Six-year-old Ulises Cervantes watched from the doorway of his home Tuesday as uniformed Fish and Wildlife officials put his beloved pet deer, Floracita, in a wooden box on the back of a pickup truck and drove away.
A week ago, an officer had shown up at the family home in rural Rio Linda to inform them that the black-tailed deer could no longer be kept as a pet.
"A deer is a wild animal, not a pet," said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Michilizzi. "We keep wild animals wild."
Four pickups with seven officers and biologists, and a veterinarian, pulled onto the family property Tuesday afternoon. Juan Cervantes opened the gates for them, but the rest of his family stayed inside the house while officers went into the paddock to administer a tranquilizer to the animal.
Two years ago, truck driver Juan Cervantes found the fawn near a dead doe on the highway near Rio Oso in Sutter County. She still had her umbilical cord. Cervantes put the fawn in the cab and took her home.
"I bottle-fed her when she was little," said his sobbing wife, Saida Cervantes. "It really hurts, and they won't tell where she will go."
It took at least a half-hour for Steve Torres to make the animal comfortable and get a shot off from his tranquilizer pistol. Floracita thrashed around for about 10 minutes before a veterinarian approached with a shot on the end of a stick.
But even the second shot couldn't put out the little animal, who struggled and kicked at officers before growing weary.
Saida Cervantes and her two boys were too upset to come outside to meet with reporters. She agreed to speak by telephone.
"I've bottle-fed her from 7 days old," Cervantes said of Floracita.
The deer was like any other pet, Cervantes said.
"She is friendly with animals, the goats, my son. Good with the neighbors."
Cervantes wept at the deer's removal and said she worries about how Floracita will fare in new surroundings.
Fish and Wildlife officers at the home Tuesday said the deer would be taken to a rehabilitation center in Rancho Cordova where it will get a health checkup and officials will determine what to do next.
Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Janice Mackey said the deer could be sent to a wildlife rescue facility.
Because the animal has lived with the family for two years, "the chances it will be left to the wild are very slim," Michilizzi said.
The Rio Linda neighborhood's homes are on 1- and 2-acre parcels. Neighbors questioned why Floracita wasn't allowed to spend her days eating corn and alfalfa cubes in a paddock she shared with goats and chickens.
Candace Taylor said she didn't believe that neighbors had called Fish and Wildlife.
"This is why people move here, so we can have our lifestyle, have our land," she said.
She and two other neighbors held up signs saying "Save Floracita."
Greg Crimmins called the action "a waste of taxpayers' dollars."
Mackey could not say what Tuesday's operation cost but said it is paid from license fees and not taxes.
Friends said the family wanted to save the fawn's life and didn't realize keeping the deer was a violation.
Fish and Wildlife officials said family members won't be cited.
"We get calls every year about people taking wildlife as pets," Mackey said. "People take in coyotes, birds and baby raccoons.
"They should instead call our department, and we can help decide where to take it."
Michilizzi said deer are the most common prohibited animal the department retrieves.
Mackey said many people take in fawns they find alone in the woods, thinking they have been abandoned by their mothers.
"Mothers will leave their young while they forage for food," she said. "Deer moms have been doing that for hundreds and hundreds of years."
Call The Bee's Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.