'Dani the Deer' case could change Indiana law on caring for injured wild animals

Change could permit help for injured wildlife

INDIANAPOLIS - Some state leaders are talking about altering a law that almost got a Connersville couple thrown in jail for taking in an injured fawn.

Jeff and Jennifer Counceller are not going to jail because the Department of Natural Resources asked that the charges against them for harboring a wild animal be dropped.

But many Hoosiers still question that law, and two key legislators now say they want to take a look at it.

Ever since the case came to light, Hoosiers have been reacting negatively to the law, which could have gotten the Councellers 60 days in jail and a big fine.

Many would like to see that law changed.

One downtown man said, "I'm a big nature lover, and I think it's helpful to the animals. I understand there need to be limits as well."

A woman told RTV6,"I think they did do the right thing. So there's probably room to change the law there."

Jeff Counceller said he doesn't want the law completely repealed, but in cases like Dani's -- where the animal is seriously wounded and there's no other help available -- he said in a phone interview that people should be able to help.

"As long as there's no criminal intent and you're trying to help a wounded animal," he said. "But there should be guidelines."

Those guidelines could include limits on how long you could keep the animal and a requirement that the animal be injured and not just abandoned.

The heads of the House and Senate Natural Resources Committees both said they want to look into at least tweaking the law.

"I think the individual's intentions were well-intentioned,” said Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury. “I don't think he was out necessarily trying to break the laws and so on. And so when somebody's trying to rescue a deer, trying to do the right thing, I think we need to work with them. So I think we need to iron some of the issues out a little bit."

Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, had similar thoughts.

"Under emergency type situations like what we had here, there may be room to where we can make it OK for them to take in the animal at that time, until a property rehabilitation or rescue organization can be found," Eberhart said. "So I think that's one area that we can look at."

Several lawmakers expressed the feeling that both sides were a little bit at fault in this situation -- the Councellers for maybe keeping the deer too long, about two years, and the DNR for perhaps being a little ham-handed in going after the couple.

Any change in the law will not be quick.

Both chairmen are talking about looking at it over the summer and introducing a bill next year.

To read more of Indiana's legal code regarding the Department of Natural Resources and wildlife, click here .

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