April Starr was working from home, as usual, around 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 19, when she suddenly noticed quite a commotion outside. What seemed to be every police vehicle in Riverside was out front, apparently responding to some sort of emergency.
Turns out the emergency was unfolding in Starr’s backyard, where a frightened and stressed-out deer found its antlers caught in a rope hammock swing that was hanging from a tree.
“We don’t know how long it had been trapped, but it was already panting and really struggling,” Starr said. “No one could get near it, because he was swinging back and forth. The deer was literally swinging itself off the ground. It was horrifying to watch.”
The story doesn’t have a happy ending. According to Linda Estrada, president and director of the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge, where the deer was taken after it was freed, the animal has died.
Wildlife is common in the backyard and around her home in the 300 block of Fairbank Road, Starr said. Coyote and deer treat her yard as an extension of the park across the street.
And this particular deer was well-known to Starr from her walks around the neighborhood.
“We know that deer,” said Starr, who recognized the animal’s antler shape. “I remember when it first got its antlers.”
Riverside police called Brookfield Zoo and then Cook County Animal Control for help, with the animal control unit responding to the scene about an hour later. But even after they arrived, the wait for the animal control crew to get permission to tranquilize the deer seemed interminable, Starr said.
“No one could believe it was taking this long,” Starr said.
According to Police Chief Thomas Weitzel, police finally cleared the scene about 4 p.m.
Part of the problem was that once animal control got permission to sedate the deer, the darts didn’t have much of an effect.
“There was no way they could get near it,” Starr said. “The will to escape was unbelievable.”
Riverside police reported it took five tranquilizer darts to sedate the deer, which allowed Riverside public works and animal control personnel to secure the deer’s legs with rope and cut the net from its antlers.
Afterward the deer was placed into the bed of a Riverside Public Works truck and taken to the Animal Welfare League shelter in Chicago Ridge, which can accommodate large animals.
Estrada said that when the deer came to the shelter, it appeared to be uninjured. As a result, she sought permission from Cook County Animal Control to release it into the wild as soon as possible.
By 6 p.m., animal shelter personnel, including Estrada, along with animal control personnel and Riverside Public Works employees had untied the deer and laid it on the grass in a nearby forest preserve, maintaining a vigil there for the next few hours, until about 10 p.m.
“He seemed to be doing very good, and then he started breathing heavily,” Estrada said.
After a bit the deer lifted its head and looked around before laying it back down.
“His breathing got shallow and then he just passed,” said Estrada. “We were crying our eyes out.”
The Animal Welfare League turned the deer’s body over to Brookfield Zoo, whose medical staff will conduct a necropsy, Estrada said.
“He was so tired and so stressed,” said Estrada. “But you could tell he was happy to be where he was supposed to be. Unfortunately, there’s no emergency vet you can take a deer to.”