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Bucky was endearing to readers

February 22, 2004|by LIZ THOMPSON

I've seen readers riled up over a news story, but I have never witnessed the reader reaction sparked by last week's stories about Bucky the deer.

On Thursday, messages about the deer were backing up on my voice mail, but I was having a hard time getting to them because every time I hung up from a Bucky caller, the phone would ring again.

Of course, by Thursday, the Bucky saga had been going on for several days and he made his national television debut that morning on the "Today" show.

Herald-Mail readers first learned about Bucky on Tuesday morning when we featured the deer's story on the front page.

It began when Kevin and Starla Hall found the deer last Sunday in the middle of the street near their Antietam Drive home. The deer followed them home and took up residence on their back porch.

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Kevin Hall called The Herald-Mail on Monday to tell the story. On Tuesday, when the story appeared in the newspaper, a few calls trickled in from people offering ideas where Bucky could go to live.

In Wednesday's newspapers, there was a short follow-up about Bucky, in which readers learned the Department of Natural Resources planned to kill the deer and test it for disease.

The phone calls stepped up a notch. More people called, offering even more potential safe havens.

By Thursday, when the newspapers reported that Bucky's hours to live were numbered according to the DNR, and the "Today" show interviewed the couple, the phone calls reached a fevered pitch.

When I walked into the building that morning about 8:30 a.m., the receptionist stopped me. Who, she asked, should get the Bucky calls, which were already coming into The Herald-Mail at a steady stream.

Literally dozens and dozens of people called or e-mailed us about the deer. The calls were coming from everywhere. In addition to our readers in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, we heard from people in North Carolina, Illinois, Louisiana, Florida and Oklahoma.

Some callers were angry. Others were near tears. Every single reporter working that morning took at least one call. Editors and editorial assistants were also fielding the calls. So were employees in our advertising, classified and circulation departments.

Everyone, it seemed, had been captured by Bucky's plight and wanted to help.

By mid-morning Thursday, Bucky had been whisked away from the Halls' home, escaping DNR officials. How "safe" Bucky will be remains to be seen. The reason is because while he is now back in the wild, he was freed not far from an area that allows hunting, Still, people seem content that he has dodged the bullet (pun intended).

Good for Bucky.

The DNR says maybe not so good for the deer population. DNR officials said during a press conference Thursday they were concerned Bucky might be ill and might pass that illness on to other deer.

Almost every single person who called us didn't share that concern. Saving Bucky became a cause people latched onto.

Those of us in the newsroom tried to figure out what it was that touched people so.

For one thing, those of us practicing pop psychology determined it was because the deer had a name. Every caller asking about the deer Thursday used his name. People fell in love with "Bucky."

For another, coming to the defense of an animal is a pretty safe stand to make. It doesn't require a whole lot of effort and it's easy to work ourselves into a rage about it.

Imagine what would happen if people applied that same energy to issues of education, hunger, health care, peace ...




Liz Thompson is the city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7682, or by e-mail at lizt@herald-mail.com.

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