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Bella the Deer in Pulaski delights villagers, worries DEC

There is a deer in the village of Pulaski, N.Y., that will not run away if you come close. Residents have named the deer Bella. She naps on front porches, eats from people's hands and stands still while children pet her. Bella even has a Facebook page.
WRVO's Julia Botero tried to friend Bella, but the deer had too many friends on the site, over 5,000. So, on a warm day last week Julia drove to Pulaski hoping to meet Bella face to snout.
* * *

As I pull onto a quiet street in the village I come across Leon Woods sitting in a chair on his front lawn. He calls himself the ears and eyes of Pulaski. I ask him if he's seen Bella and he tells me she came by about a week ago.

"She has a mind of her own," Woods said. "She shows up whenever she wants to, but when it is really bitter cold you don't see her. But most of the time she'll be out. I make sure I always have an apple or pear in my pocket."

He is the groundskeeper at a local elementary school down the street, where Bella likes to hang out.

"Is she good with kids?" I ask.

"Yeah, she is good with kids. Kids can walk right up to her and pet her on the ears and she won’t bite," says Woods.

He says he owns three guard dogs that are now so familiar with Bella walking into his backyard, they don't bark. I tell him I'm hoping to find her today.

"Check along the back 40 of the elementary school where the baseball field is," Woods explained. "She likes to traipse around there. That’s one of the areas where she walks."

I get back in my car and drive to the western part of the village and around the school, but no signs of Bella.

Lisa Labow is sitting on the hood of her car, texting. I asked her if she knows Bella.

"She's a really nice deer. I petted her once. The children like to give her carrots and stuff," says Labow.

Les Liskcum is raking leaves on his lawn and smiles when I ask about Bella.

"She's been around for about six years or so. She comes around and eats my wife's flowers," says Liskcum, laughing. "My wife is not so happy with her sometimes."

He says he's also seen Bella look both ways before she crosses the road.

"She will go out and follow anybody who is running and if they have a dog with them she will run right alongside with the dog," Liskcum said. "Everybody likes her."

Credit Julia Botero
Finding Bella and making the approach

The story goes that Bella's mother was hit by a car when she was small. A farmer nearby (no one could tell me exactly who) took in the fawn. One of the farmer's children named her Bella. Eventually Bella ventured out into the village and people noticed that this deer had no fear of humans.

"She sticks to backyards and will hang out on porches and people will feed her whatever it is they feed her," says Kevin Dix, a patrolman with the Pulaski Police Department. I saw him driving around the village earlier and managed to catch up with him at the station.

"I'm not an environmental conversation officer, so I don't worry too much about it," says Dix.

But Steve Joule is with the Department of Environmental Conservation and he does worry about it.

"As special as they may feel, I think the community would be better served knowing the reality of the situation rather than living in a Disney world," Joule said.

Joule says just because Bella is well-fed doesn't mean she's getting the type of nutrition she needs, and that can affect her mood. If Bella were to get pregnant her hormones could make her aggressive.

"You might have this perception as you're interacting with this animal, like 'Hey, we're lifelong buds. We aren't going to hurt each other,' But that animal doesn't have that same perception," Joule explained.

And he says a wild animal like Bella, who is free to roam, can pick up diseases and spread them to humans and pets. Joule says usually the DEC will kill a deer that has become tame for the sake of public health and safety. Joule says he's not sure why Bella has been left alone, but if it was his decision he wouldn't be taking chances.

Credit Julia Botero
"She sticks to backyards and will hang out on porches and people will feed her whatever it is they feed her."

"There are just so many kinds of things that could go wrong, and while everything is going well and everyone is enjoying the deer, that's great," Joule said. "But it can turn in a heartbeat, and once that happens it's too late."

After a morning of driving down village streets, I finally find Bella. She's eating rotting Halloween pumpkins in someone's front yard. I get out of the car and walk up to her. She sniffs my hand like a dog and I pet her. I wonder if maybe I should be more careful, but I've never been this close to a live deer before. It's exciting and a bit scary. She looks calm, so I stand next to her for a while, trying to feed her cherry tomatoes.