By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — For years, Mark Burke has been feeding deer that meander into the backyard of his father’s home on Kenoza Street where he operates his business, Mark Burke Plumbing & Heating.
He regularly fills a feeder with corn and other grains that attract the animals and keep them from damaging apple trees in the yard, and neighbors’ shrubs and flowers. He and neighbors pitch in to buy the feed to keep the deer busy eating grains, instead of tree buds and plants.
It’s always an attraction to the Burke family, as well as friends and neighbors who show up to watch the show as the sun begins to set.
But recently it became more of a concern for Burke than a fun attraction when he noticed that one deer had what appeared to be a huge growth dangling from its face. Burke became even more alarmed over ensuing days when he noticed the growth was spreading.
“This deer’s head appears to be severely infected with some sort of a disease that blinded him in his left eye,” Burke said. “He has an eye that’s swollen to the size of a softball and wraps around his face. And it’s all over his back legs and it has been progressing.
“Every day the disease appears to be getting worse,” he said.
City Animal Control Officer Michelle Hamel said the sick animal could be suffering from fibromatosis, which is a naturally occurring virus that can an cause large warts in several species of deer, including white tail deer common to New England.
“As long as the animal can and fend for itself we generally have to let it be,” Hamel said. “I hate to see it something like this, but one good sign is that the deer is with other deer. If he was too slow they’d let him be. The fact that other deer are not keeping their distance is a good sign.”
If the deer is suffering from fibromatosis, then according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, it is likely to survive as the virus is not a significant cause of deer deaths. The disease is specific to deer, including white-tailed mule deer and black-tailed deer, and is not known to occur in or affect humans. In addition, the disease is self-limiting and the fibromas (skin tumors) tend to regress over time.
The home’s backyard borders woodland that stretches west to Winnekenni Park and is home to many deer, including about 30 or so that meander into the Burke family home on Kenoza Street every morning before sunrise and every night before sunset.
“We set up a feeder to distract them from eating our apple trees in the spring when they bud,” Burke said. “We have the feeder out all year long and the deer seem to like the grain better than the buds of the trees.”
He said a few neighbors contribute to the purchase of corn and other grains because they don’t want the deer eating their shrubs and flowers.
“The deer live in the woods behind us, which reaches all the way to Winnekenni Castle,” Burke said.
Recently, more deer than usual have been arriving to feed. Burke says it’s probably because of logging that has been taking place off Kenoza Street and behind Northern Essex Community College as part of a city forestry program to remove diseased hemlock trees.
“They’ve been coming earlier and there’s more of them,” Burke said about the deer. “One group comes and stays for a half hour or so, then when they leave another group arrives and stays a while, taking turns at the feeder and sometimes playing — fighting each other.”
“It’s a combination of males, females and young ones,” Burke said.
He said the deer put on a show that friends and neighbors come to watch.
“They do get skittish when I’m around, but not when my father is out there,” Burke said. “He can be shoveling snow and they’ll be 20 feet away.”