The San Juan Islands are small, yet are home to big personalities — including a spunky deer named Little Girl.
Those who have visited Community Treasures may have seen this unexpected deer nosing in and out of the changing rooms amongst thrift goods. After nine years of touching the lives of locals and visitors, the beloved island deer died in June.
“She was so dynamic, if she was around, you’d know it,” Amber Chenoweth, owner of Island Dog Ranch, said.
Little Girl’s story was a unique one, as she ran over to greet some humans at Community Treasures as a fawn, while she was with her mother and siblings. Her mother and siblings chose to stay away and never formed a relationship with people like she had. When Little Girl had fawns of her own, her fawns didn’t follow her lead and never got close to humans either. Chenoweth said that people didn’t try to lure her fawns in either, as they wanted to keep them wild for their own health.
“It’s just a really unique situation where it was something that probably should never have happened. But, you know, she was who she was and she touched a lot of people,” said Chenoweth. “Little Girl was such her own person. That’s what everyone who met her got to experience. She wouldn’t take no for an answer. If she wanted to kiss you and visit you, she was going to. She was just full of personality and full of life.”
Jenny MacDonald, who recently moved to the island from New Jersey, recalled visiting the deer during previous summers.The first time she encountered Little Girl at Community Treasures before she lived on the island, she, like many visitors, was startled by the deer moseying inside.
“I went inside to pay and all of a sudden this deer walks in behind me and picks up a candy bar!” she exclaimed. “An employee there said, ‘Little Girl you put that back!’ scolding her. I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh!’”
MacDonald said Little Girl continued to stand with the wrapped candy bar in her mouth not moving, like a child being scolded.
Since the novel experience, MacDonald decided to come back and bring her grandchildren to see the deer. Visiting Little Girl became one of the highlights of their summer.
“You know how dogs or cats sometimes shy away from noisy little kids? Nope. She didn’t care. It didn’t matter to her,” she said.
Eventually, MacDonald had to tell her grandchildren about Little Girl’s passing.
“Ohh they were so upset,” she said. “They loved her.”
While Community Treasures was one of Little Girl’s favorite stomping grounds, she made sure to frequently visit the home of Chenoweth — Island Dog Ranch. Chenoweth had gotten to see Little Girl on a daily basis in the six years that she has been living there. In 2019, Little Girl gave birth to twins on Chenoweth’s property.
With Little Girl’s frequent visits, Chenoweth got to experience some of her spunky attitude first-hand. She recalled one winter night when she was cleaning up her property as she walked to her compost bin in the snow.
“I’m going out, it’s dark,” she started. “I’m deep in thought, thinking, ‘Wow, it feels a little creepy out here,’ and all of a sudden something pokes me in my rear. And I swear, I jumped straight up! And here I thought I was gonna die, thinking this is it. Turns out it was just Little Girl, watching me like, ‘Whatcha doin’?’”
From that moment on, she claimed that Little Girl had a sense of humor, as she continued to give Chenoweth sneak attacks, enjoying her reaction.
“I’d get spooked and do karate kicks in the air,” she laughed. “She was a silly soul. People will think it’s crazy, but I knew she took joy in that. She took joy in being like ‘haha I gotcha’ and spooking me.”
Humor wasn’t the only emotion Chenoweth witnessed Little Girl feel. She watched her grieve after having a baby die; saw her experience the happiness of having a child; and saw her feel the joy of seeing a human she loved which she’d run to with excitement.
This is why Little Girl was more than just a cool experience to many islanders, said Chenoweth, because she was able to teach those around her. Being a deer with such a big personality, the people that came across her realized that she too is a sentient being.
“I think it was so magical to me to see someone meet her and see that she is full of her own personality and just walk away and be like, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting that,’” she said. “And to realize that she is her own being and that animals feel emotions just like my own dog or cat at home does. That was my favorite thing.”
While Little Girl was a unique deer who chose her lifestyle, Chenoweth doesn’t condone others domesticating wild animals in the future, as it is unsafe. Moving forward, Chenoweth hopes that Little Girl’s sentient legacy will be remembered and utilized as a way for people to respect and understand wildlife.
“She was a gift I will never forget,” she said.