Friendship between dog and deer ends in poignant rescue

Kansas City, Missouri’s Elmwood Cemetery seems the unlikeliest of places to strike up a relationship, but that’s exactly what happened between an even unlikelier pair — Elmwood’s resident deer and a wandering dog have become fast friends.

A Shar Pei mix dog, and his friend, a young deer named Ella, in the Elmwood Cemetery. (Photo credit: Bruce Mathews)

The young deer, named Ella by Elmwood staff and visitors, has become a kind of mascot for the 43-acre cemetery, but her story begins with tragedy. Shortly after her birth in spring 2011, Ella’s mother was hit by a car and killed on a road just outside of Elmwood. To this day, Ella never ventures far from her cemetery home, and she keeps her distance from the road where her mother passed.

Little orphan Ella had lived alone until recently, when a medium-sized Shar Pei mix started showing up on the cemetery grounds. The sweet stray bonded with the motherless doe from the start. Inseparable, the pair became a fixture at Elmwood; photos of dog and doe began popping up in newspapers and on social networking sites.

But, with temperatures dropping, cemetery officials started to wonder just how they would be able to keep Ella’s new canine companion safe in the sometimes-harsh Kansas City winter. They knew that the dog would need food, water, and warm shelter in order to survive, but they couldn’t risk putting up a doghouse or leaving kibble out for fear they would attract other stray animals that might not be as deer-friendly as the Shar Pei mix.

So Elmwood caretakers did what they knew they needed to do — for the safety of their deer and her dog, they contacted a local animal rescue and asked them to take in the dog.

“It breaks my heart that they have to be separated,” Elmwood trustee Bruce Mathews said, “but they must.”

The humane dog trap was sprung Saturday. When workers pulled up, they found Ella standing by her friend. Witnesses at the scene of the rescue said that the event became a bittersweet goodbye for the deer and dog.

“Ella was standing right by the van when the dog departed, looking kind of forlorn,” Elmwood Cemetery Society President John Weilert told the Kansas City Star.

Weilert has nicknamed the dog ET, short for “EpiTaph,” in honor of the cemetery she called home for these past weeks.

Before ET was taken away to the shelter Saturday morning, trustee Mathews was able to capture a photograph of the improbable companions, a memento of the interspecies friendship that touched the hearts of many in the Kansas City area and beyond.

ET is currently under the care of Kansas City animal rescue organization Wayside Waifs. Veterinary examinations indicate that the dog is in good health; she is estimated to be between 8-months to 1-year-old. But skittish ET still has a long way to go before she is ready for a forever family. The no-kill shelter is taking it slow with the nervous pup, but is hopeful that she will be adoptable in the future.

“The dog is very scared,” Wayside Waifs spokesperson Jennie Rinas tells KCTV. “The dog needs a lot of socialization. We are going very slow. It’s a shock to go from living out in the wild to a shelter in a few days.”

“There is no rush,” Rinas added. “We are working toward a happy ending for all involved,” she said, including Ella.

While many are sad that the bond between ET and Ella had to be broken, Rinas explains that it was a necessary move. “The reality is heading into winter that a deer is equipped better to survive in the wild,” Rinas said. “That’s their natural habitat. It’s not humane to leave a dog out without regular food and water. The best thing was to ensure it had warm shelter.”

Meanwhile Bruce Mathews is hoping that people will not forget the incredible friendship between Ella and ET and the enduring message at the heart of their story.

“Am I sorry they found each other?” Mathews said. “Absolutely not! I believe they became friends to teach us a lesson, however we each might interpret it.”

Sources: Kansas City Star, KCTV