CLARINGTON - A friendly deer that some residents of Clarington had begun calling the town pet was put down by two wildlife officers on Wednesday.
The deer had been in town for months, roaming from one end to the other while residents fed and petted it. Videos and photos show the deer playing with children and adults alike in their backyards.
However, the deer came to the attention of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources after a resident reportedly called to complain that it was eating out of his garden.
ODNR's wildlife department decided the deer had to be put down, citing public safety hazards. District Four Manager Tim Parrett indicated that the animal could become a danger, especially as a buck with antlers. He also said the deer's "abnormal and strange behavior" indicates it could be carrying disease, and that there would be no way to test it while alive.
The potential for disease was also why ODNR ruled out relocating the deer, as it could spread to another herd.
Parrett did acknowledge it was possible the deer was simply raised by humans, and that could explain the animal's chummy behavior.
Many residents are unhappy with the resolution to the problem. The deer was tracked by wildlife officers on Wednesday afternoon to the upper end of Clarington, near the park. Resident Sandy Potts said the deer was shot twice in front of two young girls and their mother.
"The deer didn't run, it's not scared of anything," she said. "That was upsetting to them."
The witnesses stated they were not warned before gunshots rang out.
Potts added that a wildlife officer has tried to shoot the deer before, but residents surrounded the animal and prevented him from doing so.
Parrett said his report indicates that two of the witnesses were standing on a porch while one was in a car.
"The officer spoke directly to all three people and explained what they were going to do and reasons why," he said. "He got consent from people who were present and looked around for other pedestrians."
"It was on the edge of town, and seeing that it was in a safe area, they dispatched the animal in a safe manner," he continued.
Late Wednesday afternoon, ODNR released this statement:
"Wild animals, even those that appear tame, are unpredictable by nature and are capable of becoming aggressive and dangerous at any time and particularly when it involves a buck during mating season. The outcome of this situation is an unfortunate reminder that it is in the best interest of humans and animal that wild animals remain in the wild."
According to Parrett, the deer's body has been transported to the Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg to be tested for disease.
The procedure is unclear if the animal is found to be diseased. Parrett says ODNR will wait for instructions from the state veterinarian.
Chronic Wasting Disease - a major concern for deer and similar animals - has not been found in Ohio, but when found in other states like Maryland, certain counties have been quarantined to contain the threat.
The testing requires brain and stem tissue, and results could be a long way off.
"It's not a quick, instant test," Parrett explained. "It could be a matter of weeks."
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