The thumps and scrapes woke me at 2 a.m., signaling wildlife mayhem of the bigger-than-a-mouse variety.
Unwilling to face raccoon or squirrel invaders at that hour, I waited until Thursday morning to tramp through the deep snow around the house -- and was shocked to find a doe wedged in a basement window well, with just her head rising above ground level. Seeing me, she lurched upward, but couldn't unfold her legs enough to step out.
Plenty of deer share our neighborhood near Barrington. They're used to humans, barely bothering to move until someone comes within a few yards. I'd seen them stand up to dogs and knew a kick was dangerous, but this doe's legs were trapped beneath her. And that was the problem.
I left a message seeking help at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, one of the last things I did right, as I learned later.
My husband Tim and I returned to the deer's side. I plotted a rescue attempt, while he pleaded for caution. But failing to act soon would mean death for the deer, I feared.
The deer didn't struggle. It stayed calm, probably exhausted, but I could actually hear its heart beat. It was beautiful -- inches-long eyelashes, snow sparkling on its rough coat. I took no photos, not wanting reminders of a predicament that seemed unlikely to end happily.
As my husband took a good look from inside the basement window, I cleared snow and decided we could try hoisting the deer out IF we could get something around its midsection.
But the deer was lying on its tightly folded legs, leaving no gap that I could see. Eventually, I touched the deer's flank. It didn't flinch. I snaked a hand around the deer, and gradually, hesitantly, pulled beneath it an old fabric baby crib bumper I'd set aside for the trash.
Tim and I grabbed the ends. We pulled, and the deer heaved upward -- and out of the hole. It leapt toward the woods, showing no sign of injuries from its struggle or from the broken plastic window well cover.
When Dawn Keller, Flint Creek's founder and director, called back, she shared in our delight -- but later told me what I should have done. That boiled down to leaving it to professional wildlife rehabilitators like her.
Not to be confused with wildlife removal services that euthanize many animals, not-for-profit licensed wildlife rehabbers operate on donations and share a goal of returning animals to the wild, said Keller. She directs Flint Creek operations in Barrington, Itasca and Chicago, and currently houses Holly, a recovering coyote rescued in December from an ice floe in Lake Michigan.
Keller said she would have asked me to send photos so she could assess the emergency. Volunteer rescuers possibly would have anesthetized the deer to get it out of the window well, she said.
"A deer obviously can kick with quite a bit of force," she noted.
Flint Creek's website, flintcreekwildlife.org, contains a lot of information for those who find injured wild animals plus names of other wildlife rehabbers, including Willowbrook Wildlife Center in Glen Ellyn and Fox Valley Wildlife Center in Elburn.
As for our deer, it's probably the same one I'd photographed days before as it chewed on shrubbery just next to where it fell in.
It can have the bushes. But plywood now tops our window wells until we can shop for sturdier covers.