Nine Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource agents and four deputy sheriffs, all fully armed, burst into the Society of St. Francis, a no-kill animal shelter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, near the Illinois border back in July. Shelter workers were corralled into an area near some picnic tables while agents, described as “armed to the teeth” by shelter employee Ray Schulze, made their way in after receiving two anonymous tips that the shelter was housing a fawn named Giggles.
The female fawn had been brought to the shelter two weeks earlier by an Illinois family who suspected she had been abandoned by her mother. The fawn made little noises that made her sound like she “was laughing,” Schulze said, and so was named Giggles.
The shelter had made arrangements with an Illinois wildlife preserve to take the fawn and, it was hoped, reintroduce her into the wild. Giggles only had one more day at the shelter when the state agents appeared in their squad cars with a warrant. Schulze described them as “like a SWAT team.”
As news station WISN 12 reports, after receiving the anonymous calls, the DNR’s warden drafted an affidavit for a search warrant. Included in it were aerial photos in which the warden “described getting himself into a position where he was able to see the fawn going in and out of the barn.”
Shelter employees were informed that Giggles had to be seized because the state of Wisconsin forbids the possession of wildlife. Schulze explained that the fawn was scheduled to go to the wildlife preserve the very next day to no avail, as he relates to WISN 12:
“I was thinking in my mind they were going to take the deer and take it to a wildlife shelter, and here they come carrying the baby deer over their shoulder. She was in a body bag. I said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He said, ‘That’s our policy,’ and I said, ‘That’s one hell of a policy.’”
DNR claims that the fawn was given a tranquilizer and euthanized off-site. According to DNR Supervisor Jennifer Niemeyer, the law requires DNR agents to euthanize wildlife because of the potential for disease and danger to humans. She comments, “These are always very difficult situations for both parties involved, and we are empathetic to the fact of what happened because we know in our heart of hearts they tried to do the right thing.”
When WISN 12 News investigative reporter Colleen Henry asked why the shelter could not have been contacted first, Niemayer responded, “If a sheriff’s department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don’t call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up.”
Under Wisconsin law, some organizations are allowed to house wildlife but only with a state permit. The DNR says that, despite the charges outlined in the warrant, the state does not plan to file charges against the shelter.
Shelter president Cindy Schultz says that she plans to sue the DNR for removing Giggles “without even a court hearing.” As she says about the resources DNR expended on the raid on the shelter and preparations for it, “They went way over the top for a little tiny baby deer.” Schulze says he still has nightmares about the raid and has yet to move Giggles’ feeding bowl or baby bottle.
Why indeed did the state of Wisconsin make such efforts, and use so many resources, to capture a young fawn? People complain about deer feeding on the foliage in their yards and about the animals wandering onto roadways and, too often fatally, encountering motorists. Giggles’ death is yet another example of the toll on wildlife in the face of human development and the destruction of forests.
Recently I saw a deer and two fawns huddled together beneath a giant transmission tower on a grassy area on the side of a road in central New Jersey as cars zoomed by. In England, the average lifespan of a fox in the wild has been reduced to two years; “lucky” ones can live to around eight years. We may not be able to stop the pace of development but we can revise policies and laws to better take into account the changing realities that wildlife everywhere are faced with.
Photo from Thinkstock