Hennepin 4th of July Celebration

Meet Grace, The White-Tailed Deer Who Loves People and Candy Canes

Image credit: News Tribune
It was near the routes 89 and 71 intersection in Putnam County where they first saw the police officer.

Not long after, squad car’s blue and red lights were on and Debra Moreland was pulling over to the side of the road. The lone passenger in her cargo van, a white-tailed deer named Grace, had caught the officer’s attention.

“She’s just standing in the back, looking out the window like she always does,” Moreland said. “And I’m thinking, ‘He’s going to pull me over. He’s going to pull me over.’ And sure enough, the lights came on. He came up and asked ‘Do you know you have a live deer in the back of your van?’”

Moreland, a rural Princeton resident, was transporting Grace to an event as part of her Furry Friends Traveling Petting Zoo. The officer was just making sure Moreland hadn’t picked up a deer she thought was dead only to find out it was still alive and a huge safety hazard to an unsuspecting driver.

But that was not the case. The 12-year-old doe is a popular guest among schools, nursing homes and other local events.

And around Christmas time, demand for Grace certainly increases.

“We’ve been busy,” Moreland said. “This year we did events for Granville, Walmart, Ace (hardware), Ladd, Starved Rock Lodge and Oglesby Elks.”

Do you know anyone who owns a pet deer? Debra Moreland dotes on her 12-year old deer Grace outside her home in rural Princeton. Moreland raised Grace from a fawn and travels with her to different events in the Illinois Valley through her Furry Friends Petting Zoo. The deer becomes a popular pet around the holidays.

Grace is not easily alarmed like wild white-tailed deer. She doesn’t dash away from humans but enjoys affection and being petted by her admirers, Moreland said.

“She’s very good around people,” she said.

But loud noises can be startling for the doe. Moreland said she takes precautions when traveling with Grace to avoid things like a truck horn that might send her into a frenzy.

“When a deer’s adrenaline gets pumped up, it’s tough to bring it back down,” Moreland said.

Dr. Bethany Sondgeroth of Bureau Valley Veterinary service said even if a white-tailed deer is farm-raised and was never born in the wild, they are still wild at heart.

“Grace is pretty unique in that she’s acclimated to people,” she said. “But they are still a wild animal even if they are tame and eat out of your hand. They will certainly buck and jump and kick if they are startled.”

Grace hasn’t had any instances of harming people, but she is one to try and eat out of your hand, Moreland said. She’ll sniff out food, even candy. Moreland says she has to keep a close eye on Grace so she doesn’t end up scarfing down decorative candy canes.

“She loves peppermint — anything sugary sweet,” Moreland said. “She’ll grab them off the (Christmas) tree if I’m not paying attention.”

While Grace does appear to have an appreciation for the holidays, don’t expect to see her flying away anytime soon like one of Santas reindeer. Moreland says Grace likes to stay put on the farm in Selby Township.

“(Deer) can run and jump so we knew we needed to have tall fences,” Moreland said. “But she’s never bothered to try and get out so evidently she’s content here.”

Moreland said even when a storm knocked a tree branch into the fence causing a breach, Grace stayed put. Moreland suspects growing up with dogs may have contributed to Grace’s friendly disposition.

“I got her when she was young and bottle fed her. They said if you do that she would tame down, and she has,” Moreland said.

Grace was a tame deer Moreland acquired from a farmer south of Hennepin, she said. Moreland got the proper registration through the state of Illinois to own her. Wild deer are not pets. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a lot of rules and regulations on approaching wild deer, even if they are injured or orphaned.

“It’s against the law. You’re supposed to report them,” Moreland said.

But Grace’s contact with other deer (wild deer do come by the farm) are more non-interactions than anything.

“Being raised with dogs, I don’t know if she’s confused or not because bucks have come into the yard before. She doesn’t pay any attention to them,” Moreland said.

Last week on the farm, Grace was a little more preoccupied with eating greens than getting her picture taken. Peppermint is the only food she craves.

“She eats a variety of things,” Moreland said. “She loves watermelon, muskmelon and zucchinis.”

Moreland said she has heard of deer living up to 20 years old, and by all indications the 12-year-old Grace is still going strong.

“All the hunters I run into tell me she’s quite healthy,” Moreland said.

So, the plan is to continue their travels around the area, interacting with people who have never touched a deer before.

“She still hops right in the van for me. She makes it really easy,” Moreland said.

So, more interactions with befuddled police officers could be in store in the future.

Source: News Tribune