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Humane treatment

It sounds like the beginning of a joke: The deer lady drove into Stiglmeier Park on a recent evening in her little red car.

But she's not laughing, and that's the point.

Anita Depczynski, 66, is not a joke, a kook, or someone to be trifled with, she wants you to know.

On that evening in the Cheektowaga park, it wasn't long before a parks employee came upon her.

"You're going back to jail," she says he told her.

"You're going to get fired," she told him.

She's trying to leave the controversy behind her. Others have gotten worn down and pulled back, but Depczynski -- the Deer Lady of Cheektowaga who went to jail for feeding the deer -- can't.

"Enough is enough. The truth must be told," she said.

Now that she's on the verge of launching an initiative to humanely reduce the number of deer, she wants people to know she's serious about her cause. She wants to establish her credibility, so a birth control program for deer can be enacted without her being the butt of jokes.

The deer contraception is not such a fantastic possibility.

"We're in better shape with the vaccine than we were," said Allen T. Rutberg, who was involved with the program proposed in Amherst nine years ago. "It's one shot, good for at least one year and maybe more than one year."

A professor at Tufts University, he's willing to bring the Humane Society of the United States immunocontraceptive program here. But he needs a population of deer, and a willing community.

"There has to be broad political support to work," Rutberg said.

Cheektowaga's 2005 "Deer/Vehicle Accident Reduction Plan" says the town would consider fertility control in the future if it proves feasible and is permitted by the state.

If governments are worried about the cost, there are benefactors who admire Depczynski's determination who are waiting in the wings to fund the program.

But before they start, Depczynski wants to clear the air.

The media made her out to be a crazy old lady feeding the deer, and that's all they wanted to see, she says. She is much more than that, she argues.

She has three children with families of their own. They have parties and holiday meals at her house, she said, showing a reporter photo albums of happy times.

The public has to know it started years before she got involved, she says, when people spoke out against development in Stiglmeier Park. People fed the deer openly for years in Cheektowaga, and sometimes found deer that had been shot.

The deer lady's story has goofy twists and turns. She received eight tickets and jail time for violating the state ban on feeding white-tailed deer -- yet some in the Adirondacks still openly feed deer. She also has stayed out of town parks for a year on a judge's order.

One time, Cheektowaga Justice Thomas Kolbert transferred Depczynski's case to another court two days before he was given a ticket for feeding deer in his yard. His neighbor, a Cheektowaga police officer, had filed the complaint, and had a videotape, but Kolbert's case was dismissed in Town of Tonawanda Court.

Each of Depczynski's three attorneys wanted her to end the cases by agreeing not to feed the deer, but she refused until after she spent seven days in Alden Correctional Facility in 2005.

She praised the guards, but still shudders at her release.

She was taken to the Erie County Holding Center in Buffalo on the morning of her release, set loose on Delaware Avenue with no money and no way to get home. Meanwhile her daughter went to pick her up in Alden.

A spokesman for the correctional facility at the time said the incident was an unfortunate mix-up.

"Oh please," she said when told of the explanation.

She wants to move on, but it is something she won't forget.

Changing her public image may be difficult, according to Elayne Rapping, a pop-culture expert who teaches at the University at Buffalo. One way is to go door-to-door like a candidate to get huge numbers of people to sign on to her mission. The other costs a lot of money.

"People hire high-powered spin doctors to change their image," Rapping said. "Public opinion does change media images."

Depczynski doesn't have the money to hire a handler. So she is back to copying articles from newspapers -- because the truth is all there, she says -- and delivering them to whoever will take them.

She talks about deer, politicians, loss of green space, agencies conspiring against her, bait and shoot and urban sprawl almost in one breath. All are connected, she says.

How would you like your credibility broken, Depczynski wants to know. They threw everything at her and she stood her ground, she said.

But still, it comes back to feeding the deer.

How are you sending me to jail for feeding the deer? she still wonders.

It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but she's not laughing.


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