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!

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