Retriever hunts down ailing deer, and saves it

Mark Freeley with Storm, his six-year-old English Labrador retriever, who pulled a fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor several days ago, in Port Jefferson, NY on July 18, 2017.
Mark Freeley with Storm, his six-year-old English Labrador retriever, who pulled a fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor several days ago, in Port Jefferson, NY on July 18, 2017.PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES
Storm finds the deer in the water. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Storm finds the deer in the water. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Storm brings the deer to shore. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Storm brings the deer to shore. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Storm stays with the deer. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Storm stays with the deer. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Hero Storm gets his portrait taken. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD
Hero Storm gets his portrait taken. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM FACEBOOK/UNILAD

NEW YORK (NYTIMES) - Clearly, he is a hero.

"Good boy, Storm!" a man's voice says in the video, calling to a golden retriever paddling towards a brown lump bobbing in the water of Port Jefferson Harbor off Long Island.

Taking it in his mouth, the dog hauls it towards the beach, a moment filmed by his owner on Sunday (July 16) that has been seen by 5.2 million and counting on Facebook.

The lump was a fawn, which the dog dragged onto the sand. There it lay, alive but barely moving.

Storm gently nudged the fawn's belly. It scarcely responded. It nuzzled it again. Nothing. It pawed at its tiny hooves. Then the video ended.

The video footage has launched Storm to sudden social media stardom and sent him on a tour of morning TV talk shows.

Banish any thought that the dog, a six-year-old English golden retriever owned by Mr Mark Freeley, a personal injury lawyer from East Setauket, New York, might have simply been following his instinct to retrieve.

Definitely do not imagine that the dog was hungry.

"I was there and, if anybody knows Storm, they know that's not in his heart," said Mr Freeley, who captured the moment on his phone while out with the golden retriever and his other, less famous dog, Sarah, a rescued Border collie. "He is the most gentle, gracious dog you ever want to meet."

Mr Freeley, who also fosters rescue dogs and does pro bono legal work for a local animal rescue, said Storm "grasped the deer by the neck - just the way a lifeguard would put his arm over someone's neck - and dragged it in".

In the video, Storm licks the deer's jugular.

"It was so touching," Mr Freeley said. "It showed he really had a care and was worried about the fawn."

Mr Freeley said he left to get help.

He called a group he knew, Strong Island Animal Rescue League. Mr Frank Floridia, who runs the organisation, arrived with leashes and nets.

By then, the fawn had wobbled back up. It took one look at the men and two dogs and darted back into the water, Mr Floridia said.

"They are animals of flight. They are going to take off wherever they can go," he said. "In a yard, they will smash through a wooden fence."

The fawn paddled out again, this time about 80m. After a failed attempt by Storm to fetch it once more, Mr Floridia took off his shirt and, in his sneakers and shorts, swam out and grabbed the deer.

The three-month-old white-tailed deer had unexplained wounds on its head and one closed eye, he said.

Mr Floridia and his partner Erica Kutzing drove the deer to Save the Animals Rescue Foundation in Middle Island, New York, where it was in stable condition late Tuesday, said Ms Lori Ketcham, a director of the organisation.

The fawn was being treated with antibiotics and was drinking baby goat formula from a bowl.

Many fawns that are brought to the animal rescue, Ms Ketcham said, are there because of dogs - and not heroic ones.

"I think the dog did a very good thing, but I'm very realistic about what dogs do - dogs tend to chew these little deer up," she said.

The fawn will eventually be returned to the wild, she said. But it is recovering from many ailments, including subcutaneous emphysema, a condition in which air bubbles are trapped under the skin, making it feel like "bubble wrap", Ms Ketcham said.

The illness can be caused by trauma.

Being in a dog's mouth, Ms Ketcham said, could be considered traumatic - but so could falling off a sandy cliff, the rescuers' leading theory of how the fawn got in the water.

"Officially, this was a wonderful thing that the dog saved the deer," Ms Ketcham said. "But I think, if it was left to its own devices, the deer would not survive."

Although Storm adamantly refuses to fetch, Mr Freeley said, the dog seemed to know the stakes were high in retrieving the fawn.

"A dog with his need to retrieve spearheaded the rescue," said Ms Kutzing, the animal rescuer. The details, she said, do not really matter "as long as the ending is happy".