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The Ballad of Bimbo the Deer

This is a story about a Canadian recluse named Janet Schwartz and her domesticated deer, Bimbo.

Photos and text by Jennifer Osborne

Nearly two years ago, a reclusive 70-something-year-old named Janet Schwartz was devastated when the law threatened to separate her from her domesticated deer, Bimbo. Conservation officers arrived at her generator-powered plywood shack, plopped miles away from a remote Canadian tourist town called Ucluelet, with orders to take the then ten-year-old deer into their custody.


Janet was told she wasn't allowed to keep her deer anymore because in this part of Canada, it is illegal to keep wild pets as animals. After weeks of stress and fear, Janet reached out to a few media outlets and told her story. She had rescued the deer when it was only a day old, after her neighbors found it lying in the grass near its mother's dead body. She named the deer Bimbo after a Gene Autry song ("Bimbo Bimbo where you gonna go-e-o"). Janet had raised a buck years before, so her neighbors knew she could provide a suitable home for the fawn. Janet raised Bimbo on goat's milk and fruits, allowing her to sleep at her bedside every night for the first two years, until she was strong enough to be tethered to a hut on the property.

Janet claims after hearing her story, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper reached out to her with a personal phone call to say, "the law will never touch you again." And, faithfully, the authorities shortly after agreed the deer was not fit to survive in the wild on its own. Now, another two years later, Bimbo is 12 years old and still safely in the care of Janet, although confined to a muddy pen where wild animals such as bears and cougars are a possible threat. Janet takes special precautions at night, however, by allowing the deer to sleep in her living room.

“Bimbo comes right up to me to kiss me on the lips, like a man kisses a woman," Janet told the Canadian National Post last year. "She does the same thing. She kisses." She explained that their bond is very strong and that the deer is protective when threats such as aggressive dogs or intrusive visitors come her way. She also explained that they sometimes fight, and that the deer rears up and flails her hooves toward Janet in the heat of arguments. Later, Bimbo likes to bury the hatchet by "licking her to death."

Until this year, Janet lived with a man named Mike, who also had a close relationship with the deer. But in recent months Mike has fallen ill, and is currently hospitalized for an indeterminate amount of time. Now Janet lives in the remote and spooky hills outside one of Canada's biggest tourist destinations alone, with only her beloved Bimbo to keep her company.

Jen Osborne is a Canadian photographer living in Berlin.