’t available to do it.
“I kept calling and told them you need to send someone else out to take care of this animal,” Smith said.
McDowell said he was unaware of the additional calls and had assumed everything was OK.
“It was suffering,” Smith said. “The only choices you have is to do it and face the consequences or watch the thing suffer and ignore it.”
There are five exceptions to killing a deer out of season, and those apply to certified police officers, conservation officers, deputy wildlife conservation officers, park forest rangers and veterinarians.
McDowell explained that the game commission wants someone with experience to determine whether an animal needs to be put down.
The best thing to do when someone sees a wounded or sick animal, McDowell said, is to leave it alone and to call the game commission. It is possible that an animal will recover on its own, he said.
Smith, in hindsight, said he would have done the illegal thing.
“I wish I would have just put it down and never called anyone,” Smith said. “I hate saying that.”