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Oh Deer, They're On The Horns Of A Dilemma

You spend time, energy and money on landscaping and flowers, on making your home a respite, a retreat. Then the deer come along and eat it all up. This happens again and again, and finally you go to the state and get yourself a wildlife damage-control permit, which means you can call up the man with the bow and arrow and have him come sit in a tree and take out the offending pests.

This is, according to your view of the world, either a simple matter of maintaining a reasonable balance between man and nature or a grievous abuse of man's power over the rest of the animal kingdom.

It's the sort of thing you can disagree about, maybe even get exercised about. But John and Carmela Peterson could not have imagined that their effort to save the landscaping outside their Great Falls home would result in all this: a letter from legendary TV game show host Bob Barker, pleading with the state of Virginia to liberate the deer "to tread their little path to the few remaining woods," and a statement by Ingrid Newkirk, founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, stating that there is hardly "anything more selfish, callous and cowardly than shooting a mother deer."

John Peterson was, in the view of some of his neighbors, preparing to kill animals who had as much right to tromp around Great Falls as the people who live on the area's two-acre lots. "None of us are farmers," says Martina Caputy, whose yard is adjacent to Peterson's. "We're not dependent on crops or anything like that. This was a senseless slaughter of the deer."

Caputy is married to Anthony Caputy, chief of neurosurgery at George Washington University Hospital. In 1999, he conducted successful surgery to unblock the carotid artery of Barker, longtime host of "The Price Is Right." So when Martina Caputy heard from the state game warden that "our neighbor had as much right to kill the deer as we have to enjoy them," she decided that she needed extra firepower on her side.

She rang up Barker, long known for lending his celebrity to animal-rights causes. From his California home, Barker dashed off a letter to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, waxing poetic about how the Great Falls deer "walk along an ancestral path that leads them to and from their sleeping place" and warning that if the state doesn't come on down and stop the hunt, "the children will be catatonic, the neighbors will be up in arms, the fawns will be orphans and the does will be dead" -- all "for the sake of a few flowers."

PETA's press operation leaped into action as well, alerting The Washington Post to the story and offering "an exclusive."

The state would not be swayed. In fact, says conservation officer Joe Landers, thinning the herd would be a public service. Landers inspected the Peterson property Wednesday and found "a lot of deer damage. His landscaping and garden were chewed down to nothing."

In fact, John Peterson says, "hunting was never our first choice." They tried deterrents, even considered a fence, but that would have required a variance from the county, which recommended that he try hunting. Peterson had hired the hunter several times before, resulting in two kills, both of which were donated to feed the homeless. (As it turns out, the Petersons are longtime PETA supporters; Mrs. Peterson once donated her car to the group.)

Although most kill permits are granted to nurseries, vineyards and farms where deer damage threatens people's livelihood, Landers says this permit was more than justified. (He adds that it's not clear whether hunting really shrinks the population: "It does not take long at all for the herd to bounce right back.")

"The herd in Northern Virginia has gotten to the point where the population is almost unsustainable," the officer says, "and we're risking having a major disease that wipes out far more deer than a controlled kill would."

Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA's vice president for cruelty investigations, scoffs at that. "That's the sound bite they usually give," she says. "This isn't a population issue, but a particular family of deer. This is Bambi. This is between the life of an animal and a few shrubs."

Rhetoric aside, animal-rights activists concede that the law is on the Petersons' side. So PETA is appealing for compassion. "The majority should rule," Nachminovitch argues. "Most of the neighbors love watching the animals. This is about the callousness of having someone with a bow just waiting to slice the mother in half and then watch it crawl into the woods to bleed to death."

"You've got to be kidding," Carmela Peterson responded when I told her that PETA and Barker were busy issuing news releases about her back yard. Assured that animal-rights people are not remotely the jesting sort, she got very quiet. But the Petersons met with neighbors, heard their concerns and decided that, as John says: "This is a real problem -- at times, we've had 11 or more deer in our yard -- but harmony with your neighbors is very important. We're not going to do the hunt."

Which Landers greets with a big sigh of relief. "Mr. Peterson rose to the occasion," the officer says. "People have pretty strong feelings about taking deer. I hope this is the end of this one."

I was hoping it might go on long enough for Barker to show up offering a fortune in fabulous prizes.

Actually, wildlife managers in many states endorse thinning the herd, and Peterson would have been entirely justified in charging ahead. But putting good relations with the neighbors first is a rare enough gesture these days that it ought to be celebrated, even if it does mean kissing the landscaping goodbye.

By Marc Fisher |  July 20, 2008; 9:47 AM ET
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Please the terrorist PETA and their AR rights supporters have got to sent to GITMO. What are the neighbors and the Peterson's going to do when some one comes down with Lyme or other tick borne diseases to include the nieghborhood dogs. Or Bambi runs out in front of someone's car cause damage to the car or injury or maybe death to the occupants. There are more deer in Fairfax County now then in 1750. I put a round in Bob Barker or any PETA terrorist that prevents from eleminating these pests. And Bob just shut up and chnge your depends we dont want to hear you on mandatory spay/neuter either. My property and I do what I want with it.
Currently PETA and their AR friends want to end hunting, rodeo., hunting trials, earthdog trials and herding trials.
And prevent my wife from wearing fear. Time to hunt PETA and AR supporters. Isnt it open season!

If PETA doesnt like hunts lets import more predators coyotes, wolfs and cougars! Oops they eat kids and foo foo dogs.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 20, 2008 12:49 PM

There is an area of balance here between the "lefties" PETA who thinks we are all Gods creatures and have a right to life, (wow, that's a bit of an interesting oxymoron) and those who believe we should kill all animals who make our life unbearable. (another interesting comparison)

Maybe I'll just stop right there!

Posted by: Hello | July 20, 2008 1:30 PM

The whole concept of animal rights is contrary to good environmentalism and preservation of ecosystems. In a natural system, the individual animal makes no difference. The health of the herd depends on the culling of individuals.

The populations of deer, beaver and other cute animals can get out of control w/o proper managment and there is NO area anywhere near Washington that is not managed by humans. We chose either to manage by neglect or intelligence.

Large deer populations are significant threats to forest health. They eat too many of the young trees and they tend to eat the ones that are most desirable in the natural environment.

We need to make hunting easier. There are too many deer in relation to their natural numbers and the capacity of the environment to support them. A few deer are cute. Too many deer are an infestation. A moderate number of deer is best.

Posted by: Broadnax | July 20, 2008 2:07 PM

Hey, cowardly anonymous writer, first of all I commend your writing and revision skills; second, rest assured, this is America and you're wife is encouraged to wear fear all over her, like a fur coat.

Posted by: Marco | July 20, 2008 2:42 PM

Deer are beautiful, gentle creatures, but we have removed their natural predators.

They also carry deer ticks, which have transmitted lime disease to me and also to my neighbor's dog.

And their build - with the long, slender legs and the high, full body makes them a deadly threat to any driver of any car that happens to unfortunately hit one. They end up going through your windshield.

The unfortunate truth is that if we don't manage and cull the deer herd, they will pose a growing threat to human health and safety. I could never stomach killing a deer, but I must acknowledge the need for others to do so.

Posted by: Mike | July 20, 2008 3:38 PM

The threat of an uncontrolled deer population is not to Mr. and Mrs. Peterson's landscaping, but to the entire ecosystem. Look around the Great Falls woods and you will see few young maple, oak, hickory, beech, ash or tulip tree saplings surviving the foraging deer to replace the mature trees as they die.
Most of the other wildlife which needs the undergrowth to survive has disappeared. Wood thrushes, the most awe inspiring singers of the forest, can no longer find nesting sites and the native wildflowers are eaten faster than the Peterson's flowers.
Since man is responsible for the absence of all natural deer predators, he has an obligation to control the population. The method of control might be debatable, but the necessity is not. If the PETA spokesperson thinks shooting a deer is "selfish, callous and cowardly", being responsible for the destruction of an entire ecosystem is worse.

Posted by: Tom | July 20, 2008 4:14 PM

Just a few comments. We humans have already ruined the ecosystem. When will humans control their own population? Like never. Maybe Lyme disease will do it. I don't mind hunting of deer. Done during the fall, after the rut and to the hunters please take out the females. To the first post just a small reminder you may have the right to do what you please on your property but you also have responsibility in that what you may do may affect your neighbor. So think before you write and learn to write correctly.

Posted by: Moon Otter | July 20, 2008 5:39 PM

My former neighbor was forced off her u pickem farm when the deer wiped her vegetable crop, two years in a row. When they also took the 5 acres of pumpkins she decided to quit.Her family had occupied that land since colonial times. This area has seen a population explosion among deer, and numbers that the land cannot sustain. Why the hunting season and bag limits are not expanded is a question that should be answered. It would be cheaper that paying the swat teams to kill them at O.T. rates, as we are currently doing.

Posted by: Lawrence | July 20, 2008 6:29 PM

Moon Otter makes excellent points. The human population desperately needs to be stabilized, and to head downward. Can't deer be neutered and then released? And why is the notion of free, safe, reliable contraception for humans never even discussed???

Posted by: enough humans, already | July 20, 2008 6:50 PM

Five words: venison is mighty good eatin.'

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 20, 2008 7:15 PM

Let's be realistic here.

Deer are really just large rats. They eat everything and spread disease. There are no large predators to take them out.

*THERE'S NOTHING GOOD ABOUT THE DEER*. They're not cute. They don't have "feelings", there is no maternal "bond" beyond what their genetics have programmed into them. They're literally nothing but eating and reproductive machines.

Just shoot the g*d*mned things and let's act like adults instead of fawning children.

Oh, and Bob Barker is well past time to be put in a home. Hopefully with a few deer to introduce him firsthand to the joy of lymes disease.

One last thing. BAMBI WAS A FREAKIN' BOY IN THE FILM. WHY DO PEOPLE NAME GIRLS BAMBI? ANSWER: Because people are generally stupid.

Posted by: Ombudsman | July 20, 2008 8:59 PM

PETA's facts, as usual, are wrong. There are far, far more deer around today than in pre-European America. Why? Deer are an edge species, adapted to the edge between forest and open land, a type of ecosystem that is rare and temporary in nature but common and artificially permanent around human settlement. And there is far, far more forest, both deep forest and edged forest, on the East Coast today than 100 years ago, because the average person buys his wood rather than logging it locally. So there are more deer.

Humans were, for 10,000 years at the minimum, deer's primary predator on the East Coast. There is nothing ecologically strange about humans killing deer now. I agree that we need to get the human population under control, but our failure to do that does not excuse a similar failure to get the deer population under control.

Posted by: RowerinVa | July 20, 2008 9:11 PM

Maybe now the state will give the Peterson family a variance on the regulations and allow them to build a fence.

And let the neighbors and Bob Barker pay for it. If they really want to save "Bambi" and his family, let them put their money where their mouth is.

Posted by: DC Voter | July 21, 2008 7:28 AM

"The majority should rule,"

Damn right! Why, I remember when the majority thought that all the wogs, black folk, and other undesirables should be kept out of places like Great Falls! But the majority didn't rule!

But it's nice to see that PETA supports the idea of untrammeled majority rule.

Posted by: wiredog | July 21, 2008 7:59 AM

How sad is it that people have to hire a hunter rather than just doing it themselves. Plus I did not know that you needed a permit to kill deer on your own land. Their neighbors will be against this until they hit one or it starts eating their plants.

Posted by: Stick | July 21, 2008 9:24 AM

"How sad is it that people have to hire a hunter rather than just doing it themselves."

Why is this sad? At least with a hunter, there's a much better chance of the deer been killed quickly, and not lingering in agonizing pain from a poor shot.

Posted by: Spectator2 | July 21, 2008 10:40 AM

I love the way people get upset about the quick death that a deer will undergo at the hands of a professional hunter, but they have no concerns about deer starving to death due to herd over-population, land deforestation, or dying of disease. Too bad those homeowners didn't have the guts to stand up to PETA.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | July 21, 2008 10:43 AM

I totally agree DEER ARE VERMIN -- yes, cuter and more photogenic than rats or roaches, but effectively the same. Would any of us hesitate to kill a rodent that ran across our countertop? Then why the problem with landowners stopping disease-spreading rats-on-stilts from coming onto their property?

Enough Humans - Deer Contraception techniques have been tried and failed. Fencing has had some success. Spraying a bit more. But the deer population is exploding and that is not easily contained.

Posted by: Kathy J | July 21, 2008 11:36 AM

mmmmmmm venison steaks

Posted by: nall92 | July 21, 2008 12:54 PM

We live on nearly two acres in Maryland, with our back border tucked against a state park. To establish my bona fides, let me state that I don't hunt, I'm a long standing contributor to the NWF, and I grew up hiking and camping. I consider my inability to plant certain kinds of ornamental flowers (without coming out the next morning seeing them cropped as though with scissors) to go with the territory of living so close to nature.

And I am here to say there is nothing humane about seeing dead fawns by the side of the road every week, killed by cars. There's nothing animal-loving about watching these lovely creatures die of disease. The tick population is higher here than in any of the rural areas in which I've lived.

Any hunter that asks permission to hunt my back acre (and promises to do the butchering offsite) will get it with my blessing.

Posted by: Sanya | July 21, 2008 1:27 PM

I can't help but remark on the absolute stupidity of the average PETA mentality. This neighbor's description of deer being "cut in half" and "crawling off into the woods to die", are as foolishly cartoonish as her views toward the world around her. They were hilarious, ridiculous, and yet, sadly typical. Obviously, money can't buy everything. Case in point - with an overwhelming propensity for emotionalism and drama, this woman shows a complete lack of common sense as she proudly displays her obvious ignorance. She furthers her display by inviting Bob Barker's even more bizarre views. Wow! Talk about being out of touch with reality!

The neighbor has won nothing; the Petersons are well grounded and, in spite of their solid legal and moral standing, will forego rubbing salt onto this nutjob's raw nerves...for now. Unfortunately for this neighbor, she may have stepped beyond the legal line in other respects and may be faced with pending legal action...before the "slaughter" resumes, of course. That will give her something of more importance to focus on in the meantime....{{smile}}.

What amazes me most in stories like this is how far American suburbanites have come from the old adage that, "You'd best mind your own business". Guaranteed, if the Petersons voiced opposition to this clucking hen growing corn in her back yard (or whatever), she'd be thoroughly incensed and outraged at the invasion of her privacy. The numerous ironies in this story had me laughing and shaking my head. PETA, Bob Barker and the good doctor's career, are each irrelevant to the real base issue within this story, which is the freedom and privacy to do as you please (within the law, of course) on your own property.

Well written - well done. Thank you.

Posted by: Bogenschütze | July 21, 2008 5:17 PM

Now that the Petersons have decided not to go through with the hunt, the neighbors ought to reciprocate in a neighborly way: Chip in as much as necessary to reimburse them for the destroyed landscaping. My guess is 10 to 20K in Northern VA.

Posted by: Mark | July 21, 2008 5:30 PM

Tom's post above was spot-on correct. It's nice to see so many well informed and rational people posting comments, many of whom are non-hunters, yet supportive. As an experienced bowhunter, I'd like to personally thank each of you.

Lawrence: The regulations have been expanded and extended this year. In a nutshell, deer season will open on September 6th and continue - in one form or another - through March 28th. This is effective in the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Fauquier, with focus being on Does ONLY (anything without antlers, really) from 6 September - 4 October, and 6 January - 28 March. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) is doing everything it can to get the Northern Virginia deer herd under control.

Regarding your friend who was forced off the pick-your-own farm, talk to Sam & Uta Brown, who own Purcellville's Crooked Creek orchard and farm (also pick-your-own). Sam's 100+ year old family business was all but saved by bowhunters from an overwhelming deer herd ....and the Browns maintain a year-round supply of fresh venison, too boot! Sorry for your friend's loss...that must have been painful.

Stick: To clarify, you do not need a license to kill deer on your own property, but you may do so only within the legally established seasons for hunting deer. (Conversely, if it's not your personal or family property, you must be licensed.) On the other hand, this "permit" being discussed is an official "Kill Permit", which allows deer to be taken outside of the regular hunting seasons.

RE: People who don't harvest the deer themselves; Sad, maybe - surprising?, not at all. Suburbanites don't kill their own livestock either....but they eat one heck of a lot of beef, pork and chicken each year, huh? Funny that they'll do that, but get outraged over someone who kills what they eat.

WashingtonDame: Don't be too hard on the Petersons. There are relationships and considerations involved that are not shared in the story. Their decision was based on immediate priorities. As I'm sure you're well aware, priorities change with time and circumstance.

Posted by: Bogenschütze | July 21, 2008 6:16 PM

There are 40 times more white-tailed deer now than ever before. That's what Brad and Janet tell the whole class in this streaming video. So goofy it's funny:

Posted by: Mike Licht | July 22, 2008 4:10 AM

Mike: Goofy? Oh, really? And you contend differently? Okay, on what basis? The evidence supports the information provided in this video. What information do you have to dispute it with?

While you're at it, tell us this: What is they primary difference between a Conservationist and a Preservationist and, what are the pros and cons of either?

Once you work that out, pray tell, WHO are the Preservationists, and who are the Conservationists?

I'm not a fan of the high school level of instruction on this video (the only aspect I do find "goofy"), but agree with it's content, as I know it to be factual. You can sniff at it all you like, but you can't change facts. Sorry....not!

Now, go back, watch the goofy video, and try to actually learn something, genius.

Posted by: Bogenschütze | July 22, 2008 8:40 AM

I am an avid gardener living adjacent to parkland with many deer who regularly visit my yard. I use bamboo poles and a fine mesh netting ("Bird Block") to keep the deer from the plants I don't want them to eat. It is inexpensive, barely noticeable, and works beautifully. Even if they ate up all of my beloved plants I would not want the deer harmed. The deer are sentient beings, the flowers are not. There are also plenty of beautiful plants that deer will not ordinarily eat.

Posted by: MaryF | July 22, 2008 1:29 PM

Deer are not vermin they have as much right to life as any other species on this planet. The ´let´s just kill them` folk just show the complete lack of empathy in regard to any lifeform that interferes with their self centered wholesome happy lives. There are so many other ways to resolve things like this, after all when there is really a will there will always be a way.

Posted by: Rosiewoods | July 22, 2008 1:52 PM


What a ridiculous notion. Do you really contend that every life is equal? How about rats? When they're hanging out in back of a restaurant, do you think "Oh my, they have that right". When cockroaches invade your house do you think "Well, these are the equal of me".

When a mosquito tries to bite you and you kill it, have you committed murder? If a deer tick landed on your child and gave it a horrible disease, would you think, "Well, this tick is the same as my child, and it has a right to suck his blood".

If you have deer carrying this disease into your life, if you have deer running into cars and causing accidents killing people, do you blithely say "Oh goodness, well, the deer had as much right to live its life as I do. Let's find a way around it. We hold a summit with the deer".

I have to hope that you're kidding. I cannot believe a rational adult would hold such a jejune viewpoint.

Posted by: Ombudsman | July 22, 2008 7:30 PM

Posted by: Bill | July 22, 2008 7:42 PM

Hmm not sure if they have a severe whitetail problem in Beverly Hills or not even Rodeo drive never heard of a collision with a whitetail most of those multi millionaires out there have very high walls around there mansions so I dont really think that there hostas,azaleas,tulips,and other plants and flowers are getting destroyed by deer that are just getting there FAVORITE FOODS. Cmon down Bob and see the reality of LYME Disease,or human fatalitys from automobile collisions in an area that is overrun with deer.I am sure that Conservation officer JOE did the right thing in issuing a damage permit.Secondly Does P.E.T.A. do anything to help the wildlife other than talk?In a real harsh winter when the trees are browsed up as high as a deer can reach and the young have nothing to eat,where is peta to help these poor animals out with food THEY STARVE THEY GET HIT BY CARS WONDERING INTO COMMUNITIES SEARCHING FOR FOOD THEY END UP WITH CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE WHICH eats away at them like cancer which if not monitered will destroy a very large population of deer more than any hunting season.At least with the kill permits it is my understanding that most of the venison goes to help feed the hungary.Some organizations instead of talking down people about certain practices or wanting the closure of part of a beach to off road vehicles,Should figure out a way other than to violate our rights.Kids have the right to play outside without having to fear deer ticks or even not able to play in there own yard cause its covered in deer poop well thats all i got to say bout that

Posted by: kyle | July 22, 2008 11:25 PM

Me like deer meat! Yeagh!

Posted by: Bizarro | July 23, 2008 10:54 AM

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