Wednesday, January 30, 2013

How the government works: inscrutable stupidity

As media firestorm erupts over Dani the deer story, state officials remain mum
The Star's story about Dani the deer, the Connersville couple that saved her and the state agency prosecuting them for illegally keeping the deer spurred plenty of chatter.
News websites across the country and overseas played the story prominently Tuesday, leaving volumes of online commentary in its wake.
Jennifer and Jeff Counceller, the couple at the center of the controversy, made an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where host George Stephanopoulos’ comment was that this was a story “guaranteed to make you mad.”
And a Facebook page devoted to the saga found roughly 20,000 likes after four days online and comments of support from every state and from countries around the world.
Yet despite the buzz surrounding Dani the deer and the Councellers, there was one corner of the world with almost nothing to say on the subject — anyone in an official position to influence the situation.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which issued a news release in December about the ?arrest of a man who killed a wild turkey out of season, still had no comment Tuesday about this case.
Legislators who oversee the DNR had nothing to say. A voicemail left in the office of the prosecutor handling the case drew no response. And the place where the buck stops in state government, the office of Gov. Mike Pence, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Councellers — Jeff is a cop, Jennifer is a nurse — face a March trial date on a charge of illegal possession of a deer, a misdemeanor that could mean 60 days in jail and fines of $500 each.

The DNR brought the misdemeanor charges against the Councellers. Its incident report recounts a story similar to what the Councellers have shared.
In 2010, Jeff found the deer on a police call. The animal appeared to have been attacked by a coyote. His wife, who had experience tending their horses and dogs, applied her skills to the deer. The fawn healed but grew slowly as the Councellers kept it in their care, in a pen, for nearly two years.
The couple said they intended to set the animal free last fall. But the DNR discovered it in their possession in June and ordered it killed. The DNR’s report says it was a matter of “safety,” without elaborating, but the DNR website says deer can have parasites and diseases that can be passed to humans. The agency has a history, too, of trying to keep “wild populations wild.”
On its execution day, the deer turned up missing. The Councellers say they don’t know how but admit that Dani had lots of friends.
The Councellers said they didn’t know that keeping the deer was illegal, and they never tried to hide what they were doing. They say they even sought alternative placement for Dani in animal rescue facilities and petting zoos, without success.
Today, they don’t dispute that they broke the law, but they say their mistakes were not willful and their good intentions should count for something. “We could not walk away,” Jeff Counceller said. “Maybe that’s where we went wrong, but we couldn’t walk away.”

An online petition seeking to have the charges dropped had more than 16,000 signatures Tuesday night. An online legal defense fund had garnered more than $1,000 in donations.
Beyond that, comments on Facebook, media websites, calls and emails to the Star, the reaction follows two main paths: understanding of the position the Councellers found themselves in when faced with a suffering animal, and outrage that a government agency doesn’t have better things to do with its time.
“I find the actions of the DNR in this case outrageous and nonsensical,” wrote Suzanne Murray of Carmel.
“This is just beyond the point of crazy,” said Barbara Wilson, 77, of Mooresville, who called the Star after calling both the DNR and the governor’s office.
The DNR arrested 257 people for illegal possession of a deer last year, a charge frequently applied to poachers. It’s safe to say none of those cases created a buzz the way this one has.

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