Deer concerns lead to suit filed against local forest

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By The Staff

    CLERMONT - Elaine Matthews has been a regular visitor to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest the past few months.

    But she has become concerned about the care of two deer on display. So concerned that she has filed a lawsuit against executive Mark K. Wourms.

    A motion to dismiss the civil action has been filed and that motion will be considered on Monday in Bullitt Circuit Court.

    Circuit Judge Rodney Burress overruled Matthews’ request for injunctive relief. Matthews, who is representing herself, faces the initial legal issue of whether she has standing to file the lawsuit.

    Attorney Ann Georgehead of Frost Brown Todd in Louisville understood the passion displayed by Matthews but said the two deer are cared for properly. She also agreed that there was a problem with standing.

    Georgehead filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. A hearing will be held on Monday.

    During the recent hearing on injunctive relief, Matthews, a resident of Nelson County, said it is painful to see Fuzzy, the one-eyed deer, and Briana, appear to be in declining physical condition.

    On her frequent trips, Matthews said Fuzzy has shown a problem in standing and walking. She also complained that food was not present at times.

    As a result, Matthews said she took apples, carrots, snow peas, sugar snap peas and other items to the deer until a sign prohibiting the feeding of the deer was posted in late December.

    Matthews said she stopped the feeding but grew more concerned as there was nothing but hay in the feeder at times. She sent a check for $150 to Bernheim to help feed the deer and two vultures.

    She would later purchase commercial deer food. During snows in early February, Matthews claimed that there was no food in the feeders for two days.

    In her complaint, Matthews is seeking to be allowed to give twigs and leaves to the deer and to provide nourishing treats to the deer. She would like to have the deer and vultures listed on the Bernheim website.

    Matthews said she would purchase deer food and alfalfa cubes, when needed, if Bernheim staff would contact her. She offered to pay for a food plot to be built.

    Finally, she would like to have someone act as a mediator for the two groups to talk out their differences so that the deer can have proper care.

    “I had wanted to work this out,” Matthews told Burress. “I wanted this for the deer.”

    Instead, she said, the issue had to become more complicated and it involved some very personal information about herself.

    Abused as a child, Matthews said she took on the personality of the deer when she saw them abused or neglected.

    “I am these deer,” said Matthews. “These deer are in terrible shape.”

    Burress said he understood the passion Matthews had for the proper care of the deer. But he also knew that he must work within the perimeters of the law.

    Without some legal basis, Burress said Matthews would not have standing to file the civil lawsuit.

    Georgehead agreed.

    She said her client had met with Matthews on a couple of occasions about the condition of the deer.

    “Bernheim has a trained staff,” said Georgehead.

    The deer had been abandoned at birth and have spent their lives at Bernheim Forest. She said the veterinarian who cares for them feel they are in good condition, especially considering their ages.

    There are days when they are not fed to make them go out in the fenced area to look for food. She said Bernheim is regulated by the state and federal fish and wildlife officials and regular inspections are done of the facility.

    Matthews argued that deer should not be subject to a fast if they are in captivity and she said state officials have refused to meet her at the forest.

    “I sympathize with your concerns,” said Burress.

    The judge said Bernheim officials state they are handling the situation and they are following all the guidelines.

    “The court is not in a position to micromanage what happens at Bernheim,” said Burress. “Everyone has a different opinion on what should be done.”

    In overruling the injunction, Burress said it was not shown that there was a likelihood the plaintiff would be successful. Also, there was no standing by Matthews.

    Georgehead said following the decision that Bernheim relies on experts to guide them on how to care for the animals. She said they would follow any recommendations given by the veterinarians.

    “We understand her concern,” said Georgehead. “But the deer are being cared for in a proper manner.”

    Matthews is still not satisfied with that argument. She said she would not stop in her quest to make sure forest officials treat the deer properly. If officials are no longer interested in having the deer on exhibit, she said there are other places that would take them.