‘The fawn is still there’

Robert Stanger Contributing writer

A recalcitrant offspring can prove to be a problem for even a mother doe. This was proven to me in a little drama that was played out on a lawn area that rises from the bank of the Allegheny River just north of our cabin in Althom, which fronts the river.

I had just stepped out of our cabin early one recent afternoon and was walking toward my nearby parked car, intending to drive up to Warren to get a few supplies, when I noticed a large doe and her fawn ambling through the vacant lot that separates our cabin from that of our neighbors, Ron and Arlene Morosetti. The doe had apparently gone down to the river for a drink, and, with her fawn, was headed back toward the forested slope of State Game Lands 86, which surrounds Althom.

The fawn was obviously a newborn since it could barely walk. They were a picturesque pair … the doe with her new reddish-brown summer coat and the fawn with its brown back speckled with an array of white spots.

But the fawn moved along very slowly on its long, spindly legs, and the doe nervously moved on ahead of it when she saw me.

The pair crossed Smitty’s Lane, which provides access to the cabins in that section of Althom. But when the fawn reached my neighbor’s car which was parked on the lawn across the road, it stopped and walked around the car in the high unmowed grass that surrounded it, sniffing its undercarriage. (Perhaps it smelled road salt.)

The doe stood off at some distance, most likely dismayed at the very slow progress the pair was made in broad daylight as a human (me) stood by.

Then the situation got even worse for the poor mother doe. The fawn moved out onto the mowed grass next to the car and lay down, with its head stretched out flat on the ground. It apparently saw no need to continue into the harsh forest when a cozy refuge, the car and its surrounding high grass, was so close by.

This situation looked like a standoff to me, so I got into my car and started to drive away. This frightened the doe, which disappeared into some nearby bushes.

When I returned a couple of hours later, I found that my neighbors, Ron and Arlene, had just driven in from Pittsburgh after flying there from the San Diego area where they are permanent residents. (They are originally from the Pittsburgh region, and have been seasonal Althom residents for many, many years.)

In chatting with them, I happened to mention that I had seen the doe and the balky fawn near their place just a short while ago.

“The fawn is still there … want to see it?” Ron remarked.

So, we walked to his parked car, and there nestled in the high grass next to it was the fawn, the apparent winner in the test of wills with its mother.

But Ron said that he was going to have to use his “summer car” the next day and would thus have to relocate the fawn.

I replied that I hoped the fawn survived the night, should its mother not come back for it, since bears do visit that area at night. Black bears are of course notorious for dining on fawns if given the opportunity.

But Ron noted that newborn fawns lack any scent since their mothers lick them clean after giving birth. (They also swallow the afterbirth.) Ron also remarked that even if a doe has triplets, it will secrete them in separate spots, and will remain some distance from all three so as not to attract a predator with her own scent.

However, I was still apprehensive and was pleased when the next morning Ron told me that the fawn was gone.

The mother had apparently come back for it during the night. The nursing fawn wouldn’t have had much of an alternative then but to follow her.

Robert Stanger has lived seasonally for over 40 years along the Allegheny River and has the stories to tell about it.