This is Reginald. He was the greatest pet you could ever want. First of all, he was virtually maintenance-free. That is a huge plus when it comes to having a pet. We didn’t have to feed him because he fed himself, chomping and munching all over the neighborhood. His forages included our yard, which was annoying when he would eat something we planted just two days ago, but he was self-sustaining, food-wise, and you can’t say that about many pets.
We didn’t have to teach him to poop and pee outside, either. He did that all over the neighborhood as well, including our yard, which was definitely annoying if you weren’t looking at the ground and you stepped on a bunch of blueberry-size poop pellets that deer are fond of pooping (although that is much less worse than stepping in a fresh heap of dog poop, you have that on my good authority). Furthermore, we didn’t have to groom Reggie or take him to the vet for rabies shots, all of which was a genuine money-saver.
For all his neighborhood peregrinations and his frequent forays into the surrounding forests, Reginald preferred to bed down in our yard pretty much on a nightly basis. This display of loyalty is the definition of a real pet and a contributing factor why we gave him the title of “Greatest Pet Ever,” much to the chagrin of our cat who, it should be noted, came in a distant second in the World’s Greatest Pet competition due to her demands to be fed and to have her litter box regularly cleaned.
Reggie would plunk down anywhere in our yard, but typically he’d stretch out in the corner of the garden that’s shady and woefully overgrown, a spot that probably reminded him of the ungroomed character of his natural home in the wilds. Reggie bunked at our place despite the fact that early in our pet/owner relationship I’d chase him out of our yard whenever I saw him. I reasoned that he was snacking on the hostas that were desperately trying to survive various maladies such as inattentive care and low watering, and the least I could do was defend the plants from being totally disappeared. So I’d spring into action, waving my arms and yelling clever insults like, Deer! Go! Get!
Reginald would remain cool during these histrionics, chewing contentedly on something we’d planted the other day and regarding me with disdain from the shadowed glen of his retreat. He probably knew that if it came down to fisticuffs, he’d drub me with his hooves like I was a speed bag. Plus, he could butt the living phlegm out of me with those horns.
But after a while he’d get up, shake his antlers like clearing the cobwebs after a siesta, stroll insouciantly toward the front fence, turn back to give me one last eyeroll, and leap over the 48-inch-high barrier as easy as jumping over a length of garden hose. Then he’d saunter up the street.
Next morning he’d be back, bedded down in his leafy lair, shorn hosta leaves hanging out of his mouth. Now that’s loyalty!
Reginald was a black-tailed deer, Odocoileus hemionus. There are many black-tailed deer in our valley, and it’s not unusual to see whole families of Odocoileus strolling the through our neighborhoods, stopping now and then to snack on somebody’s daylilies and arrogantly crossing the streets with complete disregard for painted crosswalks and charging SUVs. Deer simply adore the smorgasbord of civilized life. People will stop and gawk at these little parades as if they're witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime phalanx of centaurs marching past. Ooh! Deer!
Not every local townie approves of these roving bands of herbivores, and lots of energy and expense has been devoted to keeping deer out of folks’ properties. Eight-foot-high fences are popular, eight feet being the lawful limit around here and the theoretical vertical limit for leaping deer, although yes there are stories of deer leaping over eight-footers easy as a sneeze.
Natural deterrents are also popular. No, you can’t count firearms as “natural deterrents,” although there are plenty of people who would like to say otherwise. I’m referring more to plants that deer don’t care to eat, so even if Odocoileus invades your property, they are likely to leave your plantings alone, although they very well might leave behind piles of poop pellets.
Here are some plants that deer don’t like (but sometimes will eat anyway):
• Foxgloves and poppies. These plants are toxic to deer, which is as good a reason as any for not eating them. Deer that do eat them help prove the theory of natural selection.
• Marigolds. The deal with marigolds is that only corny people plant them, and you’re not corny, are you?
• Lamb’s ear. A deer eating lamb’s ears sounds a little cannibalistic, I think. So deer probably just don’t go there.
• Spirea. We have a spirea out front where any deer could chomp it and the plant is still there so QED.
• Lavender and other aromatics. Deer aren’t really hip to finer fragrances, you probably wouldn’t either if you never took a bath, although deer have been found luxuriating in backyard swimming pools so maybe I’ve got that one wrong.
You might have noticed that I’ve been referring to Reginald in the past tense. After being a constant in our lives for nearly three years, one day Regggie did not show up. Then weeks passed, and months, and all the seasons came and went without Reggie’s antlers peering out from the tangle of brush that passes for our side yard “garden.” Whether he’d found a mate and relocated to greener neighborhoods up north, or whether he’d been eaten by a cougar or felled by a hunter, we’ll never know. To say the cat was relieved is an understatement.
I know what you’re wondering. If Reginald was such a pet, did he come to me when I called his name? Puh-lease! Deer don’t have names!