SPRING HILL - The owner of a wildlife rescue facility whose sister was gored in the eye by a deer said she has tried to release the animal at least twice in the past.
"I have released him twice before," Judy Watson said shortly before trappers and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission members entered her property to remove the deer Monday afternoon from Survival Outreach Sanctuary. "He's a rehab animal that was rehabbed and when he was ready to be released I took him seven miles away to a property with over 13,000 acres on it with herds of deer and he found his way back here."
Efforts to release the deer a third time was sidetracked when a 150-pound female lion escaped its enclosure on Jan. 3 and had to be tranquilized, she said.
On Friday, Watson's sister, Sylvia Fernandez, 75, was gored in the eye by the buck. After a 911 call was made by Watson, she and Fernandez waited in an RV on the property for emergency medical help to arrive.
Members of the FWC as well as Vernon Yates, founder of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, went to the property at 22005 Bowman Road, tranquilized the deer and transported it to another facility.
The deer will be castrated, confined with a doe and later transferred to a government facility, Yates said, for educational purposes and away from the public.
Yates, who responded to the property when the lion was loose earlier this month, said he saw the deer aggressively playing with a man at the sanctuary. The deer also approached Yates and one of his employees while they were on that property, he said.
Yates offered to cut the deer's antlers that day because he was worried something bad would happen down the line.
"I knew it was going to," Yates said. "I offered at that time to take and cut the deer's antlers off . basically, right now, had the antlers got cut off, the woman's eye would still be there. He may have knocked her down, he may have bruised her. The antler would not have gone in the eye... and destroyed the eye."
Fernandez remains in stable condition at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point. She's in good spirits, Watson said.
"She's cracking jokes and laughing and got all the nurses in stitches," Watson said.
Survival Outreach Sanctuary was founded in 1990 by Watson to help abused and abandoned animals, according to its website. The nonprofit facility houses large cats, wolf-dogs and other wildlife.