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Park Rapids boy befriends stray deer; 'Panther' is learning to chase a ball

Nine-year-old Zach Severtson pets Panther, his new pet deer. The yearling continues to return to the yard, searching for a handout. (Photos by Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Panther checks out the tennis ball Zach threw for him to chase.2 / 2

In the annals of boys and their pets, a bond usually forms and the pair spend memorable moments together.

Timmy and Lassie. Clifford and - well, never mind. Emily Elizabeth wasn't a boy. Toto and... check that. Neither was she. We'll forge on.

Nine-year-old Zach Severtson of Park Rapids has forged a bond with his new pet. Zach is trying to teach Panther how to play ball.

It's not that the yearling isn't interested. He (deer, not boy) just doesn't grasp the concept of grasping a tennis ball.

He chases, tilts ears forward, dog-style, watches intently... then nothing. He looks to Zach as if asking for guidance.

The boy patiently picks up the ball and throws it. Panther gives chase. And so it goes.

Panther showed up on Eagle Pointe Drive a couple weeks ago. Hungry, curious, anxious for a handout.

And because Zach's mom didn't try to discourage him from feeding a stray, the deer stayed. He waits for Zach when the bus drops him off in the afternoon.

They romp around the yard. Zach feeds the deer sunflower seeds if Panther hasn't helped himself from the 50-pound bag stacked by the door.

He'll eat from a friendly, outstretched hand.

But like all wild animals, sometimes Panther's idea of bonding is to nudge Zach. And sometimes the nudges aren't so gentle.

Panther's new antlers are coming in, so the nudges will start to hurt.

And Zach's neighbors are tolerating Panther - barely.

"Zach he's in my flowers!" screams Luraine Kinkel. "Get him out of the flowers!'

"How do I do that?" Zach asks, chasing after the deer nibbling on a fresh green patch of flowers next door.

"Just hit him on his back side," suggests Gene Kinkel.

Zach is reluctant to do that, afraid it will scare Panther.

By now they've all caused enough of a ruckus the deer moves on of his own accord.

Panther's back searching for the ball. He disappears occasionally for a day or two, then returns. He seems to be spending more time in the woods as boat traffic on the lake increases with the fishing season under way.

Zach hopes to make this unlikely pairing a long-term bond.

But if Panther sticks around, Zach may want to hide his hide come November.

A well-fed deer stopping to chase a tennis ball could be a tempting target.