News Column

Time in Cooler Over Good Deed for Deer?

Jan 30, 2013

Robert King, The Indianapolis Star

The couple in trouble with the law for rescuing a baby deer now find themselves in the midst of a multimedia whirlwind.

A Facebook page set up four days ago to show support for Jeff and Jennifer Counceller has more than 9,000 "likes" from people around the world. An online petition on their behalf has more than 6,000 signatures. Early Tuesday, the Councellors appeared on ABC's Good Morning America.

"We can't believe it's gotten this big," said Jeff Counceller, who is a member of the SWAT team in Connersville and president of the local Fraternal Order of Police.

The Councellers first found the deer, which they named Dani, curled up in a corner of a porch. They cleaned and dressed its wounds and nursed it back to health -- all with the intention of turning it out into the wild once it was big enough and strong enough to have a chance on its own.

Trouble is, what the Councellers did is against the law. And more than two years after rescuing the deer, and more than six months after conservation officers began an investigation, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants them prosecuted.

The charge -- illegal possession of a white-tailed deer -- is just a misdemeanor, but if punished to the fullest, it could cost the Councellers up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The DNR has had no comment on the case, which is set for a pretrial hearing next month and a court date in March.

The DNR's website says possession of a deer could foster the transmission of diseases and parasites from animals to humans.

DNR officials last summer sought to have the deer euthanized, but on its execution day, the deer went missing. The Councellers say they know the deer had lots of human friends, but they say they don't know how it was set free.

The couple plan to fight the case, even though jail is unlikely.

It's a matter of principle, they say. They don't want to plead guilty for trying to help an animal, especially when they had no criminal intent.

"We never wanted it to come to this point, but we are willing to stand up for Dani and what our efforts were," said Jennifer Counceller, who is a nurse at a Connersville hospital and a part-time nurse at the county jail.

Jeff Counceller said he is not out to bash the DNR, but he said he feels he and his wife are being singled out for some reason.

"They continue to let their egos distort the direction of the way this is going," he said.

Source: (c) Copyright 2013 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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