A doe, her fawns, my dog, and a covenant I won’t break

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There’s a leash law in my neighborhood, a covenant of some kind I’m not sure is enforced. You’re not supposed to let your dog run free, untethered, to roam around like a leaf flitting in the breeze.

We have one guy, though, who, on occasion, violates the rules.

Me.

I did it again Sunday and am vowing now not to repeat the transgression.

Our dog Atticus, an 8-year-old, is a cute-as-a-button white mini goldendoodle. He’s smart as a whip and learned pretty quickly after we moved to our new home that he could open our front door — which has a lever handle — all by himself when the desire to explore nature or get some fresh air arises.

We keep it locked now, of course. But he’ll occasionally persistently scratch at a door when the mood strikes, wanting out. That usually necessitates grabbing his leash for a short walk to augment the long walks we take.

Usually, but not always.

Occasionally, as I’ve hinted, I’ll just let him out — unleashed (he’s never gone for long) — like I did Sunday afternoon while I was lounging on our screened-in porch reading. I stood outside on the deck for a few minutes watching him sniff his way around the back yard and into the woods behind the house.

Then a movement got my attention: out of the corner of my eye, to the right, I saw a brownish shape shift slightly.

Figuring — rightly — that it was a deer, I quietly opened the door and went back onto the porch for a better view and to assess things. Atticus was about at my 9 o’clock position, and this deer was at my 2 — standing motionless, inside the treeline, watching the dog frolic in the yard.

It was then that I saw what I’d missed before: a tiny fawn just behind the mother, oblivious to Atticus, nibbling some plants. I glanced back at the dog, who obviously didn’t see the doe just 20 or so yards away.

And then I saw the second fawn. It sat in the grass and weeds just in front and to the left of its mother. Knowing how much Atticus — an inside dog capable of frenzied bouts of energy — liked chasing things, I certainly didn’t want to see him tangle with the doe or go after the fawns.

And as soon as I thought that, he saw her.

What ensued next was a lot of barking (by Atticus) and yelling (by me), trying to get my dog back up the stairs to the deck, and some serious posturing by the doe, who answered Atticus’ charge with some snorting and charging of her own.

Fortunately, she stood her ground, and Atticus — I’m not convinced he saw the fawns — relented and obeyed and came back inside. The doe disappeared into the woods behind our house, where I assume there was a relieved reunion with her babies.

Atticus is normally as meek as a lamb, but his predatory instincts and curiosity kicked in. Had he gotten too close, the doe — driven by her own instincts to protect — no doubt would have set him straight. I marveled at how she stood her ground.

Watching all that reminded me of another time — a sad one — I saw the powerful maternal instincts of a doe up close. It was just after dark one night not far from Grandfather Mountain; I was making a quick jaunt to Boone when, coming over a rise on the narrow, winding two-lane Hwy. 105, I slowed. A lone deer stood just inside the opposite lane of the road, looking majestic as I passed. I expected her to run off, but she held her ground.

I then saw why. A fawn — this one larger, more grown than the twins I saw Sunday — lay in the ditch just behind her, the obvious victim of a car that must have passed just before me as the pair crossed the road.

The narrow highway wasn’t suitable for a U-turn, so as quickly as I could, I found a side road and pulled into it, then turned around, heading back. I’m not sure what my intentions were, but in the space of a minute or two I saw the deer again. By then, a man I’d passed while turning around had stopped and was exiting his car. I joined him.

It was a heartbreaking sight. The doe now stood over her fawn, looking down at it and back at us, then back down again. The fawn, motionless, didn’t display any obvious injuries, but there was no question it was dead.

I don’t remember any words being exchanged as we stood there, but the sadness and heartache we shared was heavy. A minute or so passed, and eventually the doe climbed reluctantly out of the ditch and up the embankment which ran alongside the road. She took one look back at her fawn, then crossed over into the woods.

I’m not sure what Atticus would do if he came upon a fawn. Judging how he treats dogs (large and small) in our neighborhood, I suspect he’d think “friend” and relish in the encounter.

But I’ll spare him the opportunity. Moms are moms, and interfering with that natural bond is a covenant I can’t bear to break.

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