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While travelling between rice fields in Yolo County, Calif., a truck driver swerved to avoid a little white mound in the middle of the road. The driver kept going, but when he saw another truck veer behind him, he decided to turn around and investigate.
He discovered that the mound was really an animal - maybe a lamb or some kind of goat, he thought. Then he heard it mew, like a cat, and he called the Kindred Spirits Fawn Rescue centre.
"He said, 'I don't know what I've got,' Centre President Diane Nicholas said.
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After the driver texted photographs of the small creature, Nicholas realized what he had found. "I said, 'Oh, my gosh, that's an albino fawn!'"
It's the first such animal Nicholas has cared for in 13 years as a rescuer.
The animal is a surreal sight, with white hooves, red eyes and super-soft, short fur Nicholas likened to a Labrador retriever's - unlike the different textures of spotted deer fur.
Because the animal was found in a flat area, with no signs of shelter or its mother, Kindred Spirits took in the baby. Nicholas said the mother deer could be roadkill, and the fawn may have wandered out to the road to find her.
The rescue centre named the 3-week-old female "Spirit" because of a Native American folklore linked to white deer. Rescuers sprayed animal-friendly sunscreen on the albino baby to protect her sensitive skin and soft, white coat, and built a dark shelter for her.
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When Spirit was brought in early last week, the fawn was afraid and rejected bottles, Nicholas said. But she since has gained confidence and drinks from her bottle heartily - though sometimes she struggles with where to put her long, white tongue.
"It was so cute - this morning she finished her bottle ... she stood on her hind legs and swatted her hoof by the bottle," Nicholas said.
In about a week's time, she will get a roommate - another rescued deer - and then be moved in with a larger group. She'll be released with a group of deer when she's about 6 months old, Nicholas said.
The rescue centre has been flooded with messages from concerned citizens who worry about the deer's release.
But Nicholas said Spirit's chance of survival is about the same as that of other deer, despite the fact that she can't camouflage very well. The animal will be released on private property owned by ranchers, where hunting is prohibited.
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"She is a special gift to us," Nicholas said. "We're giving her the best shot possible."
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