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'Bambigate': Indiana pair rescue deer, get snarled in legal woes

February 02, 2013|By Marisa Gerber
  • After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asked officials to reconsider, charges were dropped against a couple who rescued a whitetail fawn and kept it without a permit while nursing it back to health.
After Indiana Gov. Mike Pence asked officials to reconsider, charges were… (Michael Conroy / Associated…)

In Indiana, intrigue and outrage over "Bambigate" is coming to an end.

That's right: Bambigate -- the unofficial moniker for the case of an eastern Indiana couple who face misdemeanor “illegal possession of a whitetail deer” charges for keeping a fawn they rescued without a permit.

In 2010, Jeff Counceller reached out to an Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officer to say he’d found an injured fawn. He asked whether he and his wife, Jennifer, could get a permit to keep the animal, department spokesman Phil Bloom said.

Our officer responded that he could apply for a permit, but that they’re difficult to get and he reiterated that the best option was to put it back in the woods and leave it alone,” Bloom said.

The case was forgotten until last summer when the department got a call from a citizen saying the Councellers had a deer in a backyard pen. An officer went to their house and advised the couple they couldn’t keep the deer without a permit, Bloom said.

Because state law prohibits keeping wild animals without a permit and because the animal had been out of its natural habitat for so long, the department informed the couple that the deer would be picked up from their home and euthanized, Bloom said. But when an officer arrived for the deer, it was gone.

“Nobody seems to know why or where or how,” Bloom said. Then, the  “complexion of the case changed,” he said.

“Instead of us advising them and trying to work with these people, we went back to the letter of the law,” Bloom said. The office put together a case report and turned it over to the county prosecutor.

In a taped interview with the Indianapolis Star, Jennifer Counceller said she didn’t have any regrets.

“There’s things in the wilderness that you have no control over, but that was right in front of my eyes,” she said.

The case started to gain attention after John Waudby, an Indiana man who saw a television news story about the Councellers last week, started a Facebook page and an online petition asking local authorities to drop the charges. The petition boasted more than 40,000 signatures by Friday afternoon.

Waudby said he felt compelled by his “anger and outrage” to help spread the story.

“These people try to do something good and save the poor deer and they’re being persecuted,” Waudby said, adding that he’s had media requests from Afghanistan, Asia and Europe.

At a news conference Wednesday, Republican Gov. Mike Pence spoke briefly about the case -- comments that appear to have prompted a quick end to the deer odyssey.

“Look, we all admire compassion for an injured animal," the governor said. "Hoosiers cherish our animals, whether they’re our pets, our livestock or whether they’re wild animals."

Although Pence said the state laws need to be "fairly and impartially enforced," by Friday, the state's natural resources department announced that Pence had asked them to reevaluate the case. 

After their examination, officials asked prosecutors to drop the charges. 

As for the Councellers, they are just happy about how things fared for the fawn.

"We took in an injured little baby deer and rescued her and healed her and got her back out into the wild," Jennifer Counceller said.

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marisa.gerber@latimes.com

Twitter: @marisagerber

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