Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia man pulls off daring deer rescue in frigid water

It’s not uncommon for Brenan Isabelle to see deer swimming in the bay near his Nova Scotia home. But when his wife noticed a deer struggling in icy, frigid waters in front of their house on Wednesday, he knew he had to do something.

Brenan Isabelle took his canoe out after his wife noticed the animal struggling in icy water

Brenan Isabelle managed reach the deer, get the sling around its chest and hauled into the canoe, before he paddled back to shore. (Submitted by Brenan Isabelle)

It's not uncommon for Brenan Isabelle to see deer swimming in the bay near his Nova Scotia home.

But when his wife noticed a deer struggling in icy, frigid waters in front of their house on Wednesday, he knew he had to do something.

"It seemed like it was having some difficulty, kind of up on its high legs and bouncing around the deeper water," Isabelle told CBC Radio's Mainstreet.

Isabelle lives on a secluded bay in the Mahone Bay area that tends to ice over.

He went outside to take a look. By then, the deer, which was initially about 15 metres away, had turned around and began to swim away, toward thicker ice.

"I thought, well, this doesn't look great," he said. "So I grabbed a lifting sling ... and my paddle, and out I went in the canoe."

Deer seemed 'panicked'

At this point, the deer was out in the middle of the bay where the ice was thin, but it was heading to an area where the ice was pretty thick. Looking back, Isabelle believes the deer may have fallen through the ice on the other side of the bay, tried to swim to shore, "and then, for whatever reason, it decided to turn around."

Isabelle followed its path in his canoe, "which was not too difficult since the ice had broken there."

"I tried to kind of get in front of it so it would hopefully turn around. I mean, at that point I had no thoughts of lifting this thing into the canoe," he said. 

Brenan Isabelle spoke with the CBC's Brooklyn Currie about rushing to the rescue when he noticed a deer struggling in icy water. 5:33

"I tried to sort of block its way and make it go back the other way into the open water where it might be actually able to get out of the ice, but it just seemed to be panicked, and was just swimming, more or less into the thick part of the ice."

The ice began to get tougher to paddle through, so Isabelle tried something else. He managed to get beside the deer, get the sling around its chest and tie it to the canoe in the hopes of towing it back to shore.

But the deer wasn't having it. The animal tried to swim in the opposite direction from where Isabelle was paddling.

"We weren't going anywhere, so towing the deer didn't seem like an option," he said.

After returning to shore, Isabelle helped the deer out of the boat. For a good five minutes, it stood on the shore, shivering and recovering. (Submitted by Brenan Isabelle)

At that point, the deer seemed to be getting tired. "It was lower in the water and wasn't swimming as hard," he said.

That's when Isabelle tried Plan C: lifting it into the canoe. He reached around the deer's neck, grabbed the sling around its chest, and hauled it into the canoe, mindful of the fact that his boat was almost dipping into the water.

Then, he started paddling back to shore.

"At first it didn't move at all, and I think maybe it was relieved," said Isabelle. "It was obviously pretty cold, too, by that point, and tired. This had been going on for, I dunno, 20 or 30 minutes, and it had been in the water awhile."

As Isabelle got closer to shore, the deer began to get excited and kick its legs.

"As it warmed up, I guess, it was trying to get up, and started to kind of kick its hooves against the gunwales of the canoe," he said

"And so I sort of sat on top of it and told it, you know, whatever you say to a deer to calm it."

Deer to his heart

When he got back to shore, to where his wife was watching, Isabelle helped the deer out of the boat. For a good five minutes, it stood on the shore, shivering, its legs splayed out.

"We kind of backed away from it, just hoping it would go on its way. And then it started to go back into the water," he said with a laugh.

"I said, 'I'm not going back in there!'"

He and his wife went back to their house, where they kept a watchful eye on the deer through the window. The deer then came back out of the water and stood between Isabelle's house and the water for about 20 minutes before walking away.

While Isabelle and the deer may not have ended up as best friends, he said the experience gave him a new perspective on an animal he once considered to be a nuisance.

"We do see lots of deer around the yard, and [we're] not always the biggest fans of them because they eat the gardens and stuff, but … I feel better about deer now than I did before," he said.

"It was a gentle and beautiful creature."

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With files from CBC's Mainstreet and Brooklyn Currie

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