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Karen O'Keefe of "On Second Glance"

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Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist... Read more

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baby deer

“Deer” Me — A Warning About Assumptions

baby deer

Photo by John Ready

Have you ever assumed a situation was hopeless because “the government” or “somebody” besides you – you being powerless — has determined that things are not going to change?

I have.

Take the case of the baby deer locked in a small, chain-link-enclosed, densely wooded area around a stormwater management (SWM) pond at the top of my street.

There’s no question that the profusion of deer in the midst of densifying suburban Montgomery County is annoying. In our yard, the  animals have never even been delayed in their forage by a so-called “deer-resistant plant.”  With the exception of the weeds, they eat everything that grows.

Nevertheless, sharing space as we do; it’s hard not to care about the deer.

Earlier this summer, a doe gave birth to twins inside the safety of the woodsy enclosure.

My husband John and I – as well as some of our neighbors — noticed the daily appearance of an adult female deer standing in broad daylight, outside the fenced enclosure, gazing in.

We followed her gaze to two spindly-legged fawns inside, at the double-padlocked gate.

Our hearts ached.

Clearly, mom can jump the fence – and has — but her speckled offspring cannot. How will they learn?

I tried to ignore the situation but even when the doe was not on the outside looking in, the fawns would be by the gate, looking out.

Sometimes, when I closed my eyes at night, I could see the fawns — their soft reddish fur marked with sweet rows of small white squares — standing by the gate with its two ugly locks.

“Don’t worry,” my husband assured me. “They’ll jump the fence when they get older. It’s instinct.”

I didn’t believe him. This was surely a case of “instinct interruptus” — and what did an engineer like him, know about that?

I began to believe that eventually, the fawns would starve. Certainly, even if John was correct, their social development would be stunted.

For reasons I chose not to explore, I felt empathy with the fawns.

I began to have insane, illegal, eco-heroic ideations.

I could buy some of those clippers criminals use on TV to snap padlocks…

But there would be problems.

Say, I executed the caper. Later, I knew I would be unable to resist blogging about it in the “hypothetical.”

Even if I claimed I had merely written about the idea and someone else did the deed, could law enforcement claim I incited the deed?

I tried to forget. Tried to be like my husband – the fawns’ plight certainly hadn’t bothered him.

One day I noticed my husband rummaging in the refrigerator.

“Do we have any carrots?” he asked casually.

“I’ll peel one for you,” I offered.

“ That’s okay,” he said. “No need to peel them.”

I stared at him.  He had just returned from walking the dog. If he’d taken his regular route, he had passed the deer.

“You’re going to feed them?” I asked incredulously.

“One time won’t hurt them,” he responded.

We were both slipping beyond reason.

Hopelessly, I ‘Googled’ “fenced SWM enclosures.” Maybe others had faced the problem that was plaguing us.

The first information to come up was about a wondrous place called, “Rochester, Minnesota.” SWM ponds are not fenced in Rochester.

Oh, why couldn’t we live there?

Finally, set to write this blog — and to call it: “In Praise of Rochester,” I phoned the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection to confirm what I already knew – that the law required that all SWM ponds in the county be fenced — and to ask whether the baby deer situation had arisen in other enclosures.

When I told the woman who took the call about the baby deer, she murmured, “Oh the poor things.”

She asked me to hold while she transferred me.  While on hold, my suspicious side took over.  I visualized her sitting at her desk and laughing — as she attempted to gasp out the reason for my call — to a jaded coworker, accustomed to media inquiries.

The next voice I heard belonged to Amy Stevens, Montgomery County Manager, Stormwater Management Facilities Maintenance program.

 There are no laws in the county requiring fences around stormwater management facilities, Stevens told me.  “That requirement changed long ago.”

However, she said, the law does require that “a visible warning sign” be posted at the pond site and referred me to Section 36.3 of the Montgomery County Code.

After ascertaining that the property on which the pond was located belonged to the county, Ms. Stevens said she would take action to have the padlock removed from the gate and the gate opened so the animals could leave the enclosure.

A miracle.

I needed a lesson about assumptions — and from the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection — today, I got that.

I learned a lesson about making an assumption that something is hopeless. I was so sure the fawns were doomed; positive that the locks on the gate would be there forever. 

I am also grateful that in Montgomery County, we have caring individuals like Amy Stevens and the folks she works with, doing the public’s work.

Sometimes it’s so good to be wrong.




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Karen O'Keefe

About Karen O'Keefe

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist for The Town Courier, an independent biweekly newspaper based in Gaithersburg. Her blog, “On Second Glance,” explores everyday life and current events with insight, grace and humor.


12 Responses to ““Deer” Me — A Warning About Assumptions”

  1. On August 14, 2012 at 4:59 pm responded with... #

    Very good article, with compassion for the four-legged residents of Gaithersburg!
    We are so glad that the writer was able to help solve a creature’s dilemma.

    • On August 22, 2012 at 10:02 am responded with... #

      John and I got several belly laughs. You’re a GREAT writer and we’ll look forward to the next one. By the way, we’ve seen those fawns on your side of our fence 🙂

      • Karen O'Keefe
        On August 22, 2012 at 6:12 pm responded with... #

        No good deed…

  2. On August 14, 2012 at 6:48 pm responded with... #

    Dear Ms. O’Keefe,

    Great article. You pulled on my heart strings!!
    You should write a book. It would certainly be a best seller. And I would be honored to read your book for audio!!

  3. On August 15, 2012 at 5:51 pm responded with... #

    Articulate and very well written. This should teach us that sometimes the government does work for us. I wonder how my brother-in-law feels about fencing out wild animals? (He lives in Co.)

  4. On August 15, 2012 at 10:02 pm responded with... #

    Now I thought you were going to say that you and your husband cut a hole in the fence to let the deer out and got busted for – vandalism but I guess your way was ok too. Good job!

  5. On August 17, 2012 at 9:27 am responded with... #

    Beautiful and caring article. Well written. Great job!

  6. On August 17, 2012 at 10:13 am responded with... #

    Great job! Love the story. Government in action doing the right thing.
    You can blog from the Cape too you know!! LOL

  7. On August 17, 2012 at 5:26 pm responded with... #

    Love this story!!

  8. On August 18, 2012 at 10:01 pm responded with... #

    Great article!

  9. On August 21, 2012 at 1:47 pm responded with... #

    Ms. O’Keefe,

    You are a truly compassionate soul. After my run-in (literally) with a deer while driving I kind of lost my love for the creatures!! However your article is helping me move on in a more positive way. I guess it’s time to let my ill will toward the animals become part of the past. On another note, your writing is wonderful! I too, would love to narrate any bestseller you write.

  10. On August 21, 2012 at 6:17 pm responded with... #

    Liked your article. Is there a way I can get Karen’s blogs to my email address?

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