Anne Arundel couple upset after deer herd euthanized

State says disease threat justified killing of animals

October 09, 2004|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

For 25 years, Allen and Shirley Anderson raised a herd of deer on their 1-acre property in Pasadena.

The Andersons say they enjoyed having them, and that neighborhood children would come by on Sundays to sing to the dozen or so deer.

On Thursday morning, though, state Department of Natural Resources officers knocked on the couple's door before dawn to seize the deer so they could be euthanized and tested for chronic wasting disease, or CWD - a condition similar to mad cow disease.

The Andersons are upset, and say they don't know why more than a dozen Maryland Natural Resources police officers and state biologists had to swoop down on their property, seize the herd and kill the animals at a University of Maryland lab. They say they thought they were allowed to keep the deer.

"It's a terrible thing to say, [but] is our government out of control?" asked Shirley Anderson, 62.

State officials said they had no choice but to act immediately. They viewed the deer as a potential public health risk and were worried the owners might free the animals.

"Failure to take quick and decisive action would be irresponsible, as state natural resource managers," said Paul A. Peditto, director of DNR's Wildlife and Heritage Service.

Allen Anderson, 62, was charged with possessing a live deer without a wildlife permit and was served with 14 citations, one for each of his European fallow deer. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Feb. 2 in Anne Arundel County District Court.

A 2002 state regulation prohibits anyone from owning or transporting a deer, DNR officials said. After more than 100 people were exposed to rabies-infected deer in 1984, the state stopped issuing deer licenses.

The outbreak illustrates the risk of keeping wild animals in captivity, where they are more likely to be infected with CWD and other pathogens, Peditto said.

Visiting the deer

In the Andersons' neighborhood, which sits across the street from the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail, several residents said they were familiar with the deer.

When her two grandchildren came to her home for the holidays, Audrey Dickey, 75, took them to see the animals. "I would go to the door and [the Andersons] would say, `Go right ahead.'"

Dickey was always impressed with how well the deer were cared for. They were cordoned off in the Andersons' back yard with a 6-foot-high fence.

"You could tell that they were happy because they didn't jump the fence," Shirley Anderson said.

Another neighbor, Shirley Vleeschower, 72, had taken most of her 11 grandchildren to see the deer. "It was like a park out there," she said.

Sometimes on Sundays, Shirley Anderson recalled, children from Sunday school at a nearby church would walk over to the yard and sing to the deer.

"People have dogs around here that are more trouble than those deer," Dickey said.

But not from a health point of view, Peditto said.

Chronic wasting disease, a deadly affliction that attacks the brain and spinal cord of deer and elk, was first discovered in a herd of captive deer in Colorado 30 years ago, Peditto said. Although the disease hasn't been found east of Wisconsin, hundreds of thousands of deer have died from it in western states, Peditto said. There have been no reported cases in Maryland.

"Captive deer population represents the catalyst that will ignite an outbreak of CWD in this state," Peditto said.

Shirley Anderson said she and her husband purchased their first deer, a male, through a classified ad, and the second, a female, from a farm. And they just started multiplying.

The reason for making the purchase? Allen Anderson is "just an animal lover," said his wife. The Andersons since added two emus and a peacock.

Allen Anderson was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment.

Over the years, Shirley Anderson said, she and her husband conferred with the state Department of Agriculture and their veterinarians consulted with county and state officials to determine whether keeping the fallow deer captive was legal.

Anderson said they were never informed otherwise.

The herd taken

On Thursday, she said, officials woke up the couple at 6:30 a.m. and gave them a couple of hours to leave for work before the deer were sedated with darts. The animals were transferred to an animal health lab at College Park to be tested for CWD and tuberculosis. No live test for CWD exists because a sample of the brain stem must be analyzed. Results from a Wyoming lab are due in a few weeks.

Stephanie Boyles, a biologist with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said she had been in touch with the Andersons for a week, after a DNR official reportedly began asking neighbors about the herd. Boyles attempted to contact DNR so she could advise the family about what to do, but she said she never heard back from the agency.

She said DNR might have had legal standing to seize the animals but that it should have explained the law to the family and given the Andersons a chance to find a sanctuary for the deer.

"There wasn't a chance to defend these animals," Shirley Anderson said.

But Cpl. Ken Turner, a spokesman for the Maryland Nature Resources Police, was resolute.

"We do not do that" - issuing warnings, Turner said. "A search warrant is a search warrant. ... We don't want the bad guys to know we're coming."

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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