GARRISON -- It's a scenario that plays out over and over again throughout the Brainerd lakes area this time of year.
A lone fawn is nestled in the grass next to a fallen log or hidden by its mother within the foliage of the forest. A hiker or family stumbles upon this "abandoned" fawn, picks it up and takes it home, not understanding that the fawn's mother is probably watching from a safe distance away as these well-intentioned humans steal her baby.
"I get so frustrated with those people," said Dr. Deb Eskedahl of the Garrison Animal Hospital. "They say, 'I found this fawn.' And I tell them, 'No, you stole this fawn from its mother.'"
When people find fawns -- whether they are legitimately orphaned or not -- they usually become Eskedahl's responsibility. Eskedahl heads the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Program based out of her animal hospital. The non-profit wildlife program is involved in rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing orphaned and injured wildlife.
Right now the program has 27 fawns, which are going through a minimum of five gallons of goat milk a day. They are fed using buckets that have been drilled with many holes where artificial nipples have been added, allowing several fawns to be fed at one time. Eskedahl said about half of the fawns they have now were legitimately orphaned or found injured. One fawn is being treated for a broken leg. Another is recovering from burns to its ears it received in the wildfire near Barrows May 31.
"She looks like a Golden Retriever," said Eskedahl, of the burned fawn. "I hope her ears stand up eventually."
The other fawns were brought to the animal clinic after they were found in the woods.
Eskedahl said if people happen to spot a seemingly healthy fawn in the woods, leave it there. Its mother will return for it or the doe is nearby watching you. Return to the spot in 24 hours to check and see if the fawn is still there. If it is, and it appears that the fawn seems restless, distressed or is crying a lot, then take it to the Garrison Animal Hospital or call the hospital for advice.
Katie Baratto of Crosby, an assistant at the Garrison Animal Hospital, held a fawn that is being treated at the animal clinic for burns it received in the wildfire near Barrows May 31. Its ears were burned and blistered, but Dr. Deb. Eskedahl said Friday that the fawn should be fine and be able to be released into the wild within the next few weeks, although its ears might be permanently disfigured.
"Once you hear a fawn cry, you'll never forget it," said Eskedahl. "It's a very distinctive 'Feed me' cry."
If the fawn appears to be in danger by a dog or fox or any other predators, then remove it from its hiding spot and call the animal hospital. Eskedahl said sometimes children find a fawn and bring it home. If this happens, return the fawn to where it was found, even if it has been handled by humans, and check back in 24 hours. If it has been played with or handled too long, though, it may be too used to humans to be returned, said Eskedahl.
Eskedahl and her staff members house the fawns in fenced enclosures at the hospital and in an undisclosed location in the woods near Garrison when they are able to be released into the wild. They drink the goat's milk from the buckets, and gradually wean themselves, said Eskedahl. Fawns typically stay at the clinic for 10-14 days and then are released from the enclosure after a week, but can still return and feed from the buckets if necessary. The wooded property borders a state forest so the fawns have plenty of space to roam.
The busiest season for fawns are from mid-May to mid-June, said Eskedahl. Last year they cared for 34 fawns and returned them to the wild.
No animal is too big or too small to be treated and released through the Wild and Free program. Right now clinic staff and Wild and Free volunteers are caring for two black bear cubs from the Two Harbors area, three Great Horned Owls, four baby raccoons, a baby red squirrel, an injured Blanding's turtle, an injured starling brought in Friday in a shoebox and several others.
Eskedahl said it costs the program $120 to care for and release a healthy fawn into the wild. Costs are higher for injured fawns. The Wild and Free program is always looking for individuals or organizations to sponsor a fawn or another injured or orphaned wild animal. For more information, call Eskedahl at the Garrison Animal Hospital at 320-692-4180.
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