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Deer kill will hurt children's psyches

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Guest Viewpoint: Deer kill will hurt children's psyches
Dec. 28, 2011

Written by Iva Lesky

Based on a lifetime of experience as an Ithaca educator, I am concerned that the children of our entire community face potential harm if the Village of Cayuga Heights pursues its deer extermination plan.

The trustees plan to draw in groups of deer with bait and, in proximity to family homes, shoot them en masse, including fawns and pregnant does. Approximately 20 "placeholder" deer will be sterilized and marked. While they will be spared the slaughter, they will be traumatized year after year as their herd members, many of whom may have migrated in from other municipalities, are killed around them. This "vision" of how to relate to our community's wildlife is shocking and disturbing. I believe carrying it out will cause severe emotional distress to many children.

I started my career more than 30 years ago as a volunteer at Cayuga Heights Elementary, and since then have worked as a teacher and ESOL coordinator, and as the principal of Fall Creek and Caroline elementary schools. In my experience, most children have strong positive feelings about deer, and many view them as they view their pets. Educators and mental health workers see over and over the strength of this bond, which anyone who has watched "Bambi" or "The Yearling" with a child has experienced.

Slaughtering deer in our neighborhoods will terrify the children. Some will feel threatened that their pets could be shot; others may feel their own personal safety threatened.

Within 24 hours, most children in Cayuga Heights will know about the killing. Within one week, the news will pass to children throughout the county. There will be an increase in distressed behaviors -- sleeplessness, bedwetting, acting out. Some children will recover in a few days, some in a few months, and some may be permanently damaged. Carrying out the mass slaughter so close to homes multiplies all the risks involved, including the physical safety of children.

The baiting, entrapping and systematic destruction of a whole population evokes the horrors of war and will offend children's sense of fairness. There is no credible way to explain to a young child that any of the inconveniences caused by the deer in Cayuga Heights justifies killing them.

Children learn by what we show them, more than by what we say. What does this unfair, irrational and cruel extermination of the deer teach them? And what of children who have antisocial tendencies or borderline psychological problems? They will take away the idea of killing those who are inconvenient. The neighbor's barking dog and the cat who crosses property lines are all inconvenient. A child who is forming values, and especially one who is having difficulty establishing appropriate behavior, will be pushed in exactly the wrong direction.

As the seeds that are being sown now by the Cayuga Heights trustees take root, we may well be faced with more incidents of harm to vulnerable people and pets. Reason, compassion and creative alternatives are what is called for here, not mass killing.

Lesky resides in the Town of Ithaca.

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