“Looking into Mimi’s eyes was like
looking into the eyes of God,” says Cheryl. “I think Mimi had a purpose
and the ability to heal the human heart.”
Mimi, you see, wasn’t human–but a
deer that came into the Moretzes’ lives when she was struggling to survive.
When Dennis, who grew up on a farm near Boone, North Carolina, found out his
brother, Ernest, had rescued a starving baby deer from his pastures, he jumped
in to help. He had raised many different species of animals throughout his life
and he knew he could help the young deer gain strength and return to the wild.
“My ultimate goal,” explains Dennis,
“was to readapt her back to nature. “
The hearts of Dennis and Cheryl
melted the first time they saw the baby deer. She still had her spots and
weighed a mere six pounds. They transported her to their home in Linville Ridge
where they bottle-fed her and nurtured her as if she were one of their own. She
was even readily accepted into the fold by the couple’s two beagles: Beagie and
Man and deer exchanged
responsibilities while continuing their growing bond. Dennis had been nursing
Mimi to health and now it was her turn to work her magic on him. She also
comforted Cheryl, who spiraled into waves of depression after her husband’s
“After Dennis became so ill, she
never left his side,” says Cheryl. “She would come up on the deck and lick the
back of his neck or head. She would also come and lick my neck when I was
“There’s nothing more calming than a
little deer licking your hand, “says Dennis.
As Dennis began his recovery, he
would take long walks with Mimi close beside him. Their daily walking pattern
didn’t go unnoticed. Other residents began looking for the duo and even
scheduled time to bring their grandchildren to spots along their path to see
Mimi up close. Mimi would greet the kids and even allow them to touch her.
She would follow them around the
house at night to stand outside the bathroom while they showered or to hear
them tell her goodnight from their bedroom. Then Mimi would retreat to a spot
under a laurel bush above a waterfall on their property, where she would sleep
and be within earshot to hear Dennis and Cheryl when they got up for the day.
Mimi would run down to the deck and greet them.
“When she would smell a coyote in
the area, she would hit her hoof into our bedroom window while we were
sleeping,” says Dennis. “She would let us know there was danger there.”
On other occasions, when Mimi wanted
company or to play, she would use her head to knock into the front door and let
them know she was there.
Mimi loved to play and enjoyed when
Dennis would wet her with the garden hose. “She’d play and jump in the water,
then shake herself off. But the most hilarious thing was watching her play on
the golf course with our beagles,” he says. “She’d run up to the dogs, take her
hoof and whack them to get them to chase her. Then she would chase them.”
Mimi also socialized with her own
kind, but it was almost as if she identified more easily with humans.
“She lived between the world of deer
and humans,” says Cheryl. “She loved us because we raised her. I believe she
knew we were not the same as her, but she wanted to take care of us and other
“When the doctors told me to slow
down, get healthy and get in shape, this little deer became my focus and my
teammate,” says Dennis. “She was fighting to survive in a totally different
environment than she normally would be in. I related to that a lot. I thought
if this little deer can adapt herself, then I can do it too. I felt like I
needed to take care of Mimi and that gave me something to do.”
Cheryl laughs at the memory of how
often Mimi would lick Dennis’s head. She worked in upward strokes that left his
hair standing straight up. “He would look like Don King.”
There were many moments of laughter
and fun with Mimi as the months rolled by. The joy she brought lifted their
spirits and pulled them through the upsetting diagnosis.
In December 2011, Dennis once again
made the trek to Duke University and this time rejoiced in good news from his
doctors. His recovery was going well and the couple returned to Linville with a
renewed sense of optimism. They spent a joyous evening playing with Mimi and
telling her about the good news, something she certainly must have sensed.
On this week in December, Dennis did
something he’d never done before. He tied a scarf around Mimi’s neck, put there
to protect her from hunters. He hoped that if they caught her in their
crosshairs, they would see the scarf and respect her.
It was the scarf, however, that
allowed Dennis and Cheryl to show their beloved deer respect by burying her on their
property. She lies beside her pal Beagie, who passed shortly before she did.
Maintenance workers discovered
Mimi’s body on N.C. 184 near the side gate to their development on December 12.
When they saw the scarf, they knew it was Mimi and took her to the Moretzes.
“She died during the week of heavy
mating season,” Cheryl says softly. “Another deer also died that night. We’re
not sure if the bucks were running them or not because she always slept where
she could hear or see us. Dennis and I feel she was running from something.”
In the weeks after Mimi died, the
volume of cards and calls Dennis and Cheryl received from their neighbors
amazed them. They heard story after story about how Mimi had spent time healing
some of their own hurts and heartaches. One woman had just lost her husband and
Mimi walked with her and provided comfort. Others had other concerns and Mimi
just seemed to know and would appear and spend time with them.
“So many people told how Mimi walked
with them and healed their hearts,” says Cheryl. “She made a difference in this
community. It’s as if her life had a special purpose. She was such a gentle
Even the maintenance workers
confided to Dennis there had not been a dry eye in their office for days after
her passing. All of the workers had gotten to know Mimi while they were out
mowing the golf course or taking care of other work, and she had won them as
“She interacted with humans better
than her own kind,” says Dennis. “I didn’t want to domesticate her, but a human
saved her so she tried to pay it back. You might say we saved Mimi, but the
truth of the matter is that Mimi saved us.
“Some statues of the Buddha have a
deer lying by his feet,” he continues. “He called the deer the protector of the
forest. For the Native American Indians, the deer was the symbol of love. I’ve
had other animals, but I’ve never had one that loved me as much as this little
deer did.”Want to learn more? Visit our website for advice on what to do if you find a fawn.