When Darrell and Maggie Sawyer moved into their house on the south side of Lethbridge, Alta. seven years ago, they didn’t expect to have some regular four-legged guests: deer.
“It’s cool. It really is,” Maggie said. “To be in the city and have them actually lay down on the grass and feel so comfortable.”
When they moved in, their neighbour was a woman named Helen. She had been living in her house since it was built in 1947 for Second World War veterans.
Every year, Helen would plant a vegetable garden that, according to Darrell, would take up a quarter of her yard. A crab apple tree would sit in the middle.
“She had the most beautiful garden that you could imagine,” Darrell said.
“And flowers. Lots of flowers and stuff that deer like to eat,” said Maggie.
“That’s why [the deer] started coming here.”
The Sawyers quickly learned that the deer were here to stay — Helen’s garden proved to be just too good.
“The deer would come and raid the garden and Helen would come out with a broom waving it back and forth telling them, ‘Get out of here you four-legged devils,’” laughed Darrell.
“It was entertaining.”
When Helen passed away, the house was bought and turned into a rental property. The garden was replaced by sod, leaving nothing left for the deer to feast on.
But… they kept coming.
“It’s like it’s imprinted in them that this is a good place to come and eat,” Darrell said.
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They said deer can often be spotted laying in the shade of the tree, or grazing the backyard looking for a snack.
And its consistent. A few years ago, the Sawyers noticed a shift in trust with the deer.
“They’ve started dropping their fawns off while they go raid the local gardens,” Darrell explained.
Tiny fawn can now be spotted alone in the backyard throughout the week, waiting for their parents to come back and pick them up.
“I think they’ve checked us out pretty good before they would actually leave them,” Maggie said. “And I think that’s why they only started leaving them a few years ago.”
Deer are not an uncommon sight in Lethbridge, but it’s not overly common to see them befriend and trust humans.
It’s been a fun experience for the Sawyers. They said they can recognize the fawns as they grow bigger and keep coming back.
“We get to know them,” Darrell said. “And we like to name them based on their attitudes.”
Recently, when Maggie was leaving for work one morning, she noticed a sleepy guest had navigated their way onto the back deck.
It’s the first time the Sawyers had seen a fawn on the patio. Usually, they can be found in the shade of their neighbours’ crab apple tree.
Young and curious, the fawns also like to peek their heads into the Sawyers backyard studio while they’re working.
“We don’t harass them,” Darrell said. “We’ll sneak out and take pictures, but we leave them alone for the most part. And they seem to not mind us.”
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They said most of the neighbours feel the same. When the deer drop off their fawns, people will watch from their balconies or windows as the little ones settle into the familiar space.
But there’s one neighbour who likes to test the limits with the fawns: the Sawyer’s cat, Milo.
“He comes out and interacts with them,” said Darrell.
“He stalks them and then when they turn around to look at him, he stands up like he wasn’t doing anything.”
Darrell added that Milo can sometimes be spotted hiding in the branches of the crab apple tree, jumping from branch to branch as he (safely) follows the deer around the backyard.
The Sawyers weren’t expecting a steady stream of four-legged neighbours when they moved into their house, but they’re happy to have them and their trust.
“It really sets the tone for the day,” Darrell said.
“It’s wonderful. It’s a great legacy for Helen.”
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