Why Soccer Nets Are a Deadly Issue for Animals

Unlike many animals, this great horned owl survived his encounter with a soccer net. Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge

When Chantal Theijn was called out to a soccer field on a recent Sunday morning, she knew better than to expect kids kicking a ball around.

Indeed, it was a scene she had come upon all too often: a deer was thrashing in the goal netting. Trapped and terrified.

As a wildlife rehabilitator at Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge in Ontario, her job was to extricate the animal from its prickly predicament.

But, as Theijn knows too well, happy endings in animal rescue are a lot more rare than feel-good YouTube videos would have us believe. Especially when an animal has reached a certain peak terror called capture myopathy.

That's when the body shuts down as a response to extreme stress. Essentially, the animal dies of terror.

"Anyone can get it. Even humans," Theijn tells MNN. "Deer are a species that are extraordinarily prone to it."

What's more, a deer's flight instinct is so powerful, it will even hurt itself, sometimes fatally, to get away from perceived danger. Even if that "danger" happens to be the helping hands of would-be rescuers.

Sadly, that was the case for this luckless deer. Despite Theijn's best efforts, the creature didn't survive her encounter with a soccer net.

"There are tons of YouTube videos where a deer gets freed and it runs away," she explains. "But I would like you to extend those videos to two days from when that deer ran away and tell me if that deer is still alive. Because a lot of deer are not."

A deer caught in soccer netting.
Extreme stress led this deer to develop a lethal condition called capture myopathy. Hobbitstee Wildlife Refuge

There is, however, a common thread to the tragedies Theijn sees.

In the last decade, she has averaged about five calls a year, specifically involving deer caught in soccer nets. Birds of prey, like owls, are also susceptible to these fatal entanglements — with Theijn averaging about 15 calls annually.

It's especially infuriating when the solution is so simple.

There's no need to have netting in soccer goals long after the playing season has ended. Or, at the very least, when no one is actually playing the game.

"You can simply roll them up to the top and tie them off with a couple of ties," Theijn says. "So you don't even have to remove them. You can just roll them up.

"This is just a human thing," she adds. "When you're done your game, roll up the net."

We do, after all, take the ball with us when we leave the field. So why not the net too?

Theijn wonders if this could be a routine even coaches could perform and maybe, along the way, teach kids a little responsibility beyond the field.

After all, birds face enough threats — from artificial lights that mess with their migration patterns to that special seasonal hell that is fake webbing.

And deer face even more threats as their habitats yield to urbanization.

So why not remove at least one of those obstacles — especially when so many lives literally hang in the balance?