Faline entered the Mcgaughey residence on the morning of December 19, ate three cookies and then left to wander around outside. By that afternoon, she had been fatally, and purposely, shot by local authorities while her caretakers watched.
Faline was a mule deer. But was she a pet, a wild animal – or something in between?
That question is at the heart of a dispute between the Mcgaughey family and wildlife officials in Kansas, where they live. To the Mcgaugheys, Faline was tame but free, and she did not deserve to die. To authorities, the deer was a socialized wild animal that could have harmed people and spread disease.
“Euthanizing wildlife is never a pleasant situation, and it’s especially difficult when there are people present who are emotionally attached,” Mark Rankin, law enforcement assistant director for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, told a state wildlife commission at a public meeting in the city of Emporia on Thursday. But, he added, the officers had acted appropriately and in the interest of public safety. “The deer was unlawfully possessed, and there is no permit available to hold a wild-caught deer as a pet in the state of Kansas.”
What is clear about Faline is that she was an unusual doe. Taryn Mcgaughey, 34, said in an interview that the deer had followed her mother, Kim Mcgaughey, to the family’s six-acre farm outside the town of Ulysses around 22 months ago, when the animal was less than a year old. The two, Taryn Mcgaughey said, had an “instant connection.” Soon the deer had been dubbed Faline, after Bambi’s companion, and she made fast friends with the dogs, horses and goats on the property. The doe came and went as she pleased, sometimes roaming several miles, said Mcgaughey, who added that her mother had previously been told by a local game warden that this relationship was fine so long as the deer was not confined.
Kim Mcgaughey fed Faline and gave her water. She put colorful knitted collars on the deer so that hunters would not shoot her. Taryn Mcgaughey, who said she believes Faline “thought she was a dog,” has photos and videos of the deer standing on furniture and playing with her young son.
“She was house-trained. She would come into the house behind me, sleep on the floor while I watched TV,” Kim Mcgaughey told the commission Thursday, describing how the deer would knock on the door with her head or bleat when she wanted inside. “I would answer her with a bleat back, because it sounded like she was hollering, ‘Mom.’ “
Everyone in the area knew Faline, so when she went missing in December, Kim Mcgaughey posted a Facebook message. That, the Mcgaugheys think, led someone to tip off wildlife authorities. On the afternoon of Dec. 19, two game wardens arrived at the workplace of Kim Mcgaughey and issued her a ticket for confinement of wildlife. She called three Kansas zoos to ask if they’d take the deer, and that one told her to call back in the morning.
She wouldn’t get a chance to do that. The wardens had gone to her house. On a video made by Taryn Mcgaughey, she can be heard saying, “Run, Faline, Jesus.” Soon, when the deer and the wardens are far from sight, a gunshot rings out and Mcgaughey is heard breaking down into sobs. Four additional shots were fired after that.