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This is the 2014-2015 edition of the Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest.

Click here to view the 2015-2016 Alabama Hunting and Fishing Digest.

Don’t Keep Wild Animals As Pets

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J.R. Dunsmore of Marshall County learned a costly lesson last year about keeping wild animals as pets, and he wants to spread the word about the extent of the risk involved.

“Just don’t do it,” said the 69-year-old Dunsmore, wearing a patch over his right eye from his ordeal with a “pet” deer. “They are dangerous. I didn’t know how dangerous. Now, when I wake up I see half the world, because this (right) half is gone. It can’t be fixed.”

Dunsmore was attacked by the buck he considered a pet when the animal reverted to normal, wild behavior and almost killed him. Dunsmore regularly poured acorns gathered from around his yard into the 1 1/2-acre pen for the illegally captive deer. On the fateful morning, a limb covered with acorns had fallen in the yard, and Dunsmore opened the gate to the pen to toss in the limb.

“When I threw the limb, he just picked me up by the legs and carried me down to a tree or stump,” Dunsmore said. “I really can’t tell you which one he put me against. When he put me down, he just started pushing. I could see his back legs and they were buried this (6 inches) deep in the ground. He was just digging in, shoving me. I had a hold on his horns (antlers) and that’s when one horn got me right here (right cheek). It went through my sinuses, through my optic nerve and stuck into the edge of my brain.

“I got that pulled out, and when I did that I got turned around. For some reason, he kind of picked me up. When we backed up, we hit right at the gate, and the gate was still open. When we hit the gate, I rolled through and pulled the gate shut behind me. When I got through that gate, he hit that gate like he was going to tear it to pieces.””

The 6-year-old, nine-point buck had a 27-inch inside spread. Conservation enforcement officers estimated the buck weighed in excess of 250 pounds. Mature bucks go through a transition in the fall as rutting activity approaches. Hormones change the buck’s behavior into that of an animal accustomed to fighting to establish domination in the herd.

“During breeding season, the bucks get a shot of testosterone, and everything becomes an enemy,” said Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes. “In summer and early fall, the bucks are in bachelor groups. All the boys are hanging out, and everybody is friendly, and everybody is happy. When the weather gets cold that testosterone increases as breeding season is coming in. Then nobody is a buddy. Everybody fights. If they’re used to a human as their buddy during the summer, they don’t care that you were their best friend then. It’s ‘all about me’ when rutting season comes about. They defend their territory and assert their dominance. Period.

“Don’t forget that does can be dangerous, too. They can inflict a lot of damage with their flailing hooves.”

Dunsmore didn’t have any concept of the power of a white-tailed deer.

“That deer picked me up, and I weigh 260 pounds, and carried me 30 or 40 feet in the air, never put me down,” Dunsmore said. “I was just like a rag doll. I was on top of his horns and my feet were off the ground. I was in the cradle and couldn’t do anything about it.”

Sitting in his driveway after the attack, Dunsmore tried to evaluate his situation and quickly realized he needed medical help, pronto.

“I couldn’t see one side because I had blood in my eye,” he said. “Then I saw blood running down the driveway and I knew I had to go call 911. I remember coming back to in the ambulance. Then I don’t remember anything else for about two days.”

The wound that cost Dunsmore the sight in his right eye was not the only trauma he suffered. He had puncture wounds in his arm, hip, thigh, lower leg, ribcage and lung.

Dunsmore had to deal with the legal consequences. He also pled guilty to one count of “Possession of a Protected Game Animal in Captivity” and paid a $275 fine plus court costs. Other charges were “Nol Prossed” in consideration for his assistance in illustrating the dangers of wild animals as pets. The deer that were in Dunsmore’s pen were euthanized for disease testing.

“You can get in a lot of trouble,” he said. “It is (against the law) for your own protection. They’re dangerous.”

Kevin Dodd, WFF’s Chief of Enforcement, said youngsters have been conditioned that a variety of wild animals are harmless, which is far from the truth.

“Much of the interest in pet raccoons or skunks when I was a kid arose from Disney movies and kids’ books,” Dodd said. “It seemed to be the thing to have. However, their competitive wild instincts are just beneath the surface of their cute, furry exteriors. They are predators by nature and are adequately equipped to fend off larger animals that might compete with them. That includes humans. They have lots of needle-like teeth and sharp claws. Both species carry a host of parasites as well as the dreaded rabies and distemper. People need to understand that there is no approved vaccine for raccoons and skunks.”

A few years back someone “rescued” a family of baby raccoons and distributed them across the state to several friends. Although the raccoons appeared healthy, one tested positive for rabies, and everyone who had contact with the animals had to undergo expensive, painful rabies treatment shots. Contrary to common belief, a bite from the animal is not required to transmit rabies.

“Even if you are certain your pet raccoon won’t hurt you, there are no guarantees how it might react with the neighbors’ kids or pets,” Dodd said. “We encourage anyone with a pet raccoon or those who might be aware of someone who has one to contact us.”

Sykes said the behavior of wild animals is unpredictable and poses a safety risk to humans.

“The bottom line, it’s a wild animal.” Sykes said. “It’s not a dog or a cat and they are unpredictable.”

“Yeah, they’re cute and cuddly, but it’s a wild animal. You may think that specific animal wouldn’t hurt anybody, but you can’t know that for sure.”

Regulations in red are new this year.

Purple text indicates an important note.

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