WATERLOO, Ill. — The sky was just beginning to darken in Waterloo when he saw her — standing near the road, her startling white coat separating her from the brown deer around her: the white doe.
Rob Rachels slowed his car to a stop and carefully rolled down his window to take a picture, trying not to spook the albino deer or the two brown fawns next to her.
“I was in awe when I first saw her. I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said. “I thought it was an angel walking out of the woods.”
There have been multiple sightings of the white doe in Waterloo, usually seen with a herd and recently with her two fawns.
Rachels said after he posted about the doe on Facebook, members of various Native American tribes reached out to tell him what they believe seeing a white deer means.
“According to Indian legend, that’s the great spirit,” Rachels said. “What she represents is to expect beyond expectations, and great things are to come.”
And for Rachels, those great things came the same day.
Doctors recently told Rachels he has large lesions on his brain and diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis. When he went to a doctor’s appointment, however, they gave him the good news — he actually does not have MS.
It was the same day he saw the white doe.
“Seems like something is going the right way,” he said.
Rachels said doctors still aren’t sure what’s wrong with his brain, but he isn’t worried anymore.
“Ever since I saw the white deer, I’m not in the negative about things,” Rachels said.
An albino deer is defined as having a fully white coat with pink eyes, a pink nose and pinkish hooves — a single brown spot will negate the albino label.
Carl Handel, a district wildlife biologist for Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said fewer than 1 percent of deer are albino.
“Basically every animal has the gene for being albino or melanistic (dark-colored), and it’s just shuffle of the genes, that one gene for being albino pops up once in a while,” Handel said.
Rachels isn’t the only one who’s been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this rare deer.
Craig Wilson, who lives in Red Bud, said he saw the albino doe for the first time in 2011 when he was driving in the area.
“I did a double-take and turned around and went back real slow, took it all in. Kind of gave me the chills.”
Illinois is among four states where it is illegal to harvest an albino deer.
Wilson, a longtime hunter, said he’s glad this is the case.
“As precious as it is, you want to make sure it lives as long as it can,” he said.
Stephanie Blackburn, 23, saw the white deer for the first time about four years ago when she was visiting her parents in Waterloo.
“I didn’t really believe it at first. I had never seen one or heard that can happen,” she said. “I was like, is it really possible? How did that happen?”
Although she lives in Columbia now, whenever Blackburn visits her parents, she hopes she’ll catch another glimpse of the doe.
“Deer in general are very beautiful, and just to see a pure white one is just, it’s like she was a goddess or something,” Blackburn said.
Shortly after she saw the white doe, Blackburn said, she got engaged and found out she was pregnant with her daughter.
“Lots of good things happened that year,” she said. “I really do think she’s a blessing to have around."