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'Yes, dear' has whole new meaning for family raising white-tail deer in their home

By jim Published: January 3, 2010

By George W. Davis
Special to the Beacon Journal

LAWRENCE TWP.: Raising an unassuming 6-year-old, who came within minutes of dying three days after birth, isn't an easy task for anyone, especially when she already has earned worldwide notoriety.

The young lady, who dominates the family's eight-room, two-story home on five acres just south of Canal Fulton, has her own bedroom and bed, a 2-acre fenced-in outdoor playground, an in-ground swimming pool and two masters who love her like a precious child.

The blessed youngster is a domesticated, farm-bred, white-tail deer, who was brought to veterinarian Melanie Butera and her husband of 20 years, Steve Heathman, in 2003 by a Brewster-area deer farmer. He gave the doe to Butera, hoping the veterinarian somehow could produce a miracle for the 41/2-pound fawn who now weighs ''about 180 pounds.''

That miracle, now known from ''Mayberry'' (as Butera calls her three-bedroom abode) to Russia and throughout the world on YouTube and Facebook, is ''Dillie'' the doe, whose real name is Daffodil.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division tags and closely watches Dillie, who can't play with other deer because that would be illegal, Butera explained. She has been permitted to raise Dillie because the doe was born on a deer farm, not in the wild.

The veterinarian said her ''baby,'' who lives and plays with Lady, a standard black poodle, two cats and Screamie, a Sun Conure bird capable of flying, wears a GPS device on her collar so the couple can track her whether inside or outside with their computer.

''If she ever were to get out of the fence, she has to be found immediately, because if away for more than 24 hours you have to notify the wildlife officer, who will come and destroy her,'' Butera said.

''She can't mix with wild deer, and they can't come into the yard,'' said Heathman, who erected an 8-foot fence for Dillie and built a barn addition when the doe arrived.

The deer's fame erupted this past fall, when Butera entered a video of Dillie's activities for a national contest sponsored by Zoombak, the maker of the GPS unit Dillie wears.

A half day after beating the entry deadline, the couple was notified they had won the $1,000 top prize. When national media learned of the rare circumstances, the lives of Dillie and her caregivers were turned upside down.

Butera said Dillie is believed to be one of the few — if not only — deer living in a house as opposed to a barn.

To accommodate hordes of curiosity seekers who wanted Dillie T-shirts and other souvenirs, Butera and Heathman went online at Cafepress.com. All profits from the T-shirts are given to the United Disability Services Low Vision Clinic in Akron, Butera said.

''When we brought her home from the hospital [Butera then owned the Stark Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Canton], we kept her in the house because she was so small and needed around-the-clock care since the deer farmer said the mother never nursed her as one of a set of triplets.

''By the time she was strong enough to be housed in the barn where we had horses, she immediately became so terrified of them that she ran right into a wall. So the only answer was to continue letting her live in the house with us and the house pets. She shows no interest even now in living outdoors because she has become so attached to Steve, who feeds her and walks her twice daily around the fenced-in playground without a leash. ''She became so acclimated to the house and us that she's no more trouble than a dog,'' Butera said.

Her daily routine is like clockwork, Heathman said.

He is awakened by Dillie at 5 a.m. to go outside.

''She doesn't wake me at 5:01 or 4:59, but right at 5 a.m. It's like she has a built-in alarm that I haven't been able to detect,'' he said.

Dillie primarily lives on fresh hay, grain and daily salads, usually made by Heathman, plus a variety of small treats such as ice cream, whipped cream on ice cubes and anything else she likes that she can reach on the table or countertop.

''She doesn't really do tricks like some other animals,'' Butera said, ''but she does play with our pets, flips light switches on and off and has learned how to push the lever on the refrigerator door when she wants an ice cube.''

Since Zoombak hailed Dillie's antics, national and international media have been contacting the owners for videos and good-news stories about the unusual arrangement. Many have seen video on the Internet but still can't resist seeing for themselves.

One freelance photographer shot more than 4,000 photos of Dillie during a two-day visit, Heathman said.

Neighbors often visit because they enjoy petting and seeing the friendly pet, who will lick one's face and hands, especially if wearing lotion.

One visitor had her ear nibbled and her face licked repeatedly because her lotion was made of goat's milk, which helped Dillie survive as a fawn.

Asked if she'd do it over again for another deer, Butera, who owns the Elm Ridge Animal Hospital in Canal Fulton, said, ''I would try to save the animal, but she'd be living in the barn, not the house.''

Dillie, a whitetail deer, who lives with Steve Heathman and Melanie Butera at their home, settles in for a nap in her upstairs bedroom. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)
View more photos>>

LAWRENCE TWP.: Raising an unassuming 6-year-old, who came within minutes of dying three days after birth, isn't an easy task for anyone, especially when she already has earned worldwide notoriety.

The young lady, who dominates the family's eight-room, two-story home on five acres just south of Canal Fulton, has her own bedroom and bed, a 2-acre fenced-in outdoor playground, an in-ground swimming pool and two masters who love her like a precious child.

The blessed youngster is a domesticated, farm-bred, white-tail deer, who was brought to veterinarian Melanie Butera and her husband of 20 years, Steve Heathman, in 2003 by a Brewster-area deer farmer. He gave the doe to Butera, hoping the veterinarian somehow could produce a miracle for the 41/2-pound fawn who now weighs ''about 180 pounds.''

That miracle, now known from ''Mayberry'' (as Butera calls her three-bedroom abode) to Russia and throughout the world on YouTube and Facebook, is ''Dillie'' the doe, whose real name is Daffodil.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Division tags and closely watches Dillie, who can't play with other deer because that would be illegal, Butera explained. She has been permitted to raise Dillie because the doe was born on a deer farm, not in the wild.

The veterinarian said her ''baby,'' who lives and plays with Lady, a standard black poodle, two cats and Screamie, a Sun Conure bird capable of flying, wears a GPS device on her collar so the couple can track her whether inside or outside with their computer.

''If she ever were to get out of the fence, she has to be found immediately, because if away for more than 24 hours you have to notify the wildlife officer, who will come and destroy her,'' Butera said.

''She can't mix with wild deer, and they can't come into the yard,'' said Heathman, who erected an 8-foot fence for Dillie and built a barn addition when the doe arrived.

The deer's fame erupted this past fall, when Butera entered a video of Dillie's activities for a national contest sponsored by Zoombak, the maker of the GPS unit Dillie wears.

A half day after beating the entry deadline, the couple was notified they had won the $1,000 top prize. When national media learned of the rare circumstances, the lives of Dillie and her caregivers were turned upside down.

Butera said Dillie is believed to be one of the few — if not only — deer living in a house as opposed to a barn.

To accommodate hordes of curiosity seekers who wanted Dillie T-shirts and other souvenirs, Butera and Heathman went online at Cafepress.com. All profits from the T-shirts are given to the United Disability Services Low Vision Clinic in Akron, Butera said.

''When we brought her home from the hospital [Butera then owned the Stark Emergency Veterinary Clinic in Canton], we kept her in the house because she was so small and needed around-the-clock care since the deer farmer said the mother never nursed her as one of a set of triplets.

''By the time she was strong enough to be housed in the barn where we had horses, she immediately became so terrified of them that she ran right into a wall. So the only answer was to continue letting her live in the house with us and the house pets. She shows no interest even now in living outdoors because she has become so attached to Steve, who feeds her and walks her twice daily around the fenced-in playground without a leash. ''She became so acclimated to the house and us that she's no more trouble than a dog,'' Butera said.

Her daily routine is like clockwork, Heathman said.

He is awakened by Dillie at 5 a.m. to go outside.

''She doesn't wake me at 5:01 or 4:59, but right at 5 a.m. It's like she has a built-in alarm that I haven't been able to detect,'' he said.

Dillie primarily lives on fresh hay, grain and daily salads, usually made by Heathman, plus a variety of small treats such as ice cream, whipped cream on ice cubes and anything else she likes that she can reach on the table or countertop.

''She doesn't really do tricks like some other animals,'' Butera said, ''but she does play with our pets, flips light switches on and off and has learned how to push the lever on the refrigerator door when she wants an ice cube.''

Since Zoombak hailed Dillie's antics, national and international media have been contacting the owners for videos and good-news stories about the unusual arrangement. Many have seen video on the Internet but still can't resist seeing for themselves.

One freelance photographer shot more than 4,000 photos of Dillie during a two-day visit, Heathman said.

Neighbors often visit because they enjoy petting and seeing the friendly pet, who will lick one's face and hands, especially if wearing lotion.

One visitor had her ear nibbled and her face licked repeatedly because her lotion was made of goat's milk, which helped Dillie survive as a fawn.

Asked if she'd do it over again for another deer, Butera, who owns the Elm Ridge Animal Hospital in Canal Fulton, said, ''I would try to save the animal, but she'd be living in the barn, not the house.''

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