There are better ways than a deer cage to bring downtown children into contact with nature.
By Ryan McGreal
Published December 14, 2005
Beyond the pale of respectable discourse in Hamilton, protesters are complaining about the city's practice of bringing European Fallow Dear into Gore Park for public viewing.
Elaine Marion, founder of CAGED, has written letters to the Downtown BIA and Mayor Larry Di Ianni decrying the practice:
The deer are so cramped and frantic from the noise and pollution that they torture one of their own from the time they get off the truck and all the time they are in the pen. ...
The ground becomes so sodden that the deer cannot find dry bedding for the night and must sleep in their own urine. When the temperature rises the smell and wastewater make the site a bacteria laden cesspool.
Mayday Magazine has also taken up the call, exhorting the city to "Get those reindeer out of Gore Park." (I'll forgive Mayday's rhetorical oversight in calling them reindeer; "Get those European Fallow Deer out of Gore Park" doesn't quite have the same ring.)
I had been struggling with the issue myself, torn between my inclination to side with the protesters and my suspicion that the living conditions in Gore Park aren't much worse than their living conditions at home.
To help make up my mind, I went downtown, wandered past the Scandinavian Jesus Nativity Scene at King and Hughson, and presently came upon the deer pen.
First of all, it's awfully cramped for even a small herd of deer. The fence is covered on the outside with greenery, which probably muffles the relentless din of traffic, sirens, and car alarms, but it's still a fence, know what I mean?
A large sign attached to the front insists that the deer are right in their element:
Deer are very adaptable even in busy surroundings. At Home, Big Curve Acres Farm, these deer are viewed by several thousand people per year and live in relaxed comfort adjacent to one of Ontario's major North-South highways [Highway 11 between Barrie and Orillia].
Essentially, these are domesticated deer, bred mainly to feed Europe's love of venison. I just hope that their relaxed, comfortable home adjacent to Highway 11 is bigger than twenty square feet. If I was a deer, I think relaxation and comfort would include a chance to stretch my legs with a nice gallop from time to time.
Behind the sign and a double fence, I beheld the deer themselves.
Most of them were standing in a loose bunch, grazing on whatever stuck out through the snow and occasionally regarding me with what I'm tempted to call bored indifference.
Unlike the rest, one deer seemed to be moved by the spirit. It trotted rapidly around and around the pen, kicking its hind legs out sideways and tossing its head around. Its diagonal gait took it to each corner of the pen, whereupon it reared back and then raced to the next corner.
The other deer ignored their deranged fallow - er, fellow - until it suddenly reared away from a passing Bobcat (the motorized kind; there's only so much wildlife downtown). Then all the deer followed it at top speed into the opposite corner, where they lurched to a halt and then stood around as if to say, "We meant to do that."
Slowly, the other deer returned to their feeding spot while the frantic deer continued to race around the pen. I'm reluctant to anthropomorphize, but if the deer was dragging a tin cup back and forth across the fence, it couldn't have looked more stir-crazy.
Some animal rights activists judge events with a sheer absolutism that hurts their cause - for example, the annual uproar against the baby chicks in a certain Westdale flower shop window. In this case, at least, I came away persuaded that deer simply do not belong in a small downtown park.
There are better ways to bring city children into contact with nature. I highly recommend hikes along the Bruce Trail. It's a twenty minute walk from Gore Park and features wild deer that are constrained only by the relentless encroachment of human development.
It's not paradise, but it beats a steel cage on King Street.
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