Deer stands on the grass with "pet" painted on its side.
Jefferson County Sheriff's Office

'Pet' Whitetail Deer Appears In Missouri With Collar On, Sparks Concern

There are two major reasons officials are concerned here.

Deer are often reported to officials for getting their antlers caught on light strands or on swings, or getting their legs trapped in fences. However, right in the middle of their deer hunting season, the Missouri Department of Conservation received a rather bizarre phone call from a concerned citizen: They spotted a whitetail deer with a large collar slung around its neck and the word "PET" painted on its side in capital letters—two things we know that buck did not do to himself.  

Not surprisingly, the person's picture of the odd sight went viral on the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office Facebook page, and the deer didn't seem to mind posing for a picture while it grazed on grass. But when officials went down to the town of De Soto to investigate, the deer was gone. 

As to how the deer got its decoration, MDC Capt. Scott Corley told the Bellville News-Democrat, "Somebody most likely took that deer out of the wild as a fawn and tried to keep it as a pet and put a collar on it." Now officials are searching for the deer and are concerned about its overall well-being.

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There are a lot of reasons officials are concerned about someone potentially keeping a wild deer as a pet:

1. It Puts the Deer at Serious Risk

The MDC also has safety concerns about taking a deer out of the wild. At this point, officials believe that the deer is about 2 years old. "When they took him out of the wild his first year ... he didn't have all those hormones running through him," Corley said. During the rut, bucks can be dangerous and unpredictable while they fight off competitors for female deer attention.

However, this deer will have a dangerous combination. He will not have a fear of people. "Now, he can be aggressive, and it can cause problems," Corley said. Such a problem might rear its head (or antlers) for the agents who are trying to capture him. Corley told the outlet that if agents find him, they will take the collar off and attempt to introduce him back into the wild. However, if they cannot get him to stay away from people, the buck may have to be euthanized.

"We're going to protect the people, and if this deer is aggressive toward people, there's a possibility that would be an option," he said. "The last thing we want to happen is for somebody to get gored with an antler."

2. It Can Spread Chronic Wasting Disease

Additionally, Corley pointed out that taking a deer out of the wild could cause the spread of chronic wasting disease. "We're concerned with the health of the deer," Corley said. "And nowadays, since we have issues with chronic wasting disease and other disease issues, is not safe for humans, and it's not in the best interest of the animal's welfare." The MDC has been combating the deadly illness and working with conservation groups to limit its spread throughout the deer population, including working with hunters.

For hunters, there are just under 40 counties in the state with mandatory testing sites, including Jefferson County, where the deer was seen. The other counties have voluntary testing sites. Sampling only takes a few minutes and gives the MDC many samples to study, which will help their scientist pinpoint effects of CWD on deer and how many deer are contracting the disease. It can also highlight new areas where sick deer may be showing up. Hunters should not consume the meat of deer that test positive for CWD.

If you find a fawn alone in the wild, it's best to leave it there. Does often leave their fawns in a safe place and come back to them. Rarely are they actually abandoned. Do not try to touch it, take it in, or disturb it.

If you are concerned about a possibly abandoned fawn, call your local wildlife agency or deer conservation group. Certainly, don't adopt it and paint "pet" on it. "Obviously, they thought they were keeping it safe. Maybe going into hunting season, they thought painting 'pet' on it, somebody won't shoot it if it comes by," Corley said. "That's just not a good idea by any means."

READ MORE: Missouri Deer Hunting: All to Know About This Buck Buck Paradise