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Our deer friends

The Baltimore Sun

So you're arriving home after a hard day of work, pulling into the driveway, and what do you find - your wife and children waiting to shower you with affection? A cold six-pack with your name on it? Free cable? No, it's a bunch of trespassing animals milling about, blithely unconcerned that the landowner has returned.

And not just any kind of animal. It's a herd with attitude. Five or six of these reprobates are lazily chewing the landscape you spent a fortune on just last week, and they're dropping off a few Lyme disease-carrying ticks for good measure. Their dark, unblinking eyes seem to say, "We're here, and we're deer." Go ahead, slam the door, stomp your feet; it will take all that and more to get them to saunter off to the neighbor's yard.

Gone are the days when white-tailed deer behaved like they had something to fear. Remember when it was a thrill to catch a glimpse of one? The slightest movement and they bounded off into the forest. But 21st century Bambis, at least the suburban variety, aren't into that. They have become cows, albeit skinnier and more belligerent, the proverbial in-laws of the animal kingdom - they stick around until you kick them out.

It's a wonder that hunters still wear camouflage and sit in blinds. Why bother? In most communities, one need only sit out on the patio at dusk. And why the gun? Maybe it's a rural thing. Neighborhood deer wander close enough to engage hand-to-hand.

Your local ag extension office has probably given you plenty of free advice on how to keep them away. Install tall fences, use repellents, don't plant the equivalent of a deer buffet. But if homeowners wanted 10-foot-tall fences, they'd all move to the House of Corrections. And if spraying rotten eggs, hot pepper and dried blood around the yard is required, well, let's just say the kids smell bad enough already.

Fortunately, there is a better solution, and it doesn't require killing all our antler-packing friends - as tempting an idea as that may be. (Let's face it, the animal rights people would raise a fuss, and there's just so much venison the freezer will bear). Nor will it require spending vast sums of money on elaborate schemes involving hormone-laced salt licks or involuntary vasectomies.

No, it's time to take the wild out of wildlife and domesticate all the deer. If they're going to hang out in the backyard all day like undergraduates on summer break, then they're either going to have to apply for student aid or take the dog's job.

We know they're up to it. No self-respecting petting zoo is without a few deer to entertain the tourists. Surely they can be trained to do more than eat and defecate, as superb a job as they do at both.

Deer are notoriously early risers, so fetching the paper is a possibility. Their hooves might be tough on the carpeting, but they're probably friendlier than cats. (Maybe a little too friendly. You'd definitely want to get them spayed or neutered before letting them out in the evenings).

This will, of course, give rise to deer obedience schools and deer kennels. Motels will advertise a deer-friendly room policy. Vegetarian restaurants will offer deerie bags for leftovers. Grandmothers will knit your deer a sweater to keep him warm in the winter. Soon, Comet and Blitzen will replace Tigger and Jake as most popular pet names.

Admittedly, dogs and cats won't be happy about this turn of events. But that's the way of things - one day your species is man's best friend, the next it's supplanted by a more industrious critter, recently arrived from across the border. Let them call a talk radio station and complain.

It's hard to imagine Michael Vick running a deer-fighting ring. Herbivores just aren't bloodthirsty enough. But it's much easier to envision a day when deer, having wormed their way into human society, evolve to become our masters, a la Planet of the Apes.

That's why the wisest of us choose to be kind to deer. A nuisance, yes, but someday your descendants will appreciate your foresight and enjoy privileged status in a world where deer frolic carefree - and organized violence is left to roving packs of former NFL players.

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