I DROVE UP TO my supposedly empty house, only to find the front door wide open.
Burglar? No, I should be so lucky.
I sighed. “What are you doing here, Buck?”
That question was rhetorical. I knew what I’d find in the garden. Sure enough, the tomatoes were toast. Ditto for the — damn him! — almost-ripe peas. The flowers beds were just beds. Deer have a rather elastic respect for private property.
Buck at least had the good grace to look sheepish. “Sorry,” he said, “I was famished after work.”
“I’m a tester at a pot farm,” he said. “We’re slammed right now. Second quarter numbers are going to be through the roof. I barely have time for yoga in the morning. Just hit the Starbucks drive-thru and go.”
Well, it was inevitable, wasn’t it? Our old friend Buck the Deer had turned into a full-fledged city boy. And so have his friends.
It was about 30 years ago that deer first became noticeable in the city, tiptoeing gingerly out of the forest before timidly nipping the heads off the odd Gordon Head tulip. A generation later they had become bold enough to chase dogs and shrug at golf-course duffers.
Today, Victoria’s black-tails are fully urban animals: avoiding eye contact with panhandlers, brazenly chewing through the produce while “shopping” at Thrifty, doing the head-bob crotch-check thing while pretending not to text at red lights.
Domestication exhibit one: The photo taken by local romance writer Susan Hayes as she spotted a doe and her triplets dutifully using a crosswalk at the Oak Bay junction during the morning rush hour.
Not only did the deer use the crosswalk, but the doe appeared to wait for the light to change before shepherding her brood to the other side.
Then she did it again.
“I saw her cross Fort Street on the light, and then I saw her cross Oak Bay Avenue on the light,” Hayes said.
It appeared the doe had figured out the safest way to traverse the traffic flow. “I thought: ‘that’s impressive, people don’t do that.’ ”
The deer might have been even citified had they been a few blocks away in Oak Bay. It’s there that 20 does were fitted with GPS-equipped tracking collars this spring, and where there are plans to give up to 40 other does birth-control drugs in late August or early September, prior to rutting season. (I think Margaret Atwood wrote a book about this.)
This is a far cry from the earlier approach taken in Oak Bay, where they killed 11 deer in 2015 before realizing that the Tweed Curtain was a metaphor, not a fence, and that there was nothing but restrictive development practices and a disproportionate number of golden retrievers to prevent more Bambis from bounding across the borders with Saanich and Victoria.
Anyway, deer domestication should not surprise us. More of them live on the edges of our cities now than in the heart of the forest. Other animals have migrated, too. Popular Science says coyotes use traffic lights to negotiate the streets of downtown Chicago, and that the foxes that have colonized London, England, included one found on the 72nd floor of an unfinished skyscraper, where it survived on construction workers’ lunch scraps.
In May’s National Geographic, Dutch evolutionary biologist Menno Schilthuizen spoke of the speed with which animals adapt to cities: Mosquitoes found in different London Underground lines are genetically distinct from one another, as are bobcats on different sides of a Los Angeles freeway.
Crows in Japan have learned to crack walnuts by dropping them in front of slow-moving vehicles. Aided by big-city lights, other birds have become night hunters. And let’s not forget the cougar that, way back in 1992, made it all the way into the parkade at Victoria’s Empress Hotel before being tranquillized (either that or it fainted after seeing its parking bill).
We all know what’s next for our urban deer: the rat race. Sure, it’s nice to have a buffet in every back yard, but that lifestyle comes with a cost: heavy traffic (watch out for fawns at this time of year), pollution, congestion, noise.
Then there’s job pressure, property taxes, car insurance … . Save up for a little place in the country, somewhere to get away from it all, only to spend every evening and weekend working overtime to pay for the mortgage.
And just when you think you’re in clover, the roof leaks or the water heater goes or the transmission seizes and you’re back at it, not so much a stag in the wild as a hamster on a wheel, chasing the almighty buck.
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloopsian who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.