If ever we needed a miracle on our little ranch, it would be now. We are faced with a rehabilitation scenario more challenging than any other we have ever encountered. The Wednesday before Memorial Day, Ruthie deer did not return home in the evening with her three sisters. We did not think much of this because all of the girls are independent at times and, especially since Ruthie is expecting, it is normal for a doe to go off on her own, searching for and establishing a nursery area in which to raise her young. A doe may spend the entire month before she delivers, patrolling her nursery-to-be area and fending off any trespassers in the vicinity – including her own siblings and last year’s fawns. We were happy to see Ruthie back with her sisters on Thursday evening, but it was apparent something wasn’t right with her. On closer observation, we could see her head was swollen (mostly on her right side) and what looked like bite marks just above her upper lip on her right side. After much research that night and in the next days, we are sure Ruthie was bitten by a venomous snake. Copperheads and cottonmouths are very common in the river bottom and wetland area of our property and a few folks have been known to see Timber Rattlesnakes as well.
Over the next days, the right side of Ruthie’s head went through various stages of swelling, infection, and deterioration. She ran a high temperature off and on and spent most of her time lying in the thick brush of our neighbor’s property. As a result of her injury and generally not feeling well, Ruthie did not eat as she normally would and lost a lot of weight. Most days, we did not even see her until almost dark. During the day, we walked the orchard trying to find her, hoping her sisters might know where she was but, like any wounded animal in survival mode, she was laying low and being secretive.
We showed pictures to, and conferred with, the local veterinarian about Ruthie’s condition and our hypothesis of snake bite. The same vet who had stitched up young Ronnie deer (who we raised along with Emma deer) after he was hit by a combine, suggested maybe an imbedded thorn but, either way, prescribed a powdered, apple-flavored antibiotic to mix into her feed. However, Ruthie refused to eat feed that had the nasty, pink powder sprinkled in it. Even adding molasses did not help. Finally, we resorted to mixing it with water to form a loose paste and administer that with a syringe.
What little antibiotic we managed to get down her when we could find her seemed to help in a small way. She managed to eat some of the untreated deer feed we offered her each evening, but only because Forrest assisted by feeding out of his hands. By this point, it was nearly impossible for her to retain much in her mouth, as food would fall through the deteriorating hole on the right side of her mouth.
I also called on the resident veterinarian at WildCare of Oklahoma – a larger wildlife rehabilitation facility about an hour from here. Even though it is an extremely busy time of year at WildCare, the vet said he would try to come to us, maybe this weekend. Based on the photos we sent him, he suggested she may need surgical debridement and, either way, he would provide an assessment of the possibility of permanent damage and where we go from here. Meanwhile, we send him daily photos and updates on her condition, and he responds when he can.
Yesterday morning I got up at 6:30, no longer able to sleep, and found Ruthie in the deer pen having water. She was weak and moving slowly. Given her condition and with this opportunity to provide her a place of safety and a more sterile environment for a potential “field surgery”, Forrest got up to help me shut her in and prepare the “fawn room” of the barn to which the deer pen is attached. I did not think an adult deer would seek the shelter of the barn, but Forrest reminded me Ruthie was the only fawn we raised last year who continued to rest in the barn while her sisters preferred the tall grasses and shade in the deer pen. Sure enough, after I spread a nice thick layer of straw down on the floor, Ruthie walked inside, found a place to plop her bony figure down, and she rested.
Forrest and I are foraging for deer eats from all over our property. Weeds, tree leaves from all of the trees we know deer like, lots of clover, and cat briar. Of all years for my salad garden to bomb out, I find myself frequenting the nearby ALDI store for organic greens, vegetables, and berries. Our local farm store offered electrolyte supplement, which she gulps down heartily. Ruthie sometimes turns her nose up at something we offer but we keep trying. On a good note, Forrest discovered that Ruthie likes Medjool dates and devised a way to hide her antibiotic powder in the pit cavity of a date. We break up her daily dose into three feedings of two dates each.
Mostly, we must hand feed Ruthie everything she takes in – placing food towards the back of her mouth on the left side (her good side). She’s making a valiant effort to eat, drink, and survive, and we’re doing all we can to help. It’s a bad situation which is especially complicated by her pregnancy. Even with all our efforts so far, Ruthie continues to lose weight, and is terribly emaciated. We have a liquid nutritional supplement on the way that is made for pregnant and lactating deer, so we pray she will not turn her nose up at that. We also pray the WildCare vet can help us soon. We would appreciate your prayers for Ruthie’s healing as well.
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