Deer’s fate is uncertain; proposed bill could mean he stays with Belmont Co. family

(WCMH Photo)
(WCMH Photo)

BELMONT COUNTY, Ohio (WCMH) — The fate of Wheezer the deer remains unresolved as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources continues its investigation and contemplates removing a beloved deer from an eastern Ohio family’s care.

Jodi Proger rescued Wheezer after his mother was hit by a car two years ago. She bottle-fed Wheezer when he was a fawn. Now he eats berries from her hands.

“He views me as his mother and he is my baby and that is how I feel about it,” she said.

A state corrections officer spotted Wheezer in the Progers’ backyard while overseeing prisoner clean-up detail and filed a formal complaint with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. ODNR officers tried to remove Wheezer from the Proger home last week, but the family refused to give him up.

“What I don’t understand is why they want to take them from me and put him someplace else when I am the one who has been taking care of him all this time,” a tearful Jodi told NBC4. “I just don’t understand this.”

The Ohio SPCA is supporting the Progers in their efforts to keep Wheezer. Executive Director Teresa Landon called the situation “absolutely unnecessary.”

“This is a lot of stress for this family,” she said. “He’s very bonded to Jodi and her husband. They are taking very good care of him. To remove him from that home and needlessly kill him just absolutely makes no sense.”

Landon says Ohio used to be able to rescue and care for wild deer before 2009.  However, the law changed that year due to fears about Chronic Wasting Disease, a fatal disease impacting deer populations in many states. The first case of Chronic Wasting Disease in Ohio did not occur until 2014. Captive deer, imported from Pennsylvania, tested positive for CWD on a contained hunting preserve in Holmes County.

“We do not feel there is a legitimate fear of Chronic Wasting Disease for the Ohio Division of Wildlife to require orphaned and injured fawns to be automatically killed,” she said.

Landon says plenty of healthy deer have been killed when good samaritans turn them over to wildlife authorities.

“It has happened over and over again, that people have found an orphaned fawn,” she said. “They’ve called a game warden out and the animal has been destroyed. It’s actually needless killing.”

Ohio Representative Margaret Ann Ruhl has introduced Trooper’s Law (H.B. 267). This law would make it legal once again for good Samaritans to obtain permits and care for injured fawns.  Ruhl issued a statement to NBC4 that says in part, “There are a lot of animal lovers across the state who, with proper education and under the supervision of trained veterinarians, want to administer care and compassion to these injured fawns. Under current law, they are unable to do that, which is why we believe these changes are necessary.”

Right now, Trooper’s Law is awaiting a committee assignment. The ODNR tells NBC4 there is no timetable for a decision about Wheezer’s fate.

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