Kansas’ top wildlife official said the state will establish new guidelines on how to react when a wild animal is being kept as a pet.
On Dec. 19, game wardens shot a family’s pet deer in western Kansas. The mule deer, cared for by Kim Mcgaughey for 22 months, was killed near the family’s rural driveway with family members watching and taking video of the ordeal, which has gotten nationwide attention.
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Game wardens gave Mcgaughey a citation at her workplace for keeping a wild animal as a pet. Within an hour game wardens shot the deer, which the family had named Faline, after Bambi’s friend and future mate in the cartoon movie. Mcgaughey regrets she didn’t have time to prepare the family for losing the animal, tell the deer goodbye or check into her legal rights.
Robin Jennison, Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism secretary, said his agency is wasting no time looking for better options.
“Clearly things could have been handled much better in the field,” Jennison said. “It was a bad deal, and our agency has a responsibility to learn from it. We need to get some clear policies in place to help our officers in the field.”
Jennison acknowledged the event has drawn nationwide attention since an article appeared in The Wichita Eagle last week. Several legislators mentioned the matter to Jennison in Topeka on Monday.
“They’re certainly aware of it,” Jennison said, “and had some concerns.”
On Monday, Jennison and Mark Rankin, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement assistant director, said the three game wardens acted within the law that forbids the public from having wild animals. Still, Jennison said he has several questions and goals.
One thing is to come up with solid guidelines for the times when game wardens are required to euthanize animals. He’s hoping for a method that also includes several steps to ensure it’s handled right.
“I’m not even sure where such decision was made, if it was just the game warden or if it was further up the command structure,” Jennison said. “We need to have clear-cut guidance and better involve the command structure, if it’s not already involved. We also need to make sure our guys in the field make decisions that are in tune with public perception.”
Jennison also would like to know why the game wardens insisted the deer be euthanized immediately. Rankin said game wardens had been aware of the animal at Mcgaughey’s house for more than a week, after a complaint was phoned into the department.
Jennison and others have asked Rankin to contact other states to see how they handle such situations.
“My direction is to get it right, not fast,” said Rankin, who can’t remember another time an officer had to euthanize an adult pet deer. “We’ll be working on it. We could have another one tomorrow.”
Rankin also said the three game wardens didn’t have as many options as some believe.
No room at zoos
Mcgaughey said last week that the Hutchinson Zoo might have taken the pet deer had it not been immediately killed.
The zoo’s director said the deer wouldn’t have been accepted in Hutchinson, or probably at any other zoo or sanctuary in Kansas.
“We absolutely would not have taken that animal,” said Ryan VanZant, the zoo’s director. “We have a rehabilitation center, but we don’t take raccoons, skunks or deer because of disease concerns.”
VanZant said the main concern with deer is chronic wasting disease, which is found in several western Kansas counties, including near where the deer lived with the Mcgaugheys.
The disease is always fatal, and live animals cannot be tested for the disease. Chronic wasting disease can be passed to any member of the deer family, including white-tailed deer and elk. It also stays within an area for years, even after infected animals are removed.
VanZant said the animal would not have been a good fit for a petting zoo.
“Even though a deer’s been raised by humans, they still have the potential to be really dangerous,” he said. “They’re nice until they’re not, and if they feel threatened, nature takes over. A big kick to the throat or something will kill you real fast.”
Rankin said the mule deer wouldn’t have qualified for any of the state’s wildlife rehabilitation centers because it wasn’t seriously injured despite a noticeable limp from when Mcgaughey splinted the doe’s broken leg.
No permits for wildlife pets
Rankin said the only kind of permit the state grants for keeping wildlife in captivity is for rehabilitation centers. Special training is required to get a permit, and the centers are required to release, or euthanize, any animal within 180 days. Rankin also said his agency is asking rehab centers to not accept deer of any age because of disease concerns.
Mcgaughey has said that the deer was not kept in captivity and was free to join other deer at any time. She did put a collar on it so hunters would know it was a pet.
Some have questioned why the deer wasn’t taken to another location instead of being shot on Mcgaughey’s property. Rankin said the three game wardens were limited to trying to use small catch poles, the size used to subdue things like raccoons, and felt such a process would be too dangerous for the men.
While Wildlife and Parks has a few tranquilizing guns, and a few employees trained on how to use them, they possess no sedative.
Jake George, Wildlife and Parks wildlife department director, said biologists would have to consult with an approved veterinarian to obtain the sedatives. In an earlier interview Rankin said the game wardens made an attempt to get assistance from local veterinarians but failed.
Release into the wild
Even if game wardens had been able to subdue and transport the deer, Rankin said fear of spreading chronic wasting disease would have kept them from moving it.
“That’s the problem once they’re imprinted on humans,” Rankin said. “You move the animal and turn it loose, and that night you get a call from someone else who’s having a problem with that animal. There are no easy answers.”