Video: GPS-equipped deer finds a home as family pet

Amy Knapp

Dillie’s a lot like most of the other household pets on her block – she’s got four legs, a tail and tongue that will lick a friendly hand. She’s even housebroken, likes treats and to run around in the yard.

The difference is Dillie’s an 180-pound full-grown deer.

Dillie, short for Daffodil, has lived relatively under the radar for the past five years with her owners, Dr. Melanie Butera and Steve Heathman, in their Canal Fulton home.

“The neighbor kids come to visit and we have had church groups and others here to see her,” said Butera, an area vet.

Last week, Dillie was thrown into the national spotlight after she was crowned the winner of a Zoombak video contest.

After a delivery man left the gate to the yard open and Dillie wandered off this summer, Butera began looking for a tracking device for Dillie.

Butera found the Zoombak personal GPS locator. The small unit, which Dillie wears on a collar around her neck, allows Butera and her husband to keep an eye on her by logging into their computer.

Shortly after Butera purchased the GPS locator, the company held a contest asking Zoombak users to make a video showing how people were using the GPS locator.

Butera entered a video showing Dillie sleeping in her bed, swimming in the family pool and eating a bowl of spaghetti noodles.

“It wasn’t even a half a day (after entering the contest) they called and said we’d won,” Butera said.

The family received a $1,000 prize for the winning video and the media hasn’t stopped calling. Dillie was featured on the CBS “Early Show” Thursday morning and area TV stations have visited her home. Butera has also been contacted by British and German news agencies.

“I guess they don’t have deer in Germany,” Butera said jokingly. “It doesn’t seem that strange to us. Vets all over the world are probably saying, ‘That’s no big deal, I have a giraffe in my basement.’”

Saving grace

At 3 a.m. nearly five years ago, an area farmer showed up on Butera’s door step with a dying 3-day-old doe. She weighted just 5 pounds.

“Her mother hadn’t nursed her,” Butera said. “She was born a triplet; the other two were bucks. She has severe cataracts.”

The farmer told Butera that she could have the little deer if she wanted to care for it.

“She was too sick to eat,” Butera said. “Her body temperate was 94 degrees; normal is 102 degrees. She was a few breaths from dead.”

Butera gave her a jugular catheter and Dillie was hospitalized for a few days. When she left the hospital, Butera brought Dillie to her home to continue her rehabilitation.

“She wouldn’t take a bottle,” she said. “We had to hand feed her. She grew up on goat’s milk.”

Too small and weak to be left in the barn, Butera and her husband nursed the deer back to health in the comfort of their home.

“We never intended for her to be in the house,” she said. “She was just too sick to be outside.

“When she got on her two feet, so to speak, we took her to the barn but she was terrified of the horses. So we kept her in the house.”

Living the high life

Dillie adapted to life inside – learning on her own to climb the stairs, play with the family’s Standard poodle, Lady, and to get ice cubes from the refrigerator’s ice machine in the door.

“She would follow Lady around,” said Butera, who once owned Stark County Veterinary Emergency Clinic and now operates Elm Ridge Hospital in Canal Fulton. “She would go underneath Lady and try to nurse.”

Butera said Dillie has the personality of both a dog and cat. She knows her name but won’t come every time she is called. She’s bonded with Steve and used to sleep at the foot of their bed. These days Dillie lounges around on her Serta Posturpedic mattress in her own room.

Butera explained Dillie follows a typical pattern for deer – she eats in the morning, rests and then eats in the evening.

She goes outside daily and can spend hours running – sometimes up to 40 mph – in the yard, but Heathman admits Dillie isn’t fond of rain, wind or snow.

Dillie’s diet includes bananas, apples, bread and greens including spinach and different types of lettuce. She delights in special treats including vanilla bean ice cream, spaghetti noodles and Lady’s Beggin’ Strip treats.

“She’s very exceptional,” Butera said. “She’s so loving, so smart, so unafraid. She’s a very passive animal. She doesn’t have a lot of weapons. She only has her hooves.”

Not your average deer

Butera warns against having a deer for a pet. Dillie is a farm-raised deer – not wild – and has a permit from the state Wildlife and Game Commission.

“She has a pedigree,” Butera said. Dillie also bears an ear tag. The state checks on the deer regularly.

There is no way to tell Dillie’s life-span. Deer living in the wild live on average eight years but the life-span of a house deer is unknown.

Butera said Dillie grooms herself and receives vaccinations and regular treatments to prevent fleas and worms. While there are some diseases that could be passed to human from a deer, Butera said it is unlikely Dillie carries any diseases.

“She’s really loving,” Butera said. “Our family thinks we are crazy but everyone enjoys her. My friend who house sits begs us to go on vacation.”

The Independent (Massillon, Ohio)