Like a pair of old friends whose lives have been bound together by fate, Kate and Pipp cherish every moment they spend together.
They frolic in the fields on Isobel Springett’s acreage, play-fight like a couple of exuberant little kids and lie in the grass, nuzzling and caressing each other in a tender expression of the close mother-daughter ties they share.
But they aren’t related – in fact, they’re not even the same species. Kate is a Great Dane, Pipp is a black-tailed deer, and their unusual bond is becoming an Internet sensation.
Ms. Springett, Kate’s owner, said the bizarre relationship started three years ago when she and her husband rescued the newborn fawn, which had been abandoned by its mother near the couple’s home on land just outside Courtenay.
“We listened to it cry for three days, it was horrendous, like a little child crying, so we went and grabbed her and put her in the dog’s bed, and the rest is history,” Ms. Springett said. “All it took was one look and they were in love. It was instant mutual admiration and it still goes on today.”
An accomplished wildlife photographer, Ms. Springett began documenting the deer-and-dog duo, posting video on YouTube and launching a Facebook page entitled “Kate and Pipp BFF.”
Last summer, comedian Ellen Degeneres aired some of the footage on her afternoon talk show and soon the YouTube clips were getting up to 40,000 hits a day. In the past two years, Kate and Pipp’s story has been covered by news networks in England and Japan and featured on the TV program Animal Planet.
And there’s also a potential bestseller in the works. Earlier this year, Ms. Springett and her brother, Toronto-based author Martin Springett, self-published 150 copies of a children’s book about Kate and Pipp, leading to a deal with two major publishers, Penguin Canada and Henry Holt MacMillan in the United States. The book, entitled Kate and Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story, is slated for release this spring.
But Sara Dubois, manager of wildlife services for the BC SPCA, said her organization opposes the domestication of wild animals, calling Ms. Springett’s actions “unethical and possibly illegal.”
“The susceptibility of a young fawn being imprinted like that has been well-documented, and it’s really inappropriate because it sets the deer up for a hard life,” Ms. Dubois said. “That deer is not going to have a wild life and it has no idea what predators are.”
It’s illegal to own wildlife or keep wild animals as pets in B.C., Ms. Dubois added.
Two years ago, Ministry of Environment officials ordered 67-year-old Ucluelet resident Janet Schwartz to stop keeping a domesticated deer named Bimbo in her house.
However, Ms. Springett said, except for the first few weeks when it was too weak to stand, Pipp has never lived in the house and has always been free to come and go as she pleases. Neither wild nor domesticated, the deer leads a double life as a member of its herd and her dog’s best friend, she said.
“Pipp has her deer life with all her deer buddies, and then she flips a switch and comes here and becomes the deer that we know,” Ms. Springett said. “She’s very good at going from one to the other.”
Every fall, Pipp disappears for about a month to take part in rutting season with the herd and returns “pregnant and happy.” This spring, she gave birth to two calves, which have also taken to hanging around the house.
Despite the responsibilities of motherhood, Pipp and Kate are closer than ever.
“They have a very unusual relationship,” Ms. Springett said. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
Special to The Globe and Mail