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Oh Deer, Help is Hard to Find Here

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

By John Rolfe

A frequent sight in my backyard
A frequent sight in my backyard

In a rural neighborhood, wildlife is a way of life. Critters of all kinds and sizes make their presence known. When things go awry with them, as often happens, and you are unable to handle the situation, you would think that help is readily available, this being the countryside and all. But you would be wrong.

For instance, we had an obviously rabid fox hang around our yard in Red Hook of New York’s Hudson Valley. It was a dangerous deal that called for professional assistance but the fox wandered away before we could find someone to remove it. Then there was the rabid feral cat walking in circles on our lawn and swimming round and round in our pond. Meanwhile, my wife went round and round on the phone with town and county animal control agencies, the police and more.

“Everyone I called referred me to someone else,” Victoria says, “and some referred me to the person who had referred me to them.”

After a morning’s-worth of calls, three state troopers came out and shot the cat. Unfortunately, ugly death is also a way of country life. Some folks here keep guns handy for occasions when expediting the end for a doomed animal is actually humane.

The troopers refused to take the cat’s body, but it was easy for us to dispose of it, unlike the dead deer a neighbor recently told us was in our pond.

Days earlier, my wife had spotted a doe standing in the water. Usually deer just drink from the pond while standing on the bank as they grace us with their majesty. They really are lovely animals, but in rural areas they breed like rabbits and are everywhere, often meeting nasty ends on roads or during hunting season. Mother Nature is not always kind to them, either. (And not so majestically, these munching machines also raid Victoria’s gardens.)

We were mystified as to why the deer had gone belly-up where it did. Hidden from our view by plants, it could have been there for days. Luckily, it was near the bank, but likely very heavy. I wasn’t up for the unsavory task of wrestling with a waterlogged, possibly rotten cadaver, so I did the logical thing: I called the town highway department, which collects roadkill.

Another wildlife runaround ensued.

A gent at the department informed me that town crews can’t go on private property and scratched his head when asked who else I could call. He eventually suggested the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which took my name and number. While waiting to hear back, my wife texted our plight to our daughter who thoughtfully told us to put the dead deer on Facebook Marketplace. Hardy har, kid.

An hour later, an agent from the DEC called and said there’s a local outbreak of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, a lethal virus that makes deer seek water to cool their fever-ravaged bodies. Since the outbreak had already been confirmed (I later learned a co-worker’s brother had found six lifeless deer in his pond), there was no need for the DEC to come and take it.

“You can drag it into the woods and let scavengers take care of it or you can pour lime on it,” the agent said. “Just be sure to wear a mask and gloves.”

I chose the more savory option of finding a private contractor. Google searches for “dead wildlife removal” ensued. Most results were simply exterminators or firms who handled only smaller animals like the groundhogs we’d humanely trapped last year. (Deer have admirably stepped up to fill the veggie-gobbling void left by their departure.)

One promising company said it doesn’t serve our area and referred me to the National Wildlife Control Operators Association (NWCOA) which referred me to a cheery chap who wanted $500. I was about to enlist him when my ever-frugal wife hollered “No!” and insisted we keep trying.

So I called the NWCOA back and was told by a different person that there are no services in my area. I guess in my growing delirium, I hallucinated the one I was given during my first call.

Back to good ol’ Google which led to phone run-arounds with actual humans who transferred me to automated “Press 1” dead ends like, “I’m sorry. That is not a valid option” and “This number is only for connecting customers with our contractors. Please hang up and try again.”

Despondent, I told my wife, “I guess I could try hauling it out myself, but I really don’t want that thing rotting in our bushes.”

“Maybe we can dissolve it in the bathtub with acid,” she said, recalling a method employed with a human corpse in an episode of Breaking Bad. “But you’d have to drag it upstairs.”

“A trail of water and guts through the house would be a nice decorative touch, I suppose,” I replied.

As a last resort, Victoria posted our situation on a Facebook group called Red Hook Moms while I went out to mow the lawn. The deer was getting fragrant in the hot sun. This mess had to be resolved ASAP. Ordinarily our yard is redolent of the deer repellent we make from rotten eggs, garlic and cayenne pepper, so this new aroma would further enhance the spirit of bonhomie with our neighbors.

Eventually, a guy on Facebook responded with an offer to come over. I had to leave for work, but later called home to learn he wanted $350, so Victoria had private messaged another respondent who asked for $200. Deal. Out he came and out went the deerly departed.. It was gone in 15 minutes.

Moral of this gamey story: If you want dangerous or dead wildlife removed (at a reasonable price), it helps to have the patience of a cat...just not a rabid one.


John Rolfe is a former senior editor for Sports Illustrated for Kids, a longtime columnist for the Poughkeepsie Journal/USA Today Network, and author of The Goose in the Bathroom: Stirring Tales of Family Life. His school bus drivin’ blog “Hellions, Mayhem and Brake Failure” is parked on his website ( with the meter running.



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