A state agency has charged a Champaign County man for allowing his captive deer to roam free, citing a concern about spreading a deadly disease.
Philip Morrow lives on Short Road and owns about 20 fallow deer, which are most commonly found in Europe. Three escaped last month and a concerned neighbor called the Champaign County wildlife officer to report the deer, fearing that the animals could spread diseases to the general deer population.
Morrow is scheduled to go to court in May for charges of failure to prevent the escape of deer.
Domesticated deer can spread chronic wasting disease, state Wildlife Officer Josh Shields said. That’s a neurological illness that almost always ends with death for the deer, he said, and is similar to how mad cow disease affects cattle.
“We know these facilities have the potential (to be a) disease concern as a pathway to our wild heard,” he said.
Wildlife officers killed the three deer that escaped from Morrow’s property in March and they are getting tested for the disease through the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Anytime a captive deer is loose for more than three days, the state agency requires officers to kill it and bring it back for testing, Shields said.
The officers didn’t need to shoot the deer, Morrow said, because they were right across the street from his home. His immediate neighbors are familiar with his animals getting out and said he doesn’t believe his deer carry any diseases.
Morrow said he raises them for his enjoyment and has been buying and selling livestock for 60 years.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has increased its monitoring of the native deer population after two captive animals in Holmes County have been diagnosed with chronic wasting disease.
“It is something that is not going to go away now that it is here,” Shields said.
The illness started in the West, he said, and over the past few decades has spread across the United States and into Canada.
“It is not a cheap issue to deal with,” Shields said. “It is really important that we take this seriously because the deer herd and deer hunting in general has a huge economic impact in Ohio.”
This isn’t the first time Morrow has had problems keeping the animals on his property.
In February of 2013, officers and sheriff deputies responded to his home because five of his fallow deer had left his property.
Five of Morrow’s deer were killed then. He was fined $1,500 for that incident and received a 30-days suspended sentence in the Champaign County Municipal Court.
Next-door neighbor Rachael Rigsby said she believes the state is coming down too hard on Morrow .
“I get it on a logical level but it is pretty disheartening for us,” Rigsby said. “He’s a hardworking man. He’s a great neighbor and everybody around here enjoys the animals.”
Morrow has lots of other animals on his property, she said, and it has been a great environment for her young boys.
“We find it to be quite charming honestly,” she said. “We have three boys that are exposed to a lot different critters. There is something new in the yard every day.”
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