A 9-year-old doe with a tennis ball stuck in its mouth for weeks near Marquette was eventually hit and killed by a vehicle on County Road 480 on July 19 before the DNR could help the animal.

Harvey resident Susan Andary noticed the doe with the tennis ball in her mouth on June 30 and photographed the deer.

“She must have thought it (the tennis ball) was an apple and bit into it,” Andary said. “The ball is stuck on her bottom teeth.”

The foreign object prevented the doe from eating properly, causing her to lose weight while nursing a fawn. Concerned about the deer’s welfare, Andary contacted the DNR for assistance.

Jack L. Schneider took this photo of the doe with the tennis ball stuck in her lower teeth. The photo also clearly shows how skinny the doe got. Drugs to dart the doe were unavailable because there was no state veterinarian to issue the orders.

“They wanted to use a dart gun to put the deer down temporarily, so the tennis ball could be removed,” Susan explained, “but they were not able to do that because they could not get the drugs to do it. There’s no longer a state veterinarian. Their hands were tied.

“They set a live trap to catch the doe, but she didn’t go in the trap.”

“The drugs we normally use to immobilize an animal are licensed through our state veterinarian,” DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell said. “Her last day on the job was July 15, but we had to turn our drugs in on July 1. We haven’t heard anything about when or if a new veterinarian will be hired. I’m concerned about this fall if there’s a moose or bear in town.”

In the past, the DNR has resorted to using dart guns to immobilize moose and bears that ended up in city limits to move them to safer locations. Earlier this year, a dart gun was used to put an adult male black bear to sleep that ended up in a tree in Traverse City, so it could be moved. That won’t be possible in the future until the state hires a veterinarian.

“We had a live trap set in the area where that doe was to try and catch her,” Roell said. “Those traps don’t normally work as good during the summer as they do in the winter when deer are hungry, but we thought the deer might be hungry enough to go in the trap.”

Although the tennis ball that was lodged in the doe’s mouth made it difficult for her to eat, she could still eat some things. “We got a number of calls from people telling us that the doe was eating leaves from trees,” Roell commented. “She was getting some nourishment, but not enough. We eventually got permission to use a net gun to try to catch the doe and remove the tennis ball, but then she got hit by a vehicle.”

When the adult doe was struck by a vehicle, the tennis ball was dislodged from her mouth. The DNR examined the carcass after the deer was killed and reported what they found to Andary.

“The tennis ball had been cutting into the skin but was not infected,” Susan wrote in an email after getting input from the DNR. “She did have a buildup of scar tissue on both sides of the jaw, which is a sign that the ball had been in her mouth for a long time. By inspecting her teeth, it is estimated that she was 9 years old, which is actually a really long life for a doe. Average age is 6.5.

“When I asked if they had any idea how the ball might have gotten stuck they said it was still a mystery.”