Dillie the Deer: Love on Tiny Hooves

This post was originally published in April 2014. We’re resurfacing it as part of our #ThrowbackThursday effort to give some love to our favorite posts.—The Proof Team

On my first solo assignment for National Geographic magazine, I found myself lying facedown on the plush carpeted floor of a bedroom that just so happened to belong to a deer. That deer’s name is Dillie. And Dillie is a diva. She loves being filmed—she’s used to it in fact. Her 24-hour webcam allows people all over the world to check in on her as she snoozes on her queen-size bed.

But that day she did not want to be filmed. Instead she wanted kisses. She fought her way through to my camera, until she could get to my face and then proceeded to lick me for 10 minutes non-stop.

And that was the exact moment that I fell in love with this animal.

Dillie was born blind on a deer farm in 2005. Her mother, sensing her fawn’s weakness, abandoned little Dillie to care for her two stronger young bucks. The farmer found the dying fawn three days later and brought her to Melanie Butera’s emergency vet clinic in the hopes of saving her life. After treating the dying fawn, Melanie brought the deer home to nurse her back to health. But Melanie and her husband Steve fell head over heels for this gentle deer and soon Dillie was climbing in bed with them at night and eating next to them at the dinner table.

After Melanie set up Dillie’s webcam they began receiving scores of letters from people across the globe thanking her for bringing a spark of joy to their lives. One day Melanie received a letter from a woman named Barbara, who was suffering from mitochondrial disease, asking if she could visit Dillie. She wrote:

“The simple reality is that my journey on earth should have ended some time ago. In the absence of medical hope, I have reinvented my own form, over and over again. Perhaps this time, I was meant to find hope in Dillie, or maybe we were meant to bring you a dose of the hope, support and love you have clearly given so many.”

Barbara didn’t know how much her words would impact Melanie, who had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 endometrial cancer. Melanie was told to prepare for the worst, but after reading Barbara’s words, Melanie found hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

For months Dillie stayed by Melanie’s side, day in and day out, through chemo and illness, through the tears and pain. Now Melanie is in remission and Dillie’s role in her recovery has not gone unnoticed.

Melanie wrote a book called Dillie the Deer: Love on Hooves to share her story with the world.  And boy, has it been shared. Dillie has appeared on domestic and international television stations and in countless newspaper stories—she receives credit card applications and Valentine’s Day cards. Once, when the webcam was broken, Melanie received an email from the International Space Station asking if Dillie was okay and when her webcam would be back on.

In all my life I have never met an animal so gracious, so gentle and so happy. She is the embodiment of unconditional love and I can easily see how she has become such a source of inspiration. Melanie and Steve took on a big task when they decided to welcome Dillie into their family, but I know they wouldn’t change that for the world.

As Melanie puts it,

“If a little spotted fawn with no reason to live can bring love to people a world away, then the love each of us give, and the life each of us live, truly leave a dent in the universe.”

You can learn more about Dillie and other exotic pets in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.  

Editor’s Note: Dillie is a farm-bred deer. Her unique situation and partial blindness has allowed her to be a well-acclimated pet. But as a veterinarian, Melanie does not recommend anyone having a deer as a house pet.

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