When an Indiana police officer and his wife nursed a small injured deer back to health two years ago, they never thought they’d be facing criminal charges over their act of kindness, nor did they anticipate being swept into an international media frenzy on Tuesday after local news outlets broke the story.
The story was prominently featured by media outlets across the country and around the globe yesterday, creating a firestorm of commentary and controversy by many who were outraged that the couple was being prosecuted for rescuing the little injured deer.
A Facebook page created for the couple received some 20,000 likes after just four days online, including comments of support from every state in the nation and from countries around the world.
On Wednesday, the couple at the center of the controversy, Jeff and Jennifer Counceller, were on ABC’s “Good Morning America” with host George Stephanopoulos, who warned viewers this was a story “guaranteed to make you mad.”
It all started in 2010, when Connersville police officer Jeff Counceller rescued the little deer, which appeared to have been attacked by a Coyote.
Counceller told NBC affiliate WTHR-TV in Indianapolis that he was going to put the little deer back in the woods, but changed his mind after seeing her injuries, which he says he knew were life threatening. He and his wife Jennifer then built a pen for the deer in their backyard near the woods and nursed her back to health.
The couple named the dear "Dani", telling WTHR that it was no secret they had her, as they already called several habitats across the state, but they were all too full at the time.
"She would run around. She would play. We would feed her crack corn and deer chow and other things," Jeff told WTHR. "Again, we knew someday that we needed to turn her loose."
The couple said they intended to set the deer free last fall, but when the DNR discovered it in their possession last June, they ordered it be euthanized. According to the DNR’s report, it was a matter of safety, but no further explanation was given.
However, on the day “Dani” was to be euthanized, the little deer escaped. The Councellers say they don’t know how, but admit that the deer had lots of friends.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources found that the couple should be prosecuted for the illegal possession of a white-tailed deer, according to The Indianapolis Star, which also reported that they could be punished with up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine for the misdemeanor charge against them, the Star reported.
The Councellers also told the Star they didn’t know that keeping the deer was illegal, and that they never tried to hide what they were doing. Since being charged, however, they now understand they broke the law, but they say their mistakes were not willful and their good intentions should count for something.
“We could not walk away,” Jeff Counceller said. “Maybe that’s where we went wrong, but we couldn’t walk away.”
John Waudby, who created the Facebook page on Saturday, told WTHR he thinks "eventually public pressure will drop these charges."
A jury trial is expected in March, and a special prosecutor and judge have been assigned to the case.