Friday, December 28, 2007

The Beginning

Hi folks!

I never did tell you how I first got involved with the ducks at McKinnon's Pond, so I thought I'd better bring you up to speed! Seven years ago, I moved into a tiny little apartment about a mile away from the pond. The place was so small and dark that I got into the habit of taking walks every day, just to get away from those four walls. The pond was the turning-around point, and for the first few months, I didn't even stop to look at the scenery; I'd just glance over at the water as I turned and headed for home.

More than a few times, I'd see this middle-aged couple standing near the water with a small bag in their hands. At their feet would be a gang of ducks, eating the cracked corn they'd brought with them. Sometimes the corn would fall onto the tops of their shoes, and the ducks would come right up and eat it! It looked like fun, so I started bringing my own bag of corn. I'd sit on one of the many park benches, and the ducks would gather around my feet. They were mostly wild mallards, with three notable exceptions: two big white "Aflac" ducks, and a jumbo-sized mallard. After doing a little research, though, I learned that she wasn't a mallard after all, but a Domestic duck breed called Rouen. Since neither the Rouen or the white Pekins can fly, the only way those three got to the pond was by being dumped.

There was a natural increase, during this time, as Missy Miss Rouen got herself a mallard boyfriend and laid a bunch of eggs - eleven, to be exact. Because there are so many predators in the area, though, only three of those ducklings survived to adulthood. Today, you know them as Pretty Lady, Big Boy, and Pretty Boy. Eventually, Pretty Lady had a number of ducklings of her own before I started removing the eggs from all the Domestic girls' nests in an effort to keep the population in check.

There was also an increase because stupid people kept dumping their unwanted Easter ducks. Why in the world anyone would buy an animal knowing that they aren't going to keep it for a lifetime is beyond me, but that's what happens. I know because I had a conversation once with a couple who had dumped two Rouen girls after their grandchildren had tired of their Easter surprise. The couple had named one of the ducks Ethel. To this day, I have no idea who's who because the two ducks look alike. To keep things simple at feeds, I just refer to both of them as "Ethel-Ethel!"

A few summers ago, I had some tense words with the female half of that stupid couple because I wouldn't let the Ethels add to the population problem by letting them keep their eggs. The woman got so annoyed that she called Animal Control - little knowing that Officer Jeff and I work together to keep the population down! If I could rat the couple out here in my blog, I would, but alas, I never learned their names.

I will say this, though: last summer, I found the decapitated remains of a Domestic drake lying in the grass. It was a horrible sight. So, stupid duck-dumping couple, know this - 1) the minute you dumped the Ethels, you gave up any claim to them whatsoever; if I choose to remove the eggs from their nests, or even take those ducks home with me, I can do that because they're no longer yours. And 2) what happened to that poor headless duck can just as easily happen to the Ethels; that's the danger you put them in when you decided to dump them.

Over time, some Domestics died, others were dumped, and still others were very sneaky about their nest sites and I never found the eggs! Seven years later, there are roughly sixteen Domestic ducks living on McKinnon's Pond. I haven't named all sixteen because I can't actually recognize them all. Last summer, Freckle Duck had three Domestic drakes following her around, and they all had cream-colored tummies. To my untrained eye, they look exactly alike. The only way I can tell Big Boy apart from all the other large drakes is because he's such a huge chunk of duck that he stands out like a sore thumb.

You might think that Pretty Boy is the only black duck on the pond. For a time he was, but not anymore. Ducky, who has white rings around his eyes that make him look rather studious, was dumped several years ago, while Baby Fuzz (o.k., so they're not always the most creative names!) was one of those ducklings that Pretty Lady snuck onto the pond when I wasn't looking. The three black ducks are easy for me to tell apart because their markings are so distinctive. That, and one of them only has one wing!

Rounding out the line-up are Pretty Boy's girlfriend, the appropriately-named Girlfriend Duck; Peepers the Pekin - another duckling that Pretty Lady snuck in behind my back; Puddleduck, a Pekin who was dumped last summer; and the two Pekins I dubbed, "Fellows!" Back when I was first feeding the original three Domestics, I would greet them all as one by calling, "Fellows!" The name stuck, and to this day, I still address those two guys as such.

You're probably wondering what all the fuss is about, and why I devote so much of my time, energy, and money to what would seem to be boring animals. But that's just the thing - they're not at all boring! I learned that back in the early days, when, as I approached the pond on my walks, the ducks would catch sight of me. They'd start quacking to each other, something along the lines of, "Hey! The corn lady is here!" Then they'd all race toward me at once - up to thirty, forty ducks (mostly wild mallards) stampeding in my direction, all quacking madly, and every one of them glad to see me. That gets addictive very quickly, I can tell you!

At some point in the proceedings, I bought a point-and-shoot camera, and got the inspirational idea of sitting on the ground among them. I now had a ducks-eye view of the world, and, since I wasn't towering over them anymore, they became much more comfortable with me.

It's been that way for seven years now: I'll get out of the car, pick a spot for the feed, pour out a large measure of cracked corn mixed with duck pellets, then sit cross-legged on the ground in front of them. The ducks never stay in one place for too long, so they'll eat some food, then wander around a bit, then eat more food, then go down to water's edge for a drink. Most of the ducks get within a few inches of me at least once during a feed. I try very hard to observe the rules: no loud noises, no sudden moves. Most of them don't want to be touched, either.

Even so, I'll make a point of running my fingers through the tail feathers of some of them. I do this regularly with Pretty Boy and the Ethels. I want them to get used to my touch and not fear it, because as we've already seen with my favorite duck, sooner or later someone's going to have to go to the vet! Fortunately, the ducks have been lucky, over the years, and had very few mishaps.

Most of the problems and injuries have to do with fishing line and hooks, which careless people leave lying around all over the place. These days, I carry a bag of specially-chosen gear in my trunk, all of it designed to remove fish hooks, or cut fishing line off of duck legs. In a perfect world, I'd never even need to think about a bag of tools in my trunk. Regretably, it's a huge concern, and I've seen the damage fishing line can do: it once wound so tightly around a wild mallard's leg that it eventually amputated that leg. Because the duck was wild, I never got near enough to help him. It took two whole weeks before that leg rotted sufficiently to fall off.

I'm going to end on that downer note, folks, because it was humans who left the fishing crap lying around, and humans who can make a difference with the animals, if they choose. In the first place, please don't bring home any animal that you're not prepared to take care of for the rest of its' natural life. In the second place,
even if you don't have any pets of your own, you can still help make the world a better place through kindness to all critters. If you don't have the money to donate to a worthy critter cause, maybe you could donate some of your time, or give a piece of artwork to a charity fund-raiser. You could even donate your unwanted clothes or electronics!

If nothing else, every one of us can certainly ramp up our awareness of how small we're making their habitat, and that what's left of it doesn't need to be riddled with cigarette butts, empty pop cans, or used-up fishing line. Thank you all for stopping by. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Kelly's Christmas Cats

Hi folks!

Happy Holidays to you! I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas/Hanukkah/non-denominational time with lots of friends, family, good cheer and critters!

You'll probably be surprised to hear me say that I don't love all my cats equally. That would be impossible. It's more accurate to say that I love them all uniquely and individually. Each cat has a different temperment, different needs and wants, and a different personality. Because Spanky and Junebug are a little needier than the others, come Christmastime, I'll whisper in Spanky's ear, "You're my best present every year, 'Panky!" A little while later, I'll tell Junebug, "You're my favorite Christmas kitty!" The other cats seem to understand that those two need extra help, and no one seems to hold a grudge about it because the truth is, they all know that they're going to be spoiled eventually!

The cats have no idea what the holiday fuss is all about. Stockings, carols, and Christmas cards mean nothing to them. I do hang a stocking for them, a red felt thing with a mouse embroidered on it that I found in a store years ago. I usually have to Zip-loc the things that smell good, otherwise the cats will help themselves well before the appointed day. On Christmas Day, I'll sit down on the floor with them, use my excited tone of voice and say, "Christmas, cats!" Then I'll pull their gifts out of the stocking one by one.

This year, there was a new feathery thing attached to a stick. It was an immediate hit with Junebug and Spanky, who both pounced on it gleefully. Buddy just observed for a bit, while Gracie leapt back in horror every time I waved the feather in her direction. I suppose that while she was on the streets, movement meant danger, so I didn't push the issue.

There were two new toy mice to add to the collection of other toy mice that they rarely play with. You know the kind: a small mouse-shaped thing covered in rabbit hair, with a leathery tail at one end. For some reason, Buddy always chews those tails off and eats them. And he works pretty quickly, too: those mice weren't out of the stocking for more than ten minutes before I noticed their tails were gone!

The cats also got a package of snack treats. I don't recall the brand, but they're cheap and crunchy and crab flavored. Muffin, in particular, has taken a keen interest in these treats. Old Muff, who generally spends her days doing very little, will suddenly spring to life if she gets a whiff of crab or hears the package crinkle. Then she'll come running over to me with a speed I didn't know she possessed. It's nice to see she's still got some life in her after all these years!

So we spent about an hour chewing and leaping and sniffing and batting. Everyone joined in the fun, and after watching the other cats have at it, Gracie eventually mustered up the courage to give the feathery thing a few rabbit kicks! It was good bonding fun, where every cat got to sample the new goodies and enjoy some playtime with me.

Realistically, every pet owner (including me) should set aside some playtime with the critters every day. I understand that busy schedules often get in the way, and to be honest, I don't believe that all my cats want to play every single day: Muffin's too old; Buddy has his own agenda; Spanky prefers snuggling to playing; and Gracie's a little afraid of play that involves humans. Out of the five, Junebug is the only one who will aproach me with toy mice in her mouth, asking me to play. And while Junebug's only three years old, I've noticed that even she doesn't ask me to play that often anymore.

It seems more important to my cats that I am consistent. That I acknowledge Muffin when she maiows. That I stop working at the computer for a few minutes and let Spanky have a snuggle with me on the desk. That instead of shooing Gracie away while I'm trying to type, I scoop her onto my lap, where she'll purr happily until I get up. That I drop everything and respond to all of Junebug's squeaks. That I know when Buddy's had enough petting and wants to me to go away. Different cats, different personalities. While the cats don't need Christmas, they do need to be able to rely on me.

All my cats get presents every Christmas, but Santa gave me something a little different this year: my very own elf! A few weeks ago, I got an email out of the blue from a woman named Liz who had read about Pretty Boy and I in the Toledo Free Press. She liked what I was doing for the ducks at McKinnon's Pond and offered to take on the task of feeding them at weekends. So not only are the ducks getting a healthy meal when I'm not there, but I've got a set of eyes and ears at the pond, now, too. If there's an emergency, I'll learn about it that much sooner. Santa really took care of me this year - what I asked for was a bag of money and a date with George Clooney. What I got was the one thing I really needed: some help with the ducks. Thank you, Santa! And, thank you, Liz!

That's all for now, folks. I hope you all remembered your critters in some small way this holiday season - maybe with a new rawhide bone, or fancy collar, or just some extra crab-flavored snacks. But what your animals really want for Christmas - and all year around - is your love and attention. The great thing about those is that neither one will show up on your credit card bill in January! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Critter Trust

Hi Folks!

Thanks for joining me today!

I've been thinking a lot lately about critter trust. I started thinking about it last week when I was out feeding the ducks. As you know, Pretty Boy Duck spent a week in my bathroom healing from a serious eyelid injury. For that reason alone, it would make perfect sense if he spent the rest of his life studiously avoiding any more contact with me. At the very least, you'd think he'd be wary enough to keep a distance at the feeds, but he doesn't. More than once recently, I've watched as Pretty Boy shouldered his way through the throng of ducks until he was standing right in the middle of the pile of corn. Once there, he'd turn his back to me and start eating - even though he knew that I was well within grabbing range!

Having given the matter some thought, I don't think it's a question of Pretty Boy not being worried that I'll grab him again. I think it's more likely that he's learned that nothing really bad happens when I do grab him. There's a distinction between those two things, and an element of trust involved in knowing that ultimately, this Kelly person isn't going to hurt me, even if she does keep me in her bathroom for a while.

I don't take critter trust lightly. You have to pass a lot of tests and jump through a lot of hoops before some animals will honor you with their trust. My friend - and "Fowl Weather" author - Bob Tarte seems to use much the same approach as I do with the new critters that come his way: he tells me that he generally gives them a wide berth, allowing them the time they need to adjust to their new surroundings, and the new humans in their lives. Bob understands that you can't force yourself into an animal's life, that you have to do things at their pace, instead of your own. Anything else simply creates an environment of distrust.

While all this business about trust was percolating on the back burner of my brain, I went out to The Healing Barn on Saturday to do my usual horse poop scooping. I got to talking with Nancy, the owner, about the Belgian horses she used to have. She still has one of them, Old Molly, whose picture you can see on my website. If you look at that picture, you'll see how impossibly thin Old Molly is, and you'll think that she's been woefully mistreated. Well, she has been, just not by Nancy.

You see, there are people in the world who think of animals as nothing more than unfeeling chattel that they can do whatever they want with. And Old Molly's former owner was one of those people. He saw no need to buy proper feed for the Belgians because hey - there's all that free grass out in the pasture! This fellow also didn't see any need to have the horses wormed, even though, I'm told, their stomachs were bloated with worms. Nancy went on to tell me about some sheep that this same man owned, whose wool coats were so thick from lack of shearing that if they fell over, the poor creatures couldn't even right themselves again!

As Nancy told me these awful stories, I stood there picturing Old Molly standing in a field, not knowing that there were other people out there who could treat her much more lovingly and respectfully. It occurred to me then that even when animals don't know that they depend on us, they still do depend on us nonetheless. There's a certain implied trust, there, too: domesticated animals can't feed and water themselves. So, most of the time, they reach the conclusion that you're going to reliably do that for them. People like Bob and I attend faithfully to our critters' needs - no matter what the weather, or our state of health. But people like Old Molly's former owner clearly don't feel an obligation to provide even the basics.

It will interest you to know that Nancy ended up with the Belgians - Mr. and Mrs. Belgian, as I called them - because someone (rightfully) ratted that useless man out to the local Humane Society. In one of the unusual instances where the right thing actually happens, the man was relieved of the burden of caring for animals that he didn't care for anyway, and Nancy was called in to take temporary custody of Mr. and Mrs. Belgian.

Like so many other jerks in the world, the man took exception to being told what to do with his animals. He hired a lawyer and then turned around and sued the Humane Society for impugning his "sterling" reputation. Meanwhile, his lawyer appeared to have his own ax to grind against the judge in the cruelty case. Ultimately - and I'm told the case dragged on for over two years - the judge, in essence, told the creep and his lawyer to grow up and shut up, and that was the end of that. Nancy has maintained custody to this day. Mr. Belgian died a few years ago (his heart gave out due to old age), while Old Molly, who frequently appears to be on death's door, seems to keep going in spite of the past.

Old Molly has certainly earned the right to be suspicious of human beings, considering all she's been through, but after all this time with patient, gentle Nancy, it's clear that the old Belgian doesn't particularly want to hold a grudge. She understands now that she's going to be fed good food, that she's going to be well-cared-for (this time last year, I sprung for a new winter blanket for her), and that she's going to be safe. Those are big lessons to learn at any age, but Old Molly's managed it. Why? Perhaps because, deep down, she prefers trusting humans over not trusting them. Who can say?

As I sit in my chair watching t.v. at night, Junebug will wander in and, more often than not, lie down on her back. She's always liked lying flat on her back, her four paws splayed casually about. She's more than happy to fall asleep in that position. Some of my other cats will lie that way, too, but the minute I get near them, they will invariably roll over; they're just not sure what the situation calls for, so they always choose to play it safe. Not Junebug. She'll just turn her head for a better look at what I'm doing. If I reach down to pet her, that's o.k. - there's no reason for her to move when she's comfortable where she is.

Out of all my cats, Junebug is the only one whose kittenhood I'm familiar with. I don't know how Dr. Green's vet techs acquired the huge orange and white momcat and her kittens, but the family had already taken up residence in one of the hospital kennels by the time I heard about them. The staff - who go nutty over a critter at the drop of a hat, spent considerable time fussing over mom and kitties, giving them plenty of love and getting them used to being handled. "Socializing," it's called, and they did a wonderful job because when I took Junebug home, her trust in humans was already firmly in place. It was simply a matter of me reinforcing that trust by playing fun mouse games with her, by responding to her needs in a timely manner, and by being consistently not-scary.

Critter trust is valuable to me. I work hard every day to give all the animals a reason to trust me. I'll stand there getting soaked in the pouring rain, feeding the ducks and chattering my usual commentary - for no other reason than that I know umbrellas scare them. I'll dry off, and the rain isn't going to kill me. And believe it or not, duck trust is worth the risk of a bad hair day to me! I'll appologize to the cats if I've stepped on one of their tails - and the fact that they turn around, come back and let me pet them afterward tells me that they understand that I didn't mean to hurt them; they get that it was an accident. The fact that they're able to make that distinction means they understand a whole lot more than we generally give them credit for.

So while Pretty Boy surely didn't enjoy his time in my bathroom, I think that some part of him understood that I wasn't acting from a place of malice, just as Old Molly seems to understand that this new home, with its' new people, can be relied upon to be consistent in their care of her. By the same token, based on all of her experiences with humans in general, and me in particular, Junebug has clearly concluded that I'm a pretty good pal to have around: I play fun mouse games, I'm generous with the snack treats, and I'm always happy to see her. And seeing those trusting eyes looking at me - whether they belong to cats, or ducks, or horses - make all the hoop-jumping and test-passing worthwhile. I'm well and truly honored that they all seem to think that I'm trustworthy.

That's all for now, folks. But I want to leave you with this thought: at least once in our lives, we've all been in a position to see someone treating their animals badly. Whether it was outright cruelty, or hard-to-put-your-finger-on neglect, we knew in our gut that something wasn't right. But more often than not, we put blinders on because - well, what are we supposed to do? Rat out our friends, family, or neighbors? In a word, YES. That is exactly what you must do. You can do it anonymously, but you MUST do the right thing by the animal. You must be the voice for that voiceless, helpless creature. After all, how would you like to be in that animal's place? You may well risk losing a friend in the process, but from your moral high ground, ask yourself this question: do you really want to be friends with someone who treats animals with so little regard?

Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pretty Boy's Check-Up

Hi Folks!

Well, as I told you in Part Six, Dr. Susan said Pretty Boy could go back to the pond, but she left his stitches in place. I was to bring him back in a week to have them removed. To be honest, I wasn't confident about my chances of grabbing him up so soon after his incarceration in my tub. I felt sure that Pretty Boy would avoid me for a while, just to be on the safe side. You can imagine my surprise, then, when he walked right into the middle of the pile of corn today as usual. I saw my opportunity and scooped him up. He seemed more annoyed than anything else: "Jeez, Kelly, I didn't even get any corn!"

I know you remember me complaining about how far the drive to Dr. Susan's office is. I almost didn't take take Pretty Boy today; the doctor did say those stitches would dissolve on their own. But I wanted to be sure about things. Did his eyelid heal up completely? Was he back to normal? Since there was only one way to answer those questions, I resigned myself to a long drive with a cranky duck.

I believe it was Temple Grandin - author of "Animals in Translation," who said that animals appear to communicate through music much more than we realize, and apparently, she's not just talking about birds. She writes about how research has found that dogs use different harmonic pitches for different barks, depending on what they're barking about. Grandin goes on to say that humpback whale songs often have repeating refrains, while some whale songs actually rhyme. "Translation" is a fascinating book about how animals communicate, and I highly reccomend it.

The reason I brought up a book about animals and music is because while I was driving Pretty Boy to his appointment, I spent some time trying to keep him amused. For old time's sake, I even stuck my fingers inside the carrier and let him bite them. Boy, did he! My small talk didn't seem to do much for Pretty Boy, so I started surfing the radio stations. When the Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want" came on, I began to sing along.

Pretty Boy had spent so much time flopping around in that smooth plastic carrier that it finally occurred to me to do something about it. I bought a rubber bath mat of the sort that you put in the tub to keep from slipping, and cut it down to fit the inside of that carrier. It worked like a charm, though I never understood why Pretty Boy always insisted on standing up when he could lie down on his tum; it certainly would've been easier.

Evidently, the Rolling Stones put him in the mood for easier. Pretty Boy settled down on his tummy in the carrier, tilting his head up occasionally to get a better look at the woman who was botching the lyrics. "You Can't Always Get What You Want" is one of my all-time favorite songs, and from the sudden change in my favorite duck, I was forced to conclude that he, too, was now a Stones fan. Pretty Boy lying quietly in the carrier was a marked contrast to his usual wing-flapping and bar-biting. Maybe this Temple Grandin was on to something.

Dr. Susan seemed pleased with Pretty Boy's eyelid, but there was still a problem nonetheless: along with his eyelid, Pretty Boy's tear duct had been injured, too, and the doctor had no way of knowing whether it would heal or not. In its' present condition, the duct manufactured tears, but the ability to drain those tears from the eye did not exist. Basically, Pretty Boy will have a watery eye, which is a small problem, and one he'll be able to live with. Dr. Susan said it was possible that the duct would heal more as time went on. Even if it doesn't, he'll be fine out at the pond.

Relieved to know that Pretty Boy's eye had healed enough to pass muster with the exacting Dr. Susan, I tucked him back in the carrier and headed to the car. I always put him in the front seat, with the cage door facing me so that he sees something familiar during the ride. Continuing my experiment on the drive home, I played my "The Best of George Harrison" CD. And then things got interesting.

I whistled along with the lead guitar on "My Sweet Lord." Almost immediately, Pretty Boy settled down on his stomach, tilting his head up to see where the whistley sound was coming from. Singing along to the song kept him equally quiet and observant. But the minute I changed over to "Here Comes The Sun," Pretty Boy stood up and went back to his usual bar-biting hobby. "How can you not like that song, Pretty Boy," I asked quizzically, "it's a classic!" He only settled down again when I switched back to "My Sweet Lord."

So we listened to "My Sweet Lord" over and over again for the duration of the twenty-five minute ride back to the pond. I didn't mind - I like that song! And, evidently, so does Pretty Boy. I'm not willing to draw any lasting conclusions about animals and music, based on nothing more than one annoyed duck and a George Harrison CD, but I have to admit, I'm glad he's got such good taste in music! Maybe next time I'll try some Eric Clapton on him.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Susan and all the staff at the Exotic Critter Clinic. They took such good care of Pretty Boy, and, because he's not a domestic pet, they willingly lowered their fees to boot. It's always nice when I come across people who, like me, want to do the right thing for the critters around them. Even if that critter is an ornery, finger-biting, cage-pooping, George Harrison-listening duck.

That's all for now, folks! Thanks so much for stopping by. I look forward to seeing you again soon. In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Gracie Ellen Tripod

Hi Folks!

Thanks for joining me for another critter adventure!

Today I want to tell you about my youngest cat, Gracie Ellen. Normally, I'm a one-critter-name type of person, but I picked up a certain habit from my friend Sam. Sam has a tendency to give her animals a middle name when she's yelling at them. So instead of just saying, "Lucy!," she'd say, "Lucy Marie, what are you doing?" The funny part is that she never uses the same middle name twice. The next time I'd visit, she'd call the dog Lucy Belle or something. I must've picked up Sam's critter-middle-name habit around the time Gracie showed up.

I found Gracie huddled under a car in my therapist's parking lot. It was a cold, crummy October day, and Gracie seemed to have an injury to her left front leg. The leg was frozen at an angle, and it dragged uselessly on the ground. I coaxed the little grey tabby out from under the car and wrapped her in my arms. She immediately began to purr. We sat in my car until my therapist showed up and got the critter carrier out of my trunk. Because the therapist is also an animal-lover, I brought the kitty into the office and let her have the run of the place.

My shrink surmised that maybe someone dumped Gracie in the area because the local Humane Society was just up the road. There certainly weren't any houses in the neighborhood to explain her presence. Whatever the case, I knew I couldn't take her with me - look what happened to Spanky the last time I brought a cat home! So I dropped her off at Dr. Green's office for boarding while I tried to figure out what to do.

I took her to the Humane Society the next morning - after one of Dr. Green's Vet Techs told me she was pregnant - and the shelter folks made it pretty clear that a pregnant little gimp probably wouldn't last the day there. In other words, the "Humane" Society had already decided that she was unadoptable, and would more than likely euthanize her.

Now I was mad. What good was supporting an animal shelter if the shelter folks spent my donation money on euthanizing perfectly good animals? Who were they to decide what made an animal unadoptable? The fact is, handicapped animals have become very popular these days. I've read a number of stories on the Best Friends website (see the link on my home page) about how people come to the sanctuary asking specifically for blind or deaf animals, or those with a physical disability. I can tell you, with that "kill" policy in place, and their extortionate adoption fees, my local Humane Society has become pretty unpopular of late.

In any case, while the staffer was telling me that this innocent little cat didn't stand much of a chance at the shelter, the innocent little cat in question laid quietly in the carrier. She was a gentle creature who had clearly put all her trust in me, for she didn't seem the least bit worried. I stood there taking in what the staffer told me and thinking, "This is crap. I've only just walked in the door and she's already condemned this cat to death. We're outta here."

Thinking that I might be able to get her into a rescue program, I took her back to Dr. Green's to be spayed. That would at least buy me some time to make a few phone calls. As it turned out, though, there was no room for Gracie anywhere. It was just as well: I was starting to get a little attached to her.

Dr. Green believed that Gracie's leg had gotten caught in one of those awful hunting traps. There was no way to fix the leg, for it had healed, more or less, in that broken postion. Dr. Green recommended amputation, which I initially held off doing. After a few months at the chicken coop, though - in which Gracie continually whacked her bad leg while jumping in and out of the bathtub - the leg started to swell, and smell, and I knew the time had come.

I hated the idea of amputating, even though the leg was useless; at least with all four legs, she had the appearance of wholeness. But once the leg came off, Gracie got around much easier. She hobbles a bit now at the walk, but she runs like she's got four good legs. She doesn't seem to mind just having three.

Because I'd spent so much time working on building Spanky's self-esteem, he was actually the first cat to extend the paw of friendship to Gracie. Unfortunately, Gracie prefers to go it alone, and doesn't spend much time with any of the other cats except Buddy, who has his own loner issues. Gracie must recognize that in him, because every once in a while, I'll find the two of them lying a couple of feet away from each other on the bed. For those two, that's a close relationship!

It took Gracie well over a year to settle in. She'd had a hard life out there on the streets, or wherever she'd been before I found her. She's still got a scavenger mentality and is the only cat who will go after scraps in the garbage can; she's just not confident about where that next meal is coming from.

When I'd go to pick her up, she'd flinch as though I was going to hit her - which I never do, EVER! I'd tell her, "Gracie, you're o.k. This is your home now." And Gracie would reply uncertainly, "I'm not sure, Kelly." I understood: when the whole of her young life was shrouded in uncertainty, it was tough to get the hang of being sure.

Two years on, Gracie has settled in comfortably enough to not just ask for my attention, but demand it! She can be very shrill indeed when she wants to be petted. Her favorite time with me is when she can lie on my lap while I'm at the computer. In fact, she spent most of this blog entry on my lap before moving on to other things.

I sure hadn't planned on having five cats, but Gracie has added another dimension to my life. By not letting her disability get the best of her, she's set a great example for me to follow. We humans take so much in life for granted - especially our health - and suffer such huge losses of ego and esteem when that health is diminished. Meanwhile, the critters in the world - who have no access to wheelchairs or artificial limbs - simply get on with it. There's something to be learned from that, I think.

Well, folks, that's all for now. I've still got three more cats to tell you about, fifteen other ducks, and a barn-ful of horses, to boot. Stay tuned! And in the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Spanky The Cat

Hi Folks!

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving! The cats and I enjoyed a quiet day at home with chicken and noodles all around. I currently have five cats - all indoors, all with claws intact. I meant to stop at two, but sometimes you have to do the right thing even if your wallet takes a hit, so five it is.

The one I want to tell you about today is Spanky. Spanky is a beautiful orange tabby, with vivid markings and a lovely white bib. One of the flea-treatment companies has been using an orange tabby in their advertisements, and that cat looks exactly like mine. Spanky is long and lean, and surprisingly fit given that two of my other cats are huge tubs of lard!

Spanky is the third oldest cat here, chronologically, but a complete baby, mentally. That's what happens when kittens don't get to bond with anyone during their formative weeks. Spanky's development was clearly arrested by a lack of contact with cats or humans, but I don't think anyone here minds his immaturity. I personally find it endearing.

Spanky was dumped at my former veterinarian's office when he was a baby. Because that sort of thing happened a lot, the staff there were always involved in some rescue or other. My friend Sam the Vet Tech felt sorry for him and took him home, but Spanky didn't fit in well at her house. There were already two dogs, several cats, and some noisy adolescents to boot, and all of that scared Spanky. So he pooped on one of the girls' beds, and that got him relegated to the rabbit cage.

The family used to keep rabbits in hutches out by the barn. The last bunny, Elvis, had died by then, but no one had the heart to get rid of the cages just yet. Consequently, they came in handy for poopy little kittens. Sam's plan was to keep Spanky in the hutch until he was big enough to fend for himself among the barn cats. But Spanky didn't know that this was the plan - heck, I don't think he realized there was any plan at all - and as a result, he was pretty lonely out there. When I met him, he was sitting in the cage looking absolutely miserable.

Sam and I were going for a walk around her property, so to comfort the little guy, I pulled him out of the hutch and tucked him up inside my sweatshirt. Only his head peeped out at the collar. He stayed that way the whole time Sam and I walked, and by the time we were done, I knew that Spanky needed to come home with me. It was obvious that he desperately wanted a family, and I had one to give him.

Spanky wanted a family, all right, but what I didn't realize was that he wanted a cat family. He and I got along fine, but it was Muffin he wanted, my crabby old tabby cat who wasn't the least bit interested in raising someone else's kitten. Spanky more or less forced her to take care of him, though, by simply snuggling up next to her wherever she was, and presenting his head for cleaning. For reasons known only to Muffin, she went along with it, as did Buddy, who was at that time about a year old. Between Muffin's ministrations and Buddy's baths, Spanky finally had the family he'd always wanted. Everyone was happy, right? Well....

Everyone was happy until I brought Junebug home. Junebug, her siblings, and their momcat had all been dumped at Dr. Green's. They were being kept in one of the boarding kennels until homes could be found. Sam eventually took momcat and an offspring home, but while they were all still at the animal clinic, I turned up to buy some kibble. Sam told me to go into the boarding area and check out the bottom cage, which I did, thinking there might be some exotic third world critter in there or something.

Instead, I found a momcat of immense proportions, and a number of kittens in a festive variety of colors. Sam picked up a small grey tabby and said fondly, "Look at the smile on this one!" She wasn't kidding, the tiny kitty was smiling happily and that was all it took. "Oh, all right," I groaned, "I'll take her!" By the time I got her home, I'd named her Junebug.

The arrival of Junebug completely destroyed Spanky. The new kitty had poached his role as baby of the family and, having no other obvious identity to assume, Spanky floundered. It concerned me to see the depth of sadness in his huge green eyes, and it took well over a year of special attention from me, along with repeated declarations of, "You're my favoritest cat of all, Spanky," before the veil of doubt began to lift.

Four years later, Spanky has settled back into his comfortable role as baby of the family - mainly, I think, because none of the other cats wants the job. He still demands attention from Muffin who, as an old, arthritic cat, is even crankier and more disagreeable now. More often than not, though, she still caves to his demands for a bath.

Spanky's got an even temperament and an over-abundance of energy with which to play. He's cheerful and loving, and has even taught himself how to head-butt: he discovered that if he sits on my desk while I'm working at the computer and butts my head, he'll get some attention. I give him a lot of credit for teaching himself something new, and for learning how to ask for what he needs. He's come a long way since those lonely days in the rabbit hutch, which does indeed make him my "favoritest cat of all."

That's all for now, folks. Thanks for stopping in and taking the time to read about my critter friends. Next time, I'll tell you about my three-legged cat, Gracie Ellen Tripod. Until then, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Duck In My Tub, Part 6

Hi Folks!

At last, we reach the end of Pretty Boy's adventure in my bathroom.

There were a couple of firsts on the Monday that Pretty Boy was due to be released. For a start, it was the first time I'd ever spent a birthday in the dentist's chair getting a root canal. Hopefully, it will be the last time!

I'd been dealing with an ever-increasing amount of tooth pain for over a week. It had gotten to the point where I couldn't even eat my expensive after-dinner chocolates. This was pure torture: the box of Lily O'Brien's Sticky Toffees sat there on my kitchen counter innocently enough, but I knew from experience that eating so much as one of them would produce the sort of pain that only a shotgun to the head would relieve. By the time I got to the dentist on Monday, I - a life-long needle phobic - was actually looking forward to a shot or two of novocaine.

There was a time limit involved with Monday's root canal: I had to get Pretty Boy to Dr. Susan's in an hour and a half, and I didn't want to miss that appointment. The two dentists at the office conferred for some time before reaching a decision. Since it was my birthday, and since the tooth pain meant that cake was out of the question, my dentist decided to at least start the root canal process in the hopes that I'd get enough initial relief to be able to indulge my sweet tooth. It was a kind thing for him to do and, indeed, I was back to stuffing my face with sticky toffees in a matter of hours!

The dentist finished just under the deadline, leaving me with a temporary filling and another appointment to look forward to, and just enough time to get Pretty Boy to Dr. Susan's. Considering the driving distance involved, I gave serious thought to passing on the check-up and just dropping him back at the pond. But after seven days of duck poop all over my bathroom, and duck bites every time I administered his eye drops, I decided that all our efforts needed official closure.

In truth, I was afraid Dr. Susan would want him to spend a few more days at my place. I just wasn't confident about that eyelid healing well, and I didn't think she'd be, either. I had promised Pretty Boy that on Monday, he was going home, and I meant to keep that promise. At the same time, though, he and I had been through too much together to ruin his chances now by not following through. So we made the trip across town to Dr. Susan's, which brings us to the other first that I mentioned.

You would think that after seven whole days of togetherness - days in which I had to pick Pretty Boy up every time he went in the tub, and pick him up again to get him out of the tub; days in which I had to put him in the carrier, and hold on to him while I gave him the eyedrops; days in which I sat on the toilet lid and talked to him while he splashed around in the water; days in which I conscientiously changed the bathroom lighting from "day" to "evening at a softly-lit pond" via a nightlight; days in which I struggled to find tempting morsels for him to eat - you'd think that after all that, he'd be at least somewhat disposed to a small show of affection from me. You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

The fact is, Pretty Boy never stopped growling at me until he realized I wasn't kidding about taking him back to the pond. I understood: he was in a strange place, he missed Girlfriend Duck and all his pals, the buffet wasn't up to standard, and I was the instrument by which all this unpleasantness came to pass. I didn't hold the growling against him, but I can tell you this: when Dr. Susan leaned over and kissed Pretty Boy on the head during that check-up, I was speechless, and more than a little indignant. And it wasn't even so much her kiss - it was the fact that he let her do it! That little stinker!

While I was surprised by Pretty Boy's sudden magnanimity, I was more surprised by the turn of events: remember that bit of griping I did a few blogs ago about how Dr. Susan seemed to be immune to Pretty Boy's charms? Apparently, I was wrong. Perhaps the charm incubation period simply took a little longer with her. Once I'd recovered my wits, I confess my first thought was the rather triumphant, "Ha! I was right! No one can resist Pretty Boy!"

The good news was this: Dr. Susan was happy with how Pretty Boy's eyelid had healed, and agreed that he could go back to the pond. She held off removing the stitches, saying he should come back for another check in ten days time. When I told her I wasn't sure he'd let me get near him again that soon, she said that was o.k., that eventually, the stitches would dissolve on their own. Either way, it was time to get him back where he belonged.

I drove him straight to McKinnon's Pond, telling him repeatedly along the way that he'd be seeing, "Pretty Lady, and Big Boy, and Ethel, and Peepers, and Ducky!, and Girlfriend..." Whether he knew the names or not, he was certainly familiar with the tone of voice I used whenever I spoke those names. He sat thoughtfully in the carrier, tilting his head to look up at me and no doubt hoping like hell that I was a human who kept my word.

I set the carrier on the ground and aimed the open door toward the pond. Pretty Boy did what he always does when I release him - he headed for the water; his friends could wait. Once in the pond, he did his usual "I'm home!" dance, in which he paddles back and forth, opening and closing his mouth but uttering not one sound. It's as if he's too thrilled for words. He passed up that day's feed, but I knew he'd rejoin the crowd in no time. Sure enough, there he was the next day, shouldering his way toward the front and gobbling up corn as though the week at my place had never happened.

It was much too quiet at home, then. This was unexpected considering he'd actually made very little noise in the bathroom. Apart from a few minutes of splashing each day, you would never have known a duck was in there. So I didn't understand at first why the place felt so quiet and empty. You'd think I'd be glad to have my bathroom back, with no more slimey green poop, and feathers, and cracked corn all over the place. You'd think that, but all I really felt was a disconcerting void.

I'd experienced this once before, when a terminally ill cat that I'd been caring for night and day for over a year finally died. Once he was gone, so was my purpose, my noble endeavor. I had given that wonderful cat everything I had - money-wise, time- and energy-wise, and certainly more love than I knew I was capable of - and between the two of us, we managed to cheat death for quite a while. After he was gone, though, I no longer felt noble, I just felt empty.

And so it was with Pretty Boy, though he was alive and well with years ahead of him. Once he was back at the pond, I had no place to channel my caring-for-critters energy. I would survive the transition, but first, I spent two very depressed days sleeping until noon. Eventually, I'd drag myself out of bed, get myself together, and head to the pond for the usual feedings.

On Wednesday, it poured with rain. The ducks don't like any sort of rain-deflecting gear (like unbrellas, or even hoods), so there I was, the Crazy-as-usual Critter Lady, hunched down in the rain, cheerfully calling, "Where's Peepers? How ya doin', Lady? There's Ducky!," and enjoying the hell out of things despite the weaher. There may be better ways to spend your time, but offhand, I can't think of them.

Thursday was Thanksgiving. Having no fixed holiday plans, I emailed Bob to find out how vegetarians do Turkey Day, then headed to the pond for a feed. It was probably selfish of me to race down to water's edge when I saw those parents walking their children over to feed the ducks. Well, I'd just done my twelve-minutes-one-way commute, the sky was spitting tiny little ice balls, and I was in no mood for waiting while the little monsters scared the ducks with their too-loud voices and overhand bread tossing (it's not a baseball game, folks, it's nervous animals!).

It's funny how parents think that they're enriching their children's lives with these experiences, but I never hear them take the opportunity to teach the little ones about kindness to animals, or how to behave in their presence.

In any case, I made sure my guys got a goodly portion of healthy food before the children fed them junk, and I lingered a few minutes for good measure, just to show those people what's possible with the ducks if you mind your manners. Pretty Boy came right up to the front of the pack, and his eye looked great. If you didn't know there'd been an injury, you certainly wouldn't be able to tell now. Which made that week in my bathroom pretty damned rewarding.

But I've gotta tell you: I really miss that growling goofus!

That's all for now, folks. I hope you've enjoyed reading about Pretty Boy's adventure in my bathroom. Next time, I want to tell you about my cat, Spanky, who has a low self-esteem problem. In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Duck In My Tub, Part 5

Hi Folks,

Well, I'm pleased to report that Pretty Boy survived his time in captivity, and, after checking in with Dr. Susan tomorrow, he'll be going back to the pond. I tried to convey that thought to him numerous times today, but the vibe I'm getting from him is one of suspicion. Who can blame him?

Sue Van Fleet, who writes for the Toledo Free Press, came by today to check things out. She took a lot of pictures of Pretty Boy and I together - I was smiling while Pretty Boy mostly scowled - and then she sat down to interview me. I prattled on about all my critter friends for two hours! I really hope I was able to get my point across about kindness to all animals, not just the cute domesticated ones. I could tell that Sue was taken by Pretty Boy (in spite of his best attempts at surliness), as is just about everyone who meets him. Indeed, the only person who seems immune to his charm is our emergency avian specialist, Dr. Susan.

Apart from my attempts to make Pretty Boy famous with the news lady, we spent a quiet day at home. Just for fun - and because it annoys him - I've taken to ruffling Pretty Boy's tail feathers when he's in the water. Because he doesn't like it, he'll quack at me and swim to the other end of the tub. If I ruffle his feathers again, he'll swim back where he was to start with. Enough of that and I've got him doing laps in the tub and getting some exercise! Which beats the heck out of lying on a pile of leaves in someone's bathroom all day, staring at the wall!

Sue, the news lady, asked me what I'd do when all the ducks were gone from McKinnon's Pond and I had no one to feed there anymore. Gosh, I hadn't thought about that. Considering how long-lived Domestic Ducks are, and how irritatingly irresponsible humans are about dumping them where they don't belong, it's hard for me to imagine a time when there aren't any McKinnon's Pond ducks.

But I'd sure like to give it a try, so maybe you readers could educate your friends about this important issue. Because it's not just McKinnon's Pond that's dealing with unwanted ducks, it's millions of ponds all over the United States. That's a lot of ducks that people decided they didn't love anymore.

In the meantime, I already have plans in my head for the design of a great big pond with plenty of room for all my duck friends. It'll be located on the huge piece of property that I buy with my first million! And I'll bet you can guess who the first resident duck will be - that's right, my favorite duck in the whole world, Pretty Boy!

That's all for now, folks. I'll bring you all the details of Pretty Boy's last visit with Dr. Susan the next time I blog. Until then, please be kind to all the critters!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Duck In My Tub, Part 4

Hi Folks!

The story's not finished, yet, so read on...

I detected a note of real concern in Bob's response to my email about Pretty Boy's waning appetite. He'd probably had some dire outcome with a duck who'd eaten poorly, but was afraid to tell me. It's just as well - I don't want to know the worst-case scenario anyway. But his concern made me a lot more worried than I'd been before: I had a cat once who stopped eating when he was ready to die, and I didn't want Pretty Boy doing a repeat performance of that. So off to the feed store I went.

By the time I was finished with Operation Eat Your Dinner, Pretty Boy had a veritable smorgasbord of munchies to choose from: arrayed before him were a pile of grass from the yard, a bowl of cracked corn, a dish of cat food, and a bowl of duck pellets. All on my best china, no less, because I'd run out of crappy critter bowls.

He seemed to appreciate the variety: every time I went in to check on him, a little more was missing from the bowls. He sampled the duck pellets with little apparent enthusiasm, while the cat food seemed to be his consistent favorite. The cracked corn usually got eaten, though he appeared to ignore the grass altogether. God only knows how Bob convinced his ducks to eat their vegetables, but it was clear that Pretty Boy had no intention of eating his.

While Pretty Boy's appetite became less of a problem, his eye injury became more so. He'd apparently been scratching an itch with his foot because by Saturday evening, some of the stitches had popped out of place. It was just as well: that flap of skin clearly wasn't getting any blood circulating to it, and I was fairly certain that Dr. Susan would pronounce the attempt at sewing his eyelid back together a failure.

One thing I noticed about Dr. Susan was that conditions and situations had to be perfect. Not acceptable, or anywhere outside the box, but perfect. Where she'd be thinking, "Now you need to find him a nice barn to live in," his usual vet, Dr. Chrys, would be thinking, "He's got that third eyelid to help him out, he should be fine." Two different, well-qualified views on the same subject by two different doctors. To be honest, I much preferred Dr. Chrys's optimism.

I wasn't as worried now as I'd been before about the eyelid not healing well because Pretty Boy still had his sight, and the third eyelid to help him adapt. I knew he'd be fine back at McKinnon's Pond - and anyway, I'm down there five days a week, keeping a close watch on all the ducks. If a problem cropped up again, I'd be able to help.

I knew that Dr. Susan wasn't going to like it, though, the idea of this less-than-perfect critter being sent back to the wild. What had she said before? Two eyes, two wings, two legs. Well, Pretty Boy was five for six with that half wing missing, but he had enough parts to get by with, and he clearly missed his fellows. I had promised him up and down that I'd take him back to the pond very soon, and I meant to keep that promise.

Well, folks, only two more days to go. Tomorrow afternoon, a woman from one of the local papers is coming to the house to see the duck in my tub and write a story about Pretty Boy and I. You'll be able to read the story online, and I'll give you the link the minute I have it. In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Duck In My Tub, Part 3

Hi Folks!

Picking up where I left off last time...

The weather was a bit of an issue, during Pretty Boy's stay. While I really don't know all that much about birds, I do know that they have very delicate lungs. Apparently, those lungs are not supposed to be subjected to any greater difference in temperature than twenty degrees. Which means that if the house your bird lives in is a toasty seventy-five degrees, you can't take him out for a stroll in your yard when the temperature is thirty. When I asked Dr. Susan whether this rule applied to ducks, too, she suggested that, as a precaution, I should close the bathroom heating vent, and open the bathroom window.

As we'd had some unseasonably warm weather, I didn't mind having the window open for the first couple of days Pretty Boy was here. Since all that duck poop stank to high heaven, I left the window open while I cleaned the tub and floor every morning. But when the temperature dipped to a mid-November average of 40-something, it got pretty darn cold in that bathroom. This was fine for Pretty Boy - who's a bit of a porker, as far as Domestic Ducks go, but I've got a lot less body fat than he does, so cleaning the bathroom felt a lot like scrubbing down an igloo.

Every morning, I put on a pair of latex gloves, then pulled up all the (by now) pooped-on leaves I'd left him the day before. I'd wipe down the floor not once, but three times, just to make sure there weren't any poop cooties still lurking about. Having a duck with delicate lungs made me go green in a hurry: my usual cleaning products gave off enough toxic fumes that 1) they've surely taken months, if not years, off my life, and, 2) I have no idea why I still use them. But if they made me cough and gag, imagine what they would do to a small animal.

I consulted Bob (Tarte) on the issue and he recommended looking for something organic at the store. This I did, putting my faith in a product that promised not to give off any fumes at all. Thank God they were telling the truth. I might just stick with that Seventh Generation brand cleaner even after Pretty Boy's gone!

In any case, while I cleaned the bathroom, Pretty Boy spent his time in the critter carrier trying to escape. I would set the carrier out on the patio, and from the open bathroom window, I could hear the metal cage door rattling in its' moorings as Pretty Boy (who was, by now, I think, developing a bit of an anger issue) bit into whatever he could get his bill around, and gave it a good thrashing in the obvious hope of effecting a break-out. It never worked, but you've gotta give him credit for not giving up.

Giving up was what I worried about most. Sometimes, when a wild animal is confined - no matter how good the intentions of the jailer - sometimes, they just sort of give up and die. They stop eating, and that's the beginning of the end. When Pretty Boy's appetite began to drop off, I started worrying even more. It was bad enough that his eye didn't seem to be healing as it should; the lack of appetite was another matter entirely.

It's not as if you can sit them down and have a talk about why you're holding them prisoner in your bathroom. Pretty Boy had no way of knowing that he was very likely going back to the pond in a short period of time. Indeed, he had no way of knowing that the whole situation was temporary. So there was no way to convince him that he should eat more. As it happens, the only real solution to the problem was force-feeding, and I had absolutely no intention of doing that.

So, yet again, I consulted Bob. He suggested offering Pretty Boy anything I could think of - chopped-up veggies from my fridge, or even just some grass from the yard. The vegetables were a vexing issue: for one thing, I didn't have any on hand (because I don't like them, that's why!), and for another, the one time I tried giving the ducks chopped-up kale, they all looked at me like I was an ax murderer and dashed away to safety. I was already giving Pretty Boy dishes of cracked corn, and cat food, but I made a mental note to pick up a bag of never-been-tried-on-these-guys duck pellets, and threw down a portion of grass just in case.

We were so close to the finish line - only three more days! I hated the idea of having to quit too soon and risk losing that eye, and his freedom, in order to save his life. It was a frustrating paradox, and what sort of life would it be with only one eye and no pond, anyway? I ramped up my prayers to the Critter Gods figuring, can't hurt, might help. Sometimes, that's the hardest part of helping animals: the fact that a goodly portion of the healing is out of your hands.

That's all for now, folks. I'm off to buy a bag of duck pellets. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Duck In My Tub, Part 2

Hi Folks!

Well, as I drove Pretty Boy to my house, my mind was spinning with the minutiae of Operation DuckTub. I'd need to get all the wash-my-face stuff out of the bathroom, and pick up the rug before he pooped on it. Food and water bowls - do I have any? Bedding for him to sleep on. My hair dryer. What else was I forgetting? I was suddenly overwhelmed by the enormity of the disruption to my routine, and the risk to his eye and future if I failed in my task. As always with duck emergencies, I consulted my friend and fowl expert, Bob Tarte.

Bob and his wife have been taking care of ducks and other fowl for years. He's got a barn and custom-built pens and everything. So I rely heavily on his knowledge and experience in these matters. What he told me was that ducks were easy to care for, though quite messy. Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn't it? In fact, "quite messy" was an understatement.

What I found out the hard way is that ducks seem to poop on an every-twelve-minutes schedule, and they'll do it wherever they are at the time. Bob's misrepresentation of the facts should in no way imply a lack of expertise; far from it. Bob knows his ducks and he's pretty darn generous about sharing what he knows with you. It's possible, though, that he was exacting revenge for some perceived slight, or interview-hogging on my part.

In any case, I was almost home before I realized that the house I'd just bought had an extra half bathroom. Initially, I had dismissed it as an unnecessary room that I didn't need and didn't want to have to clean. So I parked my bike in there for the winter, closed the door and completely forgot about it. What a relief to suddenly remember it! So I grabbed up all my necessities and put them in the half bath, then tried to make the full bathroom as duck-friendly as possible. In leiu of more suitable bedding, I tossed down a few handfuls of leaves courtesy of the big tree in my front yard. I filled the tub with cold water, opened the window, and put out food and water. It would have to do.

A routine quickly fell into place: First thing in the morning, I'd put Pretty Boy in the carrier, then set him out on the back patio to take the air while I cleaned up the tub and floor before I showered. After I was clean, I put him in the tub for his morning bath. How happy he was to dip his head underwater, flap his wings, and tend to his feathers! That morning bath was my favorite time of day with Pretty Boy, and I'd sit on the toilet and laugh as he paddled about in the tub.

Pretty Boy got an hour's-worth of tub time two or three times a day. Remember, Domestic Ducks are meant to live on farms, with barns and pastures, and maybe a creek or mud puddle for bathing. It's not like wild Mallards, who spend a great deal of time in the water. Pretty Boy and his fellows at the pond actually spend a goodly portion of their days on dry land. So I felt that his time in the tub was sufficient and indeed, he bathed and preened much more than I thought he would.

He adapted quite well to his circumstances, though I left him alone for a large part of the day. I had to - he made me feel completely unwelcome in my own bathroom. Every time I went in, he lowered his head and growled at me. The experts call it "hissing," but I mean to tell you, it's a growl! Talk about ungrateful! "Pretty Boy, you big doofus," I'd say to him, "I've known you since you were an egg!" He didn't care. He just wanted to let me know that he didn't appreciate this duck-in-the-bathroom business at all.

Meanwhile, I managed to get those daggone drops in his eye like I was supposed to. He didn't like that, either. I'd put him in the carrier to make the process easier. When I give one of my cats a pill, I crouch down on the floor and trap them between my legs. But you can't do that with a duck because they have air sacs under their wings, and if you squish their wings together, they feel like they're suffocating. So into the carrier he'd go, flapping his wings, protesting and muttering, "duck, duck, duck," like he does. And every time I tried to steer his head in an advantageous direction, Pretty Boy bit me!

I know what you're thinking: "That's ridiculous, Kelly, ducks don't have teeth!" You're right, they don't. But it doesn't stop them from clamping that bill down on you if they've a mind to, and believe it or not, they can grip you pretty firmly. So while I was kneeling there trying to help this goofus maintain his eyesight, I was getting pinched by a pissed off duck. "Pretty Boy, what're you doing?" I'd ask. That only made him bite harder, which was, evidently, a direct response to my question.

That's all for now, but stay tuned - we've still got five more days to go! In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Duck In My Tub

Hi Folks!

Well, as promised, I'm going to bring you up to speed on Pretty Boy Duck's latest run-in with calamity. It started just over a week ago. Squatting down in my usual posture while feeding the ducks, I noticed some horrific, unidentifiable problem with Pretty Boy's left eye. It looked to me like his whole eye was just gone altogether, so I seized the opportunity and grabbed the duck. I managed to get him into the critter carrier I always have handy, but I'll tell you - when those big domestics flap their wings, it pushes some air around!

Because Pretty Boy tends to schedule his emergencies for the days when our primary vet is off work, I had to drive him forty minutes across town to the Exotic Critter Clinic. He doesn't seem to mind riding in the car all that much, but animals tend to poop when they're stressed, and ducks poop a lot anyway, so by the time we got where we were going, my car was pretty stinky!

Dr. Susan hmmmm'd and uh-oh'd while she looked Pretty Boy over. His eye was still there, thank God, but his lower lid had been torn pretty badly. Dr. Susan said she wanted to keep him overnight to work on reducing the swelling, and then try to stitch him up the next day. Knowing that Pretty Boy was in good hands with this avian specialist, I didn't worry too much about the outcome. I agreed with Dr. Susan's assessment, and I liked the sound of her plan.

When I picked him up late the next day, his eye looked 100% better: the swelling had gone down, and the stitches had put everything back together nicely. Dr. Susan ordered ten days of eye drops twice a day, and said he was ready to go back to the pond. She actually preferred that he spend the winter in a nice cozy barn, but since I don't have one of those, I was pretty emphatic about him going home where he belonged.

I had every confidence in my ability to grab him up at least once a day and get the drops in him - mostly because I forgot about the mob mentality among the ducks. If one of them has an issue, then suddenly everyone does. And on Day Three of Operation Eyedrops, the whole gang decided that they'd had enough of this grabbing business.

They didn't like the idea of one of their fellows being manhandled, dragged off against his will, and undoubtedly beaten and tortured for days or weeks - even if he was really only gone the couple of minutes it took me to put him in the carrier and administer the drops. No, those jumbo-sized Pekins were convinced that there was evil afoot and its name was "Kelly."

So they stopped coming near me at the feeds. Each and every one of those stinkers stayed at least eight feet away from me. To add insult to injury, they quacked at me the whole time, too. "Go away now, Kelly!" they said firmly, over and over again in a deafening duck chorus, "won't let you touch us!" Jeez! Now what?!

I was pretty p.o.'d at myself for being so over-zealous as to try to give Pretty Boy the eye drops twice a day. Even Dr. Susan had said, "Twice a day is best, but once a day is better than nothing." I should've known better than to disrupt the normal once-a-day feeding routine. I should've just attempted the drops once a day and left it at that. I should've, but I didn't. Fortunately, the ducks have short memories and don't hold grudges against evil Kellys, so on Day Six, I was able to get near the gang again. Pretty Boy's eye looked great, and I was thrilled to be back in the ducks' good graces. That thrill would be very short-lived.

On Day Seven, Pretty Boy's stitches - along with the flap of skin they were suppposed to be holding in place - were flapping in the breeze. Oh God! What happened? With the benefit of hindsight, I think it was nothing more complicated than Pretty Boy scratched his itchy eye, and the sharp little hooks on the underside of his foot accidentally yanked the stitches out. However it happened, it happened - yet again - on our vet's day off and we had to drive all the way across town again to see Dr. Susan.

It wasn't as bad as it looked, and in fact, Dr. Susan was able to trim off the flap of skin underneath Pretty Boy's eye and restitch the remainder. She was pretty firm about him getting all his drops this time around, though, and suggested I put him up in my garage. Great idea - but I don't have one! Dr. Susan's staff had done a bit more homework than I cared for, and knew a woman who'd be willing to keep Pretty Boy in her barn for the winter.

Call me selfish, but I had no idea who the barn woman was, or whether I'd ever see my favorite duck again if I handed him over to her. And besides, apart from the eye injury (and, admittedly, a fish hook injury last summer) Pretty Boy has a good thing going at McKinnon's Pond. He has siblings there, and numerous friends. Heck, he even has a girlfriend! They've all got a huge pond (more like a small lake) to swim in, and one of the Big Cheeses in the Streets Department (many thanks to Jon Eckel!)is such a fan that he's willing to keep the fountain going in the pond all winter long, just so those ducks have open water to swim in. How could a barn possibly compare with that?

Even so, there was no getting around the serious fact that Pretty Boy stood to lose his eye if those stitches didn't do their job. And to do their job, he needed drops in his eye twice a day, every day, for at least a week. And if he lost his eye, he'd never be going back to the pond again because he'd be way too vulnerable. At Dr. Susan's prodding, I put my mental gears to work and they came up with the only acceptable (to me, anyway) solution: take him home and put him in my bathtub for a week. And that's just what I did.

Folks, I've been fighting a migraine all day and it's winning, so I need to stop there. Trust me, there's plenty more to the story, and I'll write the next installment as soon as I'm able. Until then, please be kind to all the critters!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Pretty Boy Duck

Hi Folks!

Today I want to tell you about my favorite duck on the whole pond, Pretty Boy. Pretty Boy is about five years old. He was one of eleven ducklings born to Missy Miss, who had been dumped at the pond with her friends Sid and Sol. Because of all the predators at McKinnon's Pond (hawks, raccoons, and cruel children), only three of Missy's ducklings survived to adulthood, and only one of them was black.

All of the ducks on my website, and in this blog, fall under the heading of Domestic ducks. Domestics were bred to live on farms and lay lots of eggs. Some of them look like over-sized mallards, and some of them look like the "Aflac" duck. Every once in a while you get wonky genes at work and a black duck like Pretty Boy comes along (although there is a breed of Domestic duck called a Blue Swede which is sometimes black, but I'm told that Pretty Boy doesn't qualify as one of those fancy Swedes; he's more of a Heinz 57 duck).

Domestic ducks can't fly, and they don't have much in the way of survival instincts. They're actually quite cheerful and friendly, though, which is how I got involved with them in the first place: every time they saw me approaching the pond, they'd all come running at me en masse, quacking up a storm in greeting. That sort of thing can be addictive, and it certainly was for me - that quacking started over seven years ago, and I'm still going back there five days a week, all these years later!

Anyway, Pretty Boy always stood out on the pond because of his unusual black markings. But that wasn't the only thing that set him apart from the rest. No, his personality is the real clincher. Pretty Boy is a duck who will make you laugh. He's the leader of the pack without being bossy, a take-charge kind of duck with an intrepid spirit who charms every single staffer at South Suburban Animal Hospital whenever he's there. And lately, he's been there a lot.

Pretty Boy first saw the inside of the vet's office this past summer, when I discovered a fish hook buried in his wing. Because the ducks trust me, they frequently wander in and out of grabbing range. I managed to scoop up Pretty Boy and put him in the critter carrier I always keep in the trunk of my car. Off we went to the vet. They removed the hook and that was (I thought) the end of that.

Early this fall, though, I noticed that his right wing seemed to flop down out of place. Pretty Boy would toss it back up where it belonged, but the wing would immediately flop down again and hang uselessly at his side. I dragged him off to the vet again, and Dr. Chrys decided that Pretty Boy had an abcess. She prescribed two weeks-worth of antibiotics, which I faithfully crushed up every morning and hid in scraps of bread. Pretty Boy gobbled the snacks right up, and had no idea that he was getting a goodly dose of medicine in each and every one. Unfortunately, the antibiotics didn't work. Dr. Chrys prescribed another round, but it soon became clear that they weren't working either.

"I have good news and bad news," she announced after reading the x-ray. Dr. Chrys had tried to prepare me for what she thought the problem might be, a systemic infection. Apparently very difficult to treat, I think she was hoping to ease me gently into the possibility of having to euthanize Pretty Boy. But the x-ray revealed something quite unexpected: Pretty Boy had cancer. Who knew that was even possible? The good news, Dr. Chrys informed me, was that his cancer would be much easier to treat than a systemic infection. Whew!

The options were these: Dr. Chrys could amputate half the wing, which would remove the cancerous tumor that had already eaten away his entire wrist joint, or she could euthanize him. It was a no-brainer for me: my favorite duck was much too young to die, and he couldn't fly with those wings, anyway. "Amputate the wing," I said firmly. And so she did. Two days after his surgery, I returned Pretty Boy to the pond. He was thrilled to be back, and spent some minutes paddling back and forth in the shallows, like he couldn't believe his good fortune. I'm certain he was laughing, and from the shore, I was, too. It had been a stressful couple of days for both of us, and it seemed like the worst was now behind him.

Pretty Boy healed quickly, and in late September, Dr. Chrys discontinued his meds and gave him a clean bill of health. She did such a fine job of his surgery that if you didn't know what to look for, you wouldn't be able to tell he was missing half a wing. He had some balance problems, initially. I had no idea that bird wings are a vital component of balance until I saw how often Pretty Boy lost his and fell over. It was heartbreaking to watch, but Dr. Chrys assured me that the problem would work itself out in a month or so, and indeed, she was right.

Because of that intrepid spirit I mentioned earlier, Pretty Boy took the amputation in stride and immediately got on with his life. He seemed to understand that I had been trying to help him, for he started doing something unusual at subsequent feeds: when I poured out the cracked corn, Pretty Boy would shoulder his way to the front of the food line, then pause for a moment and stare up at me. As I sat there on the ground not a foot away from him, I often wondered what sort of duck thoughts were running through his head.

Animals, I've noticed, seem to place some importance on expressing gratitude. I see it in my cat Junebug every day: as I stand there holding out a treat for her, she makes a point of head-butting my hand first before she takes that treat. The gesture is unmistakeable, and it warms me that gratitude is a priority for her.

I don't know enough about the ducks to say for certain whether Pretty Boy was trying to thank me, but it seems a safe bet. After all, if he feared or disliked me, I don't think he'd spend any time at all in such close proximity. And while a thank-you is always appreciated, it's not why I do the things I do for critters. Why do I do them? Because it makes me feel good, that's why. To know that my favorite duck on the whole pond now has a lot more years of quacking ahead of him - that's my reward.

You can earn that same reward for yourselves by doing similar good deeds for critters in need. Don't know any? Then check out the critter charity links on my website to learn how you, too, can help make a difference.

That's all for now. Next time, I'll bring you up to speed on Pretty Boy's latest run-in with mishap and injury. In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Two Little Pigs

Hi Folks!

Golly, but I wish this blog was going to be about two cute little porcine pals! Unfortunately, it's going to be about the human kind of pigs instead. Ordinarily, I would keep this sort of thing to myself, but I recently had such a depressing experience that I'm in danger of losing my faith in humanity.

What happened was this: my landlord needed the chicken coop for his mother-in-law, a woman of advancing years and a measure of decrepitude. He offered me the apartment above the garage, but since I was boxing up my stuff anyway, it seemed like a good time to move on.

I first went looking at apartments, and then at houses to rent. There was nothing suitable for five cats and a woman with 44-years-worth of accumulated stuff. So I started looking at houses to buy. I found a pretty cool one with lots of landscaping (for me to play with) and plenty of windows (for the cats' birdwatching hobby). I made an offer, we went back and forth, and finally we all reached agreement on a price. Everything seemed great until I started moving in.

I knew that the previous owners had a dog. I had no idea what a big hairy beast it was until I went to do a little pre-move cleaning. It was then I discovered two things: 1) that the previous owners had apparently never ever cleaned the house - even when they lived in it, and 2) that the previous owners left me all sorts of fun things to deal with myself. In the shed out back I found 12 cans of paint that I had no use for, 8 packages of roofing shingles that I was pretty sure I'd never use, a set of 7 weights that I had no intention of lifting, and 2 outdated computer monitors.

In the back yard, the previous owners left me a number of piles of dog poop - even though I had intentionally written into the purchase agreement, "Sellers will remove dog waste from yard." It looked to me as though they had never bothered to scoop the big dog's poop anyway, so their thinking was probably, "Why start now?"

Inside, the house was a nightmare: there was so much long black dog hair that it had actually begun creeping up - and sticking to - the walls. There were piles of it in every corner of the house, and under every single appliance. It was disgusting. There's also an old urine puddle in the family room carpet that no amount of professional cleaning is going to remove. I can't begin to describe the stink I'm enduring every night as I sit down to watch the news.

As I scrubbed and mopped and swept and cleaned that place, I became more and more disgusted and disheartened: not only was I cleaning the new place, but I was also trying to get the chicken coop ship-shape at the same time. Know why? Because it's the right thing to do. You make a mess, you clean it up. You don't leave your yuck for someone else to deal with. At least, that's how it works in Kelly World, where people say "hi" to each other on the street, leave their doors unlocked knowing that no one is going to come in and burgle them, and the planet is generally a well-ordered place. Reality, though, is obviously another matter entirely.

It's important that you know I'm not a neat freak. Far from it. There are many things I'd rather do than clean: I'd rather have a root canal than clean my house. I'd rather be in a fiery car wreck than clean my house. I'd rather spend time with people I can't stand than clean my house. So I'm not writing this blog from an obsessive-compulsive standpoint. I'm writing because Josh and Kate Koester, formerly of Walbridge, Ohio, and now members of the Marie Lane, Maumee, Ohio community, don't even have the decency to be embarassed about being such incredible pigs.

It appeared, when I first looked at the house, that Josh has an interest in JRR Tolkein-type stuff. I'd spend a lot of time in fantasy land, too, if I was married to a woman who couldn't be bothered to keep house. By the same token, I wouldn't waste time being married to a man who didn't do his share of the housework. Clearly, these two are made for each other, which is a good thing because I'm fairly certain no one else on the planet would have either of them.

Because I'm a big believer in fairness, I've written the Koesters of Marie Lane, Maumee, Ohio, a letter informing them of their "oversight" in leaving so much of their property behind, and I've also let them know about this blog. I've offered them the opportunity to come and get their belongings (dog poop included, so buy your first scooper and bring it along!) in exchange for which I would be willing to remove this blog from the site. They frankly don't deserve such generosity, but you know what? It's important that at least SOME of us behave well, even if others don't.

That's it for now. Thanks for letting me vent my spleen, and I promise that the next blog will be about something interesting: my favorite duck on the whole pond, Pretty Boy! Check out his pictures in the Critter Pics section of my website so you can see what all the fuss is about. Until next time, please be kind to all the animals!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

My Friend Bob Tarte

Hi again, folks!

Today I want to tell you about Bob Tarte, who is not a critter, but owns enough of them to qualify as slightly crazy. At last count - not including the sock monkey - Bob and his wife had thirty-nine animals. They've got ducks, geese, and turkeys, cats, rabbits, and indoor birds, and there was even a brief but memorable encounter with a young skunk. On top of that, they also foster wild baby birds, caring for them until they're old enough to fly.

My only criticism of Bob is that while he owns a barn, he has no horses. I think Bob would be great with something equine - a stubborn but lovable donkey like Belle comes to mind - but so far, Bob's sticking to small critters he can pick up with his own two hands.

Bob and I came to be friends through our email correspondence. Bob answers all his email - and in my case, he's probably sorry he did! I had contacted him, asking for advice on my writing, and he was kind enough to help me out. The reason I asked Bob for help in the first place is because he wrote one of my favorite books, Enslaved by Ducks.

When I first saw it at the bookstore, I thought, "Hey! A book about ducks -I like it already!" I bought it, took it home, and devoured it in two days. Happily for me, Bob wrote a follow-up, Fowl Weather, which I also read very quickly.

I wanted to thank Bob for all his help with my writing, so I suggested he come down to Ohio and do a book signing at a local bookstore. When he agreed, I contacted some of the newspapers, telling them what a hoot it would be to do a story about the Famous Duck Guy coming to town to meet the local ducks.

The papers agreed, and we all met out at McKinnon's Pond for a photo shoot. We got our pictures in the papers, and we got some much-needed publicity for the ducks at the pond, too, because you can't get people to care unless they know there's something to care about.

After the booksigning, Bob went home and made a video for his website called "Duck Man vs. the Crazy Critter Lady." You can watch it at In the video, Bob teases me for hogging his spotlight at the photo shoot, but I say, if you allow yourself to get upstaged by a Pekin duck, you should probably work on your stage presence!

Lucky for me, Bob doesn't hold grudges, and he went on to interview me for his segment, "What Were You Thinking?" During the interview, I got to talk about all the abandoned ducks I take care of at the pond. You can see them on the Critter Pics page of my website (

Between his video, and his interview - not to mention all our email exchanges - Bob's done a lot to help me along the writing road, and I'm more grateful than words can say. So I want to take this opportunity to thank Bob for all he's done to further my interests in the publishing world, and I want to ask all you readers to please suppport good writers and good writing by buying great books like Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather, both of which you can purchase at Bob will be glad you did, cause he's got thirty-nine mouths to feed!

Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Belle The Cranky Donkey

Hi folks!

Well, if it's Saturday, it must be barn day, because that's the day I volunteer out at the Healing Barn (check out their website at I'd been taking riding lessons out there for a few years when I decided that I wanted to learn more about horses than just how to ride them. So I talked to Nancy, who runs the place, and offered to scoop poop in exchange for some of her knowledge. She said, "Come out on Saturdays!" and I've been going ever since.

Turns out that's the day of the week she tells all interested parties to come. Some Saturdays, there are only two or three people. Other times, there's a veritable crowd of folks hoping to learn from Nancy. All the while, she's getting her barn cleaned for free!

Even so, I'm getting the better end of the deal: those horses are going to poop up the barn later the same day, but I'm learning things that will stay with me for a lifetime. In any case, over the course of my blogs, I'll tell you about some of the great horses out at the Healing Barn, but today I'm going to tell you about Sarah Belle.

Belle is an 8-year old donkey who started out in unfortunate circumstances. No one's quite sure what happened to her head before she came to Nancy's. Nancy is taking the high road and hoping that whatever it was was an accident (like maybe Belle got kicked by a horse), instead of someone hurting our favorite donkey on purpose.

The end result, though, is that some of the bones in Belle's face were broken, and they healed badly. You can see for yourself on the Critter Pics page of my website - the left side of her face is misshapen. She doesn't seem to be in any pain, but it's hard for her to see much out of that left eye because her swollen face gets in the way. As a result, she's a little wary about things sometimes. I would be, too, if I had trouble seeing.

Belle's previous owner wanted to breed Belle, but after the injury to her face, Belle didn't want anyone messing around behind her where she couldn't see them, and that put the kybosh on his breeding plans. So the owner called up the Tiger Guy - a man who rescues tigers, and other big cats - and told him to take Belle. Just like that! Apparently the owner figured, "If I can't use her, then feed her to the tigers." What a creep! Luckily, the Tiger Guy is a good man who doesn't like the idea of slaughtering healthy animals. He called Nancy, and the rest is history.

Apart from her appearance, there's nothing wrong with Belle. She's a perfectly good -if frequently stubborn - donkey who likes to keep me company when I'm cleaning stalls. She'll follow me right into the stall and hang around like there's room for both of us! Because I'm such a sucker for critters, I never make her leave; I just work around her.

So now Belle has a great forever home at the Healing Barn. She gets to live out her days swiping the horses' hay when they're out to pasture, and she never has to worry about someone hurting her again. She's safe and loved and cared for, and I for one have made it my mission in life to spoil her rotten. Which is how it should be!

That's it for now. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Friday, October 5, 2007


Hi folks!

Welcome to Kelly's Critter Talk.

In my blogs, I'll be telling you all about the great critters I know. You can see pictures of them on the Critter Pics page of my website,, and learn about them here on the blog. I can't wait to tell you about the gang of ducks down at McKinnon's Pond, the five cats I share my home with, all the horses over at The Healing Barn - not to mention the critter rescues who come and go through my life.

To learn more about me, check out my profile elsewhere on this page. It doesn't tell you much, but then again, it's not me we're talking about - it's the critters!

I hope you enjoy getting to know all my animal friends. Read on!