You probably didn't know that Prancer is so shy he hides his face in his friend's side rather than see where they're both being led.
MARCOLA — "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" — the beloved Christmas tune — was wrong.
Based on that classic, you may think you know all about Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and all the rest of the four-legged fliers who helped out Santa one foggy Christmas Eve.
But did you know that Dasher is best buds with Rudolph? Or that Vixen has a taste for bungee cords?
You probably didn't know that Prancer is so shy he hides his face in his friend's side rather than see where they're both being led. Or that Comet likes small dogs and little girls in pink coats.
And then there's Rudolph. The red-nose-so-bright thing isn't accurate but, yes, he does struggle a bit with self-confidence.
"You have to keep complimenting him and reassuring him all the time," says Cindy Murdoch, chuckling. "He thinks his name is 'Good Boy.' Rudolph is like a big Saint Bernard."
This is Murdoch's family: They're big, well-antlered and equal parts shy and curious. Nine reindeer who make the magic of the holidays happen, Murdoch says, not by toting gifts across the sky but by lighting up faces at shopping malls, tree-lightings and other seasonal events.
Timberview Farm is the Mohawk Valley home of Murdoch, 55; nine reindeer, and more chickens, dogs and cats than can be easily counted.
Murdoch, who is also owner of Cascade Engraving and Awards in Springfield, has been in the reindeer game for 12 years. Murdoch wanted a way to generate supplemental income during the winter; she cares for her furry friends year-round and rents them out during the holidays. It generally costs $750 to display two reindeer for two hours or $4,000 to lease them for 10 days.
Business is good. The reindeer will be on display a dozen times before Christmas Day, drawing crowds at stores, town squares and garden centers from Eugene to the Portland area.
Reindeer are a semi-domesticated version of caribou, said Don Whittaker, coordinator of hooved animals for the Oregon Fish and Wildlife department.
Reindeer are not considered a threatened species, and they aren't native to Oregon. The limited number of them here are held privately under strict rules meant to prevent them from escaping and presenting a risk to native elk and deer, Whittaker said.
Murdoch attributes the fascination with reindeer to the fact that people so rarely see them. She likens them to unicorns, noting that some people wonder whether reindeer even exist.
When Murdoch pulls up to an event, she says, crowds start gathering before her stars even have been led from the trailer and into view.
"It's that magical thing that reindeer have," Murdoch says. "You can't describe it. People don't know why they're waiting. They just know it's going to be worth their wait."
Murdoch's charges have cow-like faces and fur so thick it's difficult to feel the massive body underneath. The antlers on some of them fan out from the top of the head in magnificent, elaborate patterns, like limbs on a tree.
This is not to say Murdoch's gang arrived from the breeder ready-made for holiday display, however.
Reindeer are wildlife and Murdoch says they can be unpredictable. Above all else, they don't like to be separated from the herd.
Although the animals roam several forested acres on Murdoch's farm, when they're on the job she displays them in 15-foot-by-20-foot containment pens; it's critical to show the reindeer in pairs, she says, because to isolate one in that setting — especially amid a crowd of onlookers — is to invite an animal meltdown.
"It turns into more of a 'National Geographic' moment," Murdoch says, "which we don't like to have."
Murdoch recently demonstrated her training techniques with Prancer, a 1-year-old who has become Frosty's sidekick at displays.
Prancer was a bit of a "wild child" as a calf, Murdoch says, and that anxious energy was evident when she fastened a halter to him for a walk around the farm.
The reindeer shifted and bucked and at one point tried to climb a metal fence to rejoin the herd. Murdoch kept a firm grip on a lead rope attached to Prancer, continually turning the reindeer with her body while keeping close to the side of his head, safe from the tips of his antlers. Once he returned to the stable, the reindeer rushed back to the rest of the group.
"That's how much they like to be back with the herd," Murdoch said.
Murdoch knows her business might not sit well with animal-rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. (The organization is currently offering an e-mail Christmas card in which Santa's reindeer run over him for making them "work on Christmas Eve.")
But Murdoch says her reindeer adapt quickly to being on display and love their adoring fans. According to Murdoch, Frosty even pouts when not included on an outing, turning her back on Murdoch once she returns.
Animal-rights groups seem to view reindeer as wild animals, Murdoch says, but "we look at them as ambassadors of their species."
Donna Berg, a gardener at Oakway Center in Eugene who works with Murdoch on displaying the reindeer there, said the animals have become star attractions over the holidays. The crowds get so big you have to wait to see the reindeer, Berg said.
Some people just want to be close to such beautiful wildlife, Berg said. For others — especially kids — the reindeer bring out the excitement of the holiday season.
"I think a lot of kids think a reindeer is a cartoon character," Berg said.
"To see the reindeer really does exist, it's just fascinating. There's just that magical moment for the kids to see reindeer."