David Lawrence feeding a young Pete
In early October 2011 the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department announced that Pete the Moose was dead. The announcement followed days of department officials insisting Pete was alive. Apparently Pete died while sedated to have his hooves trimmed. Then when asked about the whereabouts of Pete’s body state officials said they had it and it was being tested for chronic wasting disease. A day or so later state officials said they were mistaken – they don’t have Pete’s body and they don’t know where it is. The story is sure to continue into the future.
The following is a story I wrote about Pete in 2010.
The Grizzly Adams of Albany and a Moose Named Pete
by Scott Wheeler
A tall, lanky man with a bushy white beard with matching hair hanging down the back of his neck, David Lawrence of Albany is a man of the land and forests, a dying breed of Vermonter.
“I like being in the woods with the animals,” Lawrence said. “I’m 74 and I’m the happiest when I’m in the woods with my dog.”
From as young as Lawrence can remember, he said he has had an uncanny relationship with animals, including wild animals. During an earlier chapter of his life he was an avid hunter and trapper. Even then, though, he respected his quarry, and honored his kill with respect. He no longer hunts but he is not against hunting as long as it is done in such a way to honor sacrifice of the animal.
“I have made friends with many animals over the years,” Lawrence said. Among them were deer that trusted him enough to allow him to feed them from his hands. Then there was a two-month-old orphaned bull moose that had apparently, possibly out of curiosity, kicked a porcupine — leaving him not only with a broken heart from the loss of his mother, but also with a foot full of quills.
“That boy was devastated,” Lawrence said. “He cried and he cried for his mother. I sat there and read him a book and that calmed him down.” A friend named that calf Davey in honor of Lawrence.
Because of his comfort in the wilds, and his ability to communicate with animals, some would say he is a modern day, real life Grizzly Adams. (The Grizzly Adams movies and television series of the 1970s and 1980s were based on a 1972 novel written by Charles E. Sellier called The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. Adams, who was usually played by Dan Haggerty, lived in the wilds and had a remarkable ability to communicate and live with wildlife.)
Lawrence lives in Albany with his wife, Delia. They are the parents of two grown children. His family has lived in that community since his great-great-grandfather arrived there in 1822. A man who has worked the land his entire life, he cherishes solitude and privacy. That way of life began to unravel for him about two years ago when he became the surrogate parent to another young moose — a moose who has become known as Pete.
Pete was mauled by dogs when he was only a few days old, Lawrence explained. His mother and another calf escaped but Pete wasn’t so lucky. Those who witnessed the attack, and the subsequent abandonment of the calf, called the Fish and Wildlife Department seeking guidance about what to do with the injured calf.
“They said, ‘Do not touch that moose!’” Lawrence said. ‘Let nature take its course.’”
Four days later, with the calf suffering a slow, painful death, and his mother not seen since the attack, the folks who witnessed the attack decided to ignore the demands of the department and seek help for the calf. But the question was who could do the job? A friend told them about a cousin who had a unique relationship with animals. That man was David Lawrence.
“When he came to me he was bonded to the person who brought him,” Lawrence said. “He didn’t like me at first but it didn’t take him long to bond with me.” That kindly, bearded stranger was going to do anything he could to help that injured and lonely little moose get better.
“Pete’s hips were all chewed up,” he said. “They were full of maggots.” Using a combination of flushing the wound, applying antibiotics, and tender care, he was able to nurse the calf back to health.
That care was performed on a 700-acre elk preserve in the neighboring community of Irasburg called Big Rack Ridge. The preserve, which is owned by Lawrence’s lifelong friend, Doug Nelson of Derby, is home to elk, buffalo, fallow deer, and wild whitetail deer.
“Doug and I go way back in our lives,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
Instead of giving the orphan full run of the preserve, a small enclosure was made within the overall enclosure to protect him. In time he was given more room to range.
Pete’s wounds healed and he bonded with Lawrence, the man who had spent many of his waking hours to save the little moose’s life. “He thinks I’m his or he is mine,” Lawrence said. “He wants to be with me every day. Whenever I’m in there Pete wants to be with me.” Although he doesn’t think Pete, who now weighs several hundred pounds, would purposely hurt him he doesn’t take any unnecessary risks.
“I have to respect him,” Lawrence said. “He is a big boy. I don’t take chances.”
The relationship the retired farmer has with Pete is similar to the relationship that Grizzly Adams had with a grizzly bear named Ben. Adams found the abandoned cub and cared for it to adulthood, and the two formed a bond for one another.
However, life for Pete, Lawrence, and Nelson hasn’t all been a bed of roses since Pete’s arrival two years ago. Officials with the Fish and Wildlife Department, which is headed up by Commissioner Wayne Laroche, began to demand that Mr. Nelson remove Pete and the many whitetail deer from the fenced enclosure. Of the reasons the department has given for handing down this order is fear that the elk will pass on chronic wasting disease (a disease that attacks the brain) to the whitetail deer that might escape from the enclosure and pass it on to deer outside the fenced in area. It hasn’t mattered that the disease has never been found in Vermont, or that Nelson’s elk are routinely tested for the disease. He also hasn’t imported elk into the state for a number of years.
Nelson, who also owns several dairy farms, thousands of head of cattle, and thousands of acres of land, is not a man who gives in to pressure easily, especially from the state, and certainly when he thinks he is right. He has dug in his heels insisting he is doing nothing wrong. To the contrary, he said the preserve is a popular tourist destination and a boost to the local economy.
With each passing day, Lawrence, and all those involved with Pete and the preserve, worry that the Fish and Wildlife Department will move in at any time and kill the whitetail deer, Pete, and any other moose in the compound.
“To go in there and kill those innocent people would be wrong,” Lawrence said. “I call them people because that is what they are to me. They are as much people as I am an animal.” Considering the whitetail have been in the preserve since the fence was first erected about a decade ago, he wonders why all of a sudden the department wants to take action now. He wonders, as do many others, if the action is geared more against Mr. Nelson than concern for the protection of the wildlife.
For a time Lawrence seemed willing to do what he loves most — care for Pete and the other animals that call the preserve their home (he volunteers there)— while Nelson and others dealt with the politics created by state officials. That came to an end in December when he said the department demanded that action be taken to remove Pete and the whitetail by January 5 or they’d take action themselves. Knowing that life at the preserve could soon take a terrible turn for the worse, Lawrence and his friends turned to the media. Word of Pete’s plight, and the bearded man who saved his life, quickly spread not only around the region and the state, but also around the nation and world. Friends and strangers alike have also helped Lawrence spread their story to the media and on the internet.
The pair has since risen to celebrity status. The movement has attracted many people to the cause, including celebrities such as renowned Irasburg author Howard Frank Mosher. (See page 12 for a letter he sent to the editors of the local newspapers.) A music video has been made of Pete’s quandary.
Man and moose
Actress Alicia Silverstone wrote the following words on her website on February 22.
“A couple months ago I wrote about Pete, a moose who had been attacked by dogs as a baby, separated from his mother, and was then saved by David Lawrence, a farmer. The story was so sad because the State of Vermont has been trying to take Pete away from David… Because it’s illegal to possess wildlife in Vermont without a permit.
“I was so touched by this story, I have been following Pete’s plight. Well, Pete’s supporters have been fighting to keep him safe! Pete got a lawyer, and there are over 5,000 names on the Save Pete petition. Their goal is to get to 10,000, so if you haven’t already, please sign this petition! We need to protect this innocent and beautiful animal.”
Lawrence is obviously humbled by the worldwide outpouring of support that he and Pete have received. However, that hasn’t stopped him from worrying that Pete will die by a bullet that is authorized and paid for by the state.
When asked what he would do if he got word that the Fish and Wildlife Department was about to launch a raid on the preserve, and wipe out Pete and the whitetails, Lawrence calmly said:
“I would have to see him one more time and then lose myself in the forest, which in times of need have always provided answers.”