Kansas making new guidelines for handling wildlife pets

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas is working on new guidelines for how to handle situations where a wild animal is being kept as a pet after game wardens were criticized for shooting a family’s pet deer.

It is illegal in Kansas to keep a wild animal as a pet. Wildlife officials said they shot the Mark and Kim Mcgaughey family’s deer, named Faline, out of concern it could hurt people or spread disease. The family’s videotape of the Dec. 19 shooting in rural Ulysses drew national attention, and some state lawmakers asked Robin Jennison, secretary of the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism, about the shooting this past week.

The department was criticized for shooting the deer within an hour of giving Kim Mcgaughey a citation at her workplace, which she said didn’t give her time to prepare her family for losing the deer or to research her legal rights. The family had kept the deer as a pet for nearly two years.

“Clearly things could have been handled much better in the field,” Jennison said. “It was a bad deal, and our agency has a responsibility to learn from it. We need to get some clear policies in place to help our officers in the field.”

Jennison and Mark Rankin, Wildlife and Parks law enforcement assistant director, said the three game wardens who went to the Mcgaugheys’ home acted legally. But Jennison said he wants a better way to react to such situations, noting he’s not sure who made the decision to shoot the deer. He also wants to know why the game wardens, who had known about the deer for a week after the department received a complaint, felt they had to shoot it immediately.

Wildlife experts said the wardens had few options. For example, zoos and pet sanctuaries were unlikely to take the deer because of concern about the possible spread of chronic wasting disease.

“We absolutely would not have taken that animal,” said Ryan VanZant, the zoo’s director. “We have a rehabilitation center, but we don’t take raccoons, skunks or deer because of disease concerns.”

VanZant said the deer wouldn’t have been a good fit at a petting zoo because it was still a wild animal that could become dangerous.

“They’re nice until they’re not, and if they feel threatened, nature takes over,” he said. “A big kick to the throat or something will kill you real fast.”

The mule deer wouldn’t have qualified for any of the state’s wildlife rehabilitation centers because it wasn’t seriously injured and the agency has asked rehab centers not to accept deer because of disease concerns, Rankin said.

The game wardens didn’t have good equipment to catch and move the deer, Rankin said, but they wouldn’t have moved it anyway.

“You move the animal and turn it loose, and that night you get a call from someone else who’s having a problem with that animal,” he said. “There are no easy answers.”