Alan Korn and his wife awoke in the darkness at 3:30 Christmas morning to a strange ruckus, almost like--could it really be?--almost like a galloping, prancing noise.
Galloping? Prancing? Christmas? They had to find out. Suddenly they heard a crash. Then a booming, scratching sound rising from their Northwest Washington basement.
They journeyed downstairs, where they witnessed this:
Rudolph, in the form of a 200-pound deer, stuck, but alive, and thrashing through their small bathroom window. There was blood. There were clumps of deer fur. Thick salt-and-pepper-colored tufts spewed about as the buck wrestled to pull his rear end--about the size of the back of a small Honda--through the window.
"It was just like that 'night before Christmas' poem," said Korn, 35. "We literally heard a clatter and we got up to see what was the matter. But then it wasn't Santa at all."
Luckily, D.C. Animal Control officers arrived quickly and were able to tranquilize the stray deer, smooth ointment into its wounds and set it free to frolic in the more natural environs of Rock Creek Park.
But that moment was hours and several tranquilizer darts away.
In those first hectic moments, the only conclusion the couple could come to was this: Rudolph had gotten lost this Christmas and ended up inside a Jewish couple's finished basement.
"It was like this huge deer with antlers in our home," Korn said. "I was scared."
The buck, known now around their Chevy Chase-D.C. neighborhood as "Santa's crazed Rudolph," wasn't exactly calm, either. The deer was shaking and using its hooves to crash its way in. Once inside, it trampled through the couple's basement, finding its way into the guest bedroom.
Korn's wife, Claudia Simons, 34, about seven months pregnant, stayed upstairs to calm their dog, Coco. Coco raced about the house barking and in a tizzy over the smell of, well, deer blood.
"It's pretty gross," Simons said as she stared at the blood-stained carpeting yesterday. "It looks like a murder scene down here. It could be one, except for the deer hair."
The couple called the police. Police told them to call D.C. Animal Control.
Within a half-hour, Officer Sue Swartwood was on the scene. She called in Officer Scotlund Haisley, manager of field services for Animal Control, which is supervised by the D.C. Department of Health and staffed by the Washington Humane Society and is "not just about dogs and cats," as Haisley put it.
Anyway, Haisley got the call at 5 a.m. saying one of Santa's reindeer had gone astray. He jumped out of bed, threw on his Animal Control gear--pants with giant pockets and a blue shirt, a tranquilizer gun about the size of a pistol and a wet suit in case of, well, you know. He jumped in his Isuzu Trooper and thought, groggily, "This is amazing. It can't be."
"There was no time for coffee, so I got there and started work," Haisley said.
He quickly assessed the situation: clean basement, many rooms and one bloody deer in great distress.
"We respond to a lot of calls for deer, but they are generally hit by cars or caught in a fence," he said. "I've never seen a deer in somebody's house before."
He loaded up the dart gun and opened the door cautiously. The deer was in a defensive attack stance. He fired the tranquilizer gun. The deer didn't respond.
He fired it again. Still no response.
The deer didn't appear to have any broken limbs, just nicks and abrasions, so Haisley thought the buck's life could be saved. He ended up getting a large dart gun and calling a veterinarian friend at Friendship Animal Hospital for advice.
That shot finally sedated the deer. The officers put medicine and bandages on its legs and wrapped it in a blanket.
A third officer, Ted Deppner, assisted Haisley and Swartwood in carrying the deer out to their van.
As neighbors unwrapped Christmas gifts, the unconscious deer was being hauled away. The house then turned into a neighborhood attraction, drawing people to examine the bloody carpeting and walls and stained guest bedroom, which will always be where a Christmas reindeer once romped.
Neighbors in the 6800 block of 32nd Street NW said they often spot deer in the slices of forest that double as back yards. But the timing of this one was remarkable.
"We put out food for Santa's reindeer," said Mike Tyler, a neighbor. "But I guess he went to the wrong house."
Korn and Simons cheered the officers from D.C. Animal Control, saying they were quick and thoughtful about everyone involved.
The officers drove the deer to Rock Creek Park about 8:30 a.m. They stayed with the buck until it awoke. It then crept back into the woods, hopefully, Haisley said, to return to other Christmas adventures.