By Abigail Tucker
October 1 2007
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Seen and herd
A couple who hold deer dear patrol their neighborhood to make life onerous for hunters and safe for wildlife
Enid Feinberg and Lierra Lenhard patrol their Phoenix property. They say hunters trespass on their land, as well as on their neighbors'.
Sun photo by Amy Davis
The morning air is cool and as tart as the antibiotic-laced apples that Enid Feinberg feeds to dying deer in her backyard. It's September again. Feinberg draws a deep, determined breath, and then, as she does before dawn every day of whitetail season, steers her sport-utility vehicle up her quarter-mile-long driveway and starts her rounds.
The first bucks are just past the mailbox; their heads snap in her direction.
"Hey, sweeties," she murmurs to herself, and they bound off almost before the words have left her lips.
Feinberg and her life partner, Lierra Lenhard, could watch deer for hours, and sometimes they do, sitting in chairs near the edge of their 14 acres of woods.
After living for seven years in this rural part of Phoenix, the women know the animals like friends. They've grown used to the sweet way the does mother their fawns and are no longer alarmed when the bucks' necks swell to linebacker proportions just before mating season, and the velvet peels off their antlers in long, bloody strips.
But Feinberg isn't searching for deer this morning. She's on the look out for tire tracks through meadows, and pickup trucks with no condensation on their windshields and still-warm engines.
In the weeks before Sept. 15, the beginning of bowhunting season, she and Lenhard canvassed their neighborhood and others off Dulaney Valley Road, acquainting themselves with the local cars.
Now, unfamiliar vehicles that might belong to trespassing hunters stick out when Feinberg makes her daily circuit. A Ford 4-by-4 with a gun rack is a dead giveaway, but she's also known hunters to stuff carcasses in the backs of Volkswagen sedans.
This early, the fields and front lawns are still padded with fog, and it's easy to envision what the neighborhood was like a decade ago, when it was woods and a 300-acre farm rather than a colony of jumbo homes, the sort of pseudo-pastoral suburb that increasingly characterizes Baltimore's outskirts.
But even though the developments keep coming, most times it's still quiet enough to hear an acorn drop. Autumn would be the most beautiful season of all if it weren't also the most terrible.
"I hate the fall now," Feinberg says.
The walkie-talkie in her lap is a direct line to Lenhard, who's patrolling on foot in the woods. Feinberg also takes a miniature video camera to record hunters' transgressions, a range finder to figure distances and a neon orange scarf to fling around her neck if she needs it.
Otherwise, she wears black.
Suddenly, she yanks the wheel to the right and hits the brakes.
"Oh, no," she says. "What is that?"
There is a lump of something brown way out in a neighbor's field. It could be a downed deer, or it could be a crouching man with a taste for fawn meat, the sort of predator who shot Smiling Buck a year ago. Feinberg whips out a pair of binoculars.
If it is an illegal hunter, she'll call the state Department of Natural Resources, but she'll also confront him herself, scream, guard a deer's body with her own if she has to.
The hunched shape turns out to be a pile of leaves.
This dawn is safe or seems to be. Feinberg receives an all-clear call from Lenhard in the woods, and another from a neighbor checking the roads on his way to work.
Though they can't vouch for the nearby properties where owners permit hunting, the off-limits land seems to be OK, and their duty - which takes 20 minutes if nothing is amiss, and sometimes the whole morning if something is - is done for another day.
Feinberg turns back down the driveway of the large brick house Lenhard designed, carefully landscaped with burning bush and other deer-proof plants, and pulls into the garage, filled with sacks of sunflower seeds for the birds, peanuts for the squirrels, and corn and apples for the deer.
She still gets a chuckle out of the sign they've hung outside.
"Deer Lovers Parking Only," she recites. "All Others Will Be Hunted."
A wild life to wildlife
Things weren't always this way.
Before Lenhard and Feinberg, built their home here, they rarely thought about wildlife rights. They were city girls, transplants from Manhattan who, until they got the urge to move out to the country, lived the wild life themselves.
Of course, they were always animal people, Feinberg, the daughter of a Westminster dog show judge who grew up on a Maryland farm in the late 1950s and '60s, and Lenhard, a cat fancier ardent enough to design a home with a built-in catwalk.
But they never dreamed they would need to recognize the roar of a muzzleloader, leap over streams and tree roots in pursuit of trespassing sportsmen, or keep their woods under video surveillance.
Yet here they are, leading the charge to stop illegal deer hunting in the Loch Raven area. They claim that shooting deer doesn't solve suburban problems, like the spread of Lyme disease and car-deer collisions. In their view, that's all hunters' propaganda, scare tactics meant to sustain a bloody pastime.
What bothers them is not just that poachers invade private property, although that's upsetting, too. But even when hunters ask homeowners' permission and obey the law, rifle reports shatter the neighborhood peace, and anyway, shooting is a cruel way to kill.
Feinberg and Lenhard don't have a single good thing to say about the sport. If they had their druthers, it would disappear altogether.
How could they want anything else after they came to know the deer? Fruity, Mikey, the White Foot Sisters, to name a few, and, of course, Smiling Buck, the big guy who'd been there since the beginning, the markings around his mouth creating the illusion of a quizzical grin.
Feinberg and Lenhard learned to feed them grapes, and eventually some of the deer let themselves be touched. They felt almost like house pets. Before the women installed a cat fence, creating a paddock for the untold number of felines they keep, the cats would sometimes frisk with tiny fawns in the yard.
"Shooting a deer is like shooting the neighborhood dog," Feinberg says.
Which made it all the more traumatic to discover a shot-to-pieces doe dying in their gazebo one winter, to see a deer who'd lost an antler trying to dislodge the arrow in his side, to watch Stumpy, who still staggers gamely to the corn feeder out back even though part of his hind leg was shot off three years ago.
And Smiling Buck. After he was struck with an arrow in the side of the head, he took the better part of a year to die. The medicated apples helped for a while, but the infection kept flaring up. It was awful to see him standing there with a rivulet of pus flowing down his neck and that soft smile.
Feinberg and Lenhard blame themselves for his death because they had skipped patrolling the day he was shot. Now they will never desert the herd again. From the start of the deer season until it finishes, at the end of January, the couple does not go on vacation or miss so much as a morning at home.
Feinberg - who works from home but still has a New York-based sales job - will not attend a meeting if it means she can't make her rounds.
Feinberg remembers the first time she saw a hunter on her land. One morning in the fall of 2001 while on the phone with a client, she looked out her second-story office window to see a man in camouflage lurking near the cat fence.
"Hunters!" she remembers screaming, terrifying both her client and the housekeeper. The next thing she knew she was outside, trying to wrestle the bow out of the man's hands.
Since then, Feinberg and Lenhard, a graphic designer, say they've received physical threats from hunters. The confrontations - several a year - have gotten so dramatic that Feinberg's mother bought each of them a rifle.
So far, at least, the guns stay in the house: The women hope words will always be weapons enough. Lenhard and Feinberg successfully shout hunters out of tree stands, where they wait for the deer to come.
"I'm an old man!" one of them cried, after Lenhard lay into him. "You're going to give me a heart attack!"
"How do you think the deer feel?" Lenhard says.
Points of view
Ron Wicks worries about his deer-doting neighbors. True, he enjoys the deer, even when they decimate his ornamental shrubbery. And he deeply appreciates the work Feinberg and Lenhard do, as do some other neighbors.
Even those who are not so enamored of the herds don't necessarily care for hunters' spotlights interrupting their star-gazing sessions, or the sound of gunshots at dawn.
But Wicks wonders if the couple jeopardizes themselves by confronting hunters in the woods. Sometimes when Feinberg is tailing someone suspicious, Wicks follows in his car to make sure she's OK.
"I'm not sure what they're doing is safe, but I commend them for it," says the cytopathologist, who has authorized the pair to guard his land when he's at work.
Others say Feinberg and Lenhard have taken their passion for deer too far.
"We're not against them, and they seem like pleasant people," says neighbor Paula Campbell, whose husband is a bowhunter. "But they've certainly given us a very hard time."
She says the couple has repeatedly expressed their distaste for her husband's recreational preferences and have created tension in the neighborhood. The Campbells don't like to see Feinberg's car crawling by their house.
"We're good people, and we do everything legally," says Campbell, who says the family donates much of its deer meat to homeless shelters. "But they say they can't even talk to people like us."
Doug Hotton, a hunter and DNR deer biologist who knows Feinberg through her work on a state deer management plan, says in 33 years he's never heard of similar patrolling and doesn't advise them.
"That isn't appropriate behavior for anyone," says Hotton, who also maintains that hunting is an effective way to control the deer population. "I don't suggest that anyone confront a stranger on their property. I suggest they contact the appropriate authority."
But Feinberg and Lenhard say they have to take matters into their own hands, and so they volunteer for a variety of deer-related efforts. Both women are involved with Wildlife Rescue Inc., a Hampstead-based sanctuary for wounded animals; they recently donated money to build a fawn barn there.
They also helped to found Deer Solutions MD, which educates state residents about Lyme disease, deer-adapted gardens, driving in deer country and other issues essential to human-herd peace.
Perhaps most importantly, they reach out to fellow citizens whose lives have been similarly disrupted by hunting, like Barbara Granger, a soft-spoken 74-year-old who lives in one of Phoenix's hunting hot spots.
The vegetarian grandmother is sickened by the sound of gunshots and the sight of deer blood in neighboring driveways. "Sometimes I just feel like closing my draperies," Granger says.
But her friendship with Feinberg and Lenhard, forged through Wildlife Rescue, has given her strength. She'll probably keep the draperies open this year: Feinberg is helping her choose a good pair of binoculars.
Sometimes, especially in the dead of winter, the burden feels too heavy. The mornings get so cold, and stomping through the snow after surly hunters is nobody's idea of fun. Truth be told, there are days Feinberg and Lenhard would rather be getting a manicure.
Maybe it would be easier to subdivide their 20 acres so there wouldn't be forest to hunt in. Maybe it would be better to move.
But they never will. Feinberg and Lenhard have been a couple for 25 years. They met as club kids in the glitzy Studio 54 crowd, going out to Fire Island, N.Y., on summer weekends.
They've been through much of life together and plan to spend the rest of it here. They call the house their FRP - Final Resting Place. After they die, they will leave the property to someone who cares about the deer like they do.
They knew it was home the day they stopped by almost a decade ago, looking for land. The lot where the house now stands was all woods. Feinberg and Lenhard took in the shady solitude of it all, so different from the city they'd left behind.
And then, down by the back meadow, they saw the deer.
"There were six of them, a little herd," Feinberg says. "Then Lierra saw them. Do you remember what you said?"
"You said, 'This is where I want to build my house.' To her, the deer were beauty. We wanted to live in beauty."
And, in peace, which it's not clear they'll ever have, between September and January at least.
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