Gary Brown: Remembering Dillie the Deer

Gary Brown
Gary Brown

I am proud to say I met the late Dillie the Deer.

And, I am happy to say that our meeting back in Spring 2013 went well. I petted her head and neck as she laid on, then stood near, her bed in her own room in the home of veterinarian Melanie Butera and her husband, Steve Heathman. As I recall, I scratched under her chin and behind her ears, then stroked the fur on her forehead. I like to think she appreciated it.

I also am honored to recall that I wrote a story about this blind and abandoned doe who was rescued by a Canal Fulton couple as a struggling fawn and allowed to live for almost two decades in their home.

So, I am saddened to learn, like legions of other "dear" friends of Dillie who have watched her through the years on the "Dillie Cam" installed in the deer's second-floor bedroom, that the 18-year-old domesticated animal has died.

She lived a good life, a comparitively long life. A newspaper obituary written by Benjamin Duer appearing after her passing noted that "most white-tailed deer, like Dillie, have an average lifespan of two to three years." Dillie even outlived the 16-or-so-year lifespan of deer in captivity, Duer reported, citing statistics from the University of Michigan.

Fit into the family

Dillie's life was one filled with relationships not only with Butera and Heathman, but also the couple's pets and a host of family members, friends, neighbors and nosy media people such as myself. Dillie seemed especially fond of children, but welcomed the attention of visitors of all ages.

"She seems to remember people," Heathman had said at the time I wrote the newspaper article, which was about a book – "Dillie the Deer: Love on Hooves" – that Butera had written about the experience of nursing back to health and fostering a four-legged creature from the wild. "She remembers my friends when they come over."

I would like to think she remembered me, because after an initial few minutes of cautious curiosity about this guy who came to her with pen and pad in hand, she reacted to me like I was a long-lost friend.

Of course, I was feeding her some vegetables that Butera and Heathman had provided to me. As is the case with many humans, the way to a deer's heart apparently was through her stomach.

Dillie, I guess, was people, too, as they say about cherished animals.

Was one-time meeting

I never saw Dillie again, in person. As we often regret after the death of a friend, I wish I had made the effort to get together again.

Still, I had kept in touch.

From time to time I would pick up Butera's book, and re-read portions of it.

And, I frequently would tune in to "Dillie Cam," to see what the deer was up to in her bedroom, if she wasn't outside in a protected area of the family's yard.

In recent years, while scrolling through social media, I often had stumbled upon the "Dillie the Deer" Facebook private group page in my news feed on which Heathman greeted viewers of live morning videos showing him "waking up" with Dillie in her bedroom or on the porch or near the family pool, starting his day with deer nearby.

That closeness is, perhaps, why Heathman has taken Dillie's passing especially hard, according to a posting by Butera on that "Dillie the Deer" group page.

"Steve headed back to bed," she wrote at the middle of last week to members of the group who might have wondered why there was no morning video. "He says he'll try to check in later."

He wasn't alone in mourning. Many members of the group posted words of condolences and photos of themselves with Dillie. Heathman saw and said he deeply appreciated the messages.

"I want to say thank you for all the thoughs and prayers for Dillie," he posted. "All your posts have helped so much."

Reach Gary at On Twitter: @gbrownREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Gary Brown: Remembering Dillie the Deer