Members of a Manitoba Hutterite colony found the fawn in a ditch, its umbilical cord still attached, and brought the orphaned animal into their sanctuary.
They hand-fed the deer fresh-baked bread and its favourite beverage: sweet tea. Children frolicked with their cuddly pet and the community laughed when the deer came to church one Sunday. They called him Bambi.
Manitoba Conservation officers killed Bambi Saturday on a colony street while the animal's foster families watched in horror.
"They shot him right in the front lawn and there were quite a few of us watching from the windows," said Evie-Lynn Maendel, who lives on the Windy Bay Colony, located near Pilot Mound in southwestern Manitoba.
" I saw him fall and he was thrashing around for about a minute. It was hard to see for everyone," she said.
"It just seemed very callous to do that 15 to 20 feet from someone's doorstep."
Bambi, who was almost a year old when he was killed, had been a much-loved part of the colony since last spring when Maendel's father discovered the newly born fawn in a ditch he mowed. He brought it home and it was jumping up and down within hours.
After an attempt to return it to the ditch in hopes its mother would come back, a colony family adopted the deer.
Maendel said the colony will remember Bambi for his loving nature, playful antics and love of sweet tea.
"He'd pester you until you gave him a swallow and it would be too hot, so you'd pour the tea in the snow," Maendel said.
Bread, grain and a treat of beef jerky were his staples. He was welcome to roam the colony without danger.
"He came to church, everybody else was (there), so he came, too," Maendel chuckled. Once the deer walked inside the church "just long enough to give everyone a laugh."
"If someone was out walking, he'd go with them. He'd play with the kids in the snow... and he played with the dogs all the time," she said.
This winter, as he approached a year of age, Bambi grew buttons for horns, becoming what's called a "button buck." This worried some colony members.
On Friday, the district Conservation office took an anonymous call from Windy Bay about the dangers a full-grown buck could present.
Two Conservation officers arrived at the colony about 9 a.m. Saturday. Colonists hoped the officers would take the deer to a sanctuary or release it in the wild.
Conservation officials Tuesday defended the shooting.
"It isn't always a Disney-type outcome," Jack Harrigan, Manitoba's director of conservation compliance said.
"The officers could see from the photos that the deer was being petted and they were feeding the deer. That was a concern."
It's illegal in Manitoba to take in a wild animal. Black bear cub Makoon made headlines last summer after being seized from a St. Malo home. Manitoba Conservation eventually released Makoon back into the wild.
The province's policy is to euthanize wild animals captured and tamed as pets if there is no refuge or sanctuary that will take them.
Conservation officers would have picked up the fawn as soon as it was discovered if they had known.
"Even though it was a pet it was still a wild animal. A deer can become used to people. You can go up and pet it but come the fall, when it's mating season, a deer can become aggressive and if people get too close, they will strike back with their hooves, or usually their antlers," Harrigan said.
The colonists say they understand that, but the way the officers did their job was upsetting.
When the two officers first appeared at the colony, they looked for someone to tie the deer, Maendel said. Her father refused, as did other men.
The deer made a break for it, taking off with Sahara, a golden retriever that was the deer's closest pal.
The officers left the colony after about an hour without getting the deer in their sights.
Later that morning, there was another call from the colony to the Conservation office.
Bambi was back.
The Conservation officers returned and spotted the deer. They ordered the colonists to stay indoors -- the kids were out of sight in a dining hall -- then shot the deer with a 9-mm pistol.
"I understand they had to do a job, they just weren't very nice," Maendel said.
The conservation director conceded the approach could have been gentler.
"It's unfortunate because our policy is we do not euthanize (animals) in front of the public.
"Would I rather have had things done differently? Yeah. It would have avoided upsetting a lot of people on the colony," Harrigan said.