• April 16, 2014

Dillie the Deer, Nursed Back to Health, Returns the Favor

This post was originally published in April 2014. We’re resurfacing it as part of our #ThrowbackThursday effort to give some love to our favorite posts.—The Proof Team

On my first solo assignment for National Geographic magazine, I found myself lying facedown on the plush carpeted floor of a bedroom that just so happened to belong to a deer. That deer’s name is Dillie. And Dillie is a diva. She loves being filmed—she’s used to it in fact. Her 24-hour webcam allows people all over the world to check in on her as she snoozes on her queen-size bed.

But that day she did not want to be filmed. Instead she wanted kisses. She fought her way through to my camera, until she could get to my face and then proceeded to lick me for 10 minutes non-stop.

And that was the exact moment that I fell in love with this animal.

Dillie was born blind on a deer farm in 2005. Her mother, sensing her fawn’s weakness, abandoned little Dillie to care for her two stronger young bucks. The farmer found the dying fawn three days later and brought her to Melanie Butera’s emergency vet clinic in the hopes of saving her life. After treating the dying fawn, Melanie brought the deer home to nurse her back to health. But Melanie and her husband Steve fell head over heels for this gentle deer and soon Dillie was climbing in bed with them at night and eating next to them at the dinner table.

After Melanie set up Dillie’s webcam they began receiving scores of letters from people across the globe thanking her for bringing a spark of joy to their lives. One day Melanie received a letter from a woman named Barbara, who was suffering from mitochondrial disease, asking if she could visit Dillie. She wrote:

“The simple reality is that my journey on earth should have ended some time ago. In the absence of medical hope, I have reinvented my own form, over and over again. Perhaps this time, I was meant to find hope in Dillie, or maybe we were meant to bring you a dose of the hope, support and love you have clearly given so many.”

Barbara didn’t know how much her words would impact Melanie, who had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 endometrial cancer. Melanie was told to prepare for the worst, but after reading Barbara’s words, Melanie found hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

For months Dillie stayed by Melanie’s side, day in and day out, through chemo and illness, through the tears and pain. Now Melanie is in remission and Dillie’s role in her recovery has not gone unnoticed.

Picture of deer looking out window
Photograph by Vincent J. Musi

Melanie wrote a book called Dillie the Deer: Love on Hooves to share her story with the world.  And boy, has it been shared. Dillie has appeared on domestic and international television stations and in countless newspaper stories—she receives credit card applications and Valentine’s Day cards. Once, when the webcam was broken, Melanie received an email from the International Space Station asking if Dillie was okay and when her webcam would be back on.

In all my life I have never met an animal so gracious, so gentle and so happy. She is the embodiment of unconditional love and I can easily see how she has become such a source of inspiration. Melanie and Steve took on a big task when they decided to welcome Dillie into their family, but I know they wouldn’t change that for the world.

As Melanie puts it,

“If a little spotted fawn with no reason to live can bring love to people a world away, then the love each of us give, and the life each of us live, truly leave a dent in the universe.”


You can learn more about Dillie and other exotic pets in the April 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.  

Editor’s Note: Dillie is a farm-bred deer. Her unique situation and partial blindness has allowed her to be a well-acclimated pet. But as a veterinarian, Melanie does not recommend anyone having a deer as a house pet.

There are 39 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. russell basile
    September 21, 2015

    Thank you Dr.Mel and sSteve for sharing dillie to the world.

  2. Stacey
    August 24, 2014

    I wonder what the date was that Dillie was born on in June ?

  3. Ella Fales
    May 15, 2014

    Thank you Steve and Melanie for sharing such a precious gift. I hope to visit you and Dillie again soon.

  4. Judy H
    May 12, 2014

    I love watching Dillie on her cam. I have introduced a number of young people to her using her biography. A bundle of love with no hidden agenda is a very special ‘person’.

  5. Mattie Dyer
    April 29, 2014

    As we humans over populate we force other species into extinction. Shall we make pets of all of them or mend our ways.

  6. Arjun
    April 28, 2014

    Do we not learn from Dilli to be happy with what is lotted and shower love on who visits. We have not got love, kindness and righteousness by universities and degrees. Agree?

  7. Kathy
    April 27, 2014

    Deer are my favorite wild animal…so graceful, and now I know, so loving. We have 3 rescued dogs which we love dearly. I believe they have rescued us in more ways than I can ever count. Thank you for sharing your heartwarming story.

  8. Raquel Cartwright
    April 26, 2014

    I think stories like this are so touching! The fact that they took this blind baby deer in and feel so in love with this animal, little did they know how this deer would come to effect their life. I am so happy that Dillie has found such a living family to spend her time with and touch so many people across the world!

  9. Marcos
    April 26, 2014

    That is one of the reasons I believe in love! You are Very lucky. Congratulations.

  10. Osvaldo
    April 25, 2014

    So wonderful story. Animals are angels with a lot of love to give.

  11. Page Dancy
    April 22, 2014

    Dillie is such a wonderful story. You captured the animal’s essence in the piece. Thank you for giving us such an uplifting, well written article!

  12. Linda Bassett Stahl
    April 22, 2014

    If we could learn to love one another like that what a wonderful world it would be! Amazing story

  13. Alice Cleary
    April 19, 2014

    I am privileged to know Dr. Melanie, Steve and Dillie! Love describes their home and family. Dillie is a lover. What a gift this family is to our world!

  14. Janet Young
    April 19, 2014

    All I can do is cry, and I have a pain in my heart, because I know the truth of how these beautiful animals are hunted, and used..However Dillie has show us true unconditional love, from one such as her, and animal..Her charm, wisdom, strength and love are beyond this World. However I hope people understand that Dillie, and a little Pig, or Calf, or Lamb are no different, and all have a heart, love, emotions, fear and often, so very often unconditional love. I have rescued many animals, and I can assure you, I have seen such love as this, with Factory farmed animals I have rescued, however it was they that rescued me. Bless you all with deep love, and thank you for this wonderful story..I hope Dillie lives a very long and happy life with her family, and that they too live a very long and healthy life also..Love them dearly..xxxx

  15. Gail Armstrong
    April 18, 2014

    Love is all there is!

  16. Mary Ann Williamson
    April 18, 2014

    I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Mel and her other “Dear” husband Steve.They are the most special people with the biggest hearts imaginable.

  17. Susan alma Rasmussen
    April 18, 2014

    Beautiful. I think animals sense more than we do.

  18. Pat Shaw
    April 18, 2014

    The story of Dillie & Melanie warmed my heart. It shows there are no limits to what the power of love can do to soothe any creature on earth who is hurting.

  19. Donna Prevo
    April 18, 2014

    We are certified wildlife rehabilitators, specializing in fawns. Mostly orphans due to autos but some are injured from coyotes. We know that love you talk about. That is why we do rehabilitation. Please look for us on Facebook-Leelanau Wildlife Care.

  20. Lawrence Gaul
    April 18, 2014

    Wonderful Animal…God Bless Dillie.

  21. Roberta Herget
    April 18, 2014

    Aren”t animals wonderful. Full of unconditional love
    Bless you for letting this remarkable creature spread love all over the world

  22. Deni Masters
    April 17, 2014

    So touching! We as humans should love each other and all of Gods creatures as unconditionally as animals & children LOVE…our world would be a much better place!

  23. jacque H.
    April 17, 2014

    So beautiful.. thumbs up with out your care and love Dillie would not have survived..it’s pay it forward.. wish you well melanie…:)

  24. indi
    April 17, 2014

    Oh god..this is the most beautiful story I’ve ever read. My eyes are still wet..Your family is really GREAT melonie…you have already gained enough merits to live your own life by giving life to this blind animal..you will not die..you will become more healthy and strong and ‘coz you saved another one’s life.These are buddha’s teachings.trust me..you’re not going to die…

  25. Debra Robertson
    April 17, 2014

    Love is her superpower. We have a cat like this. She is not blind but she loves everyone.

  26. Carol Ann
    April 17, 2014

    This is a lovely story. But we should note that this little sweetheart was taken from a “deer farm”. Translation: “venison burgers”.

  27. Shelley sayer
    April 17, 2014

    What a heartwarming story. What a lovely couple and Deer. 🙂

  28. Roja
    April 17, 2014

    Its not surprising to see people love animals as their own children.looooove you Dillie.And to your care takers full thumbs up!!!

  29. Harold
    April 17, 2014

    As a nature loving person, I truly concur the greatest of all is indeed love…

  30. Aisha
    April 16, 2014

    I had gone to a local nature reserve here in quebec, Canada and there was a beautiful stag who I gave a carrot too. I saw that he had trouble eating the large carrot so I bit off pieces of the carrot and gave it to him. He licked my nose to say thank you and then my hand. I gave him a hug and almost got a horn in my side but he licked the whole side of my face and drooled on my jacket. Got me-self some deer lovin’ 🙂

  31. Cindy
    April 16, 2014

    I’ve always believed that animals are capable of much more than we give them credit for. All they need is love. The love they have for us is deeper than we allow them to show. This story is beautiful.

  32. Liz Czepiel
    April 16, 2014

    Magnificent – I see all animals as little bundles of life – to be kept safe in our hands.

  33. Carmen Vasquez
    April 16, 2014

    Truly wonderful couple! Thank you for sharing such a heartwarming. Story.

  34. Emily White
    April 16, 2014

    Love travels across all boundaries, care is communicated through species: what a tender story.

  35. Brenda Midolo
    April 16, 2014

    All Creatures Great and Small do matter. I have always believed this.

  36. Anne Zuidema
    April 16, 2014

    We should never underestimate the power of love!

  37. luis
    April 16, 2014

    very nice story , congrats Melanie and Steve for your charity

  38. junnu ravi kumar
    April 16, 2014

    Nice to see,one of the various forms of love 🙂

  39. Janet Barden
    April 16, 2014

    Spectacular…a fantasy

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