Saturday, December 27, 2008

Saturdays At The Barn

Hi Folks! I'm glad you're back.

I know I've mentioned the fact that I volunteer at a horse barn in any number of blogs, but I've never told you exactly what we do on Saturdays, so I thought I might do that today. As you know, I've been volunteering at the barn for a number of years, now. I wanted to learn more about horses, and Nancy, who owns the place, is very generous with her knowledge. Nancy says the best time for anyone to learn is on Saturdays, when she's there to supervise and answer questions. So there's a small crowd of regulars who all come out on Saturday mornings.

The regular gang includes Mandy - who's a high school senior; Kaye - who boards her horse at another stable but seems to prefer this barn for the humans involved; Nancy; and me. We scoop poop, clean the water buckets, groom some of the horses - whatever needs done. We also do a considerable amount of yakking while we work. Kaye might tell us how her lessons with George the rescue horse are coming along, I usually rant about whatever is going wrong in my life, and Mandy uses the time to dog me incessantly.

Actually, Mandy and I spend most of our Saturday mornings bickering back and forth. Today, for instance, one of our new helpers, Laurie, was telling us how her daughter's grade point average is so high, the girl won a thirty-thousand dollar grant for college. I looked over at Mandy and said, "Too bad you're not that smart!" Mandy just smiled: she knew she'd get me back before the end of the day! She always does. And while I thoroughly enjoy working with and around the horses, I must admit that the high points of my Saturdays are always the times when Mandy and I are teasing each other. When Mandy can't make it to the barn, it's mighty quiet that particular day.

There are two critters out there who are free to wander the barn at will. First is Mikey, a retired barrel racer who's now so decrepit that he doesn't require a stall. The second is Cricket the donkey. Nancy will put Cricket in a stall when she starts becoming a pest; I'm happiest when Cricket is free to wander. Both she and Mikey spend their mornings browsing the stalls after the horses have been turned out. They're looking to eat everyone's leftover hay, and Cricket always makes sure to give the feed buckets a sniff, too, just in case.

Cricket and Mikey both have a habit of invading the stalls you're trying to clean, and they'll invariably block the door with their bulk while they munch on hay. Nancy finds this annoying enough that she threatens to "stall" them if they don't move along. I personally enjoy the company, but I've also learned the importance of keeping a physical distance between myself and them. Mikey's harmless enough, but Cricket is just so damned ornery that you never know when she's going to follow through on her threat to chomp your ankle.

Most folks don't know that a healthy horse weighs about a thousand pounds. That's a lot of horse! While Cricket is quite a bit smaller than a horse, she's still got a surprising amount of strength in her, as I found out the time I was minding my own business in one of the portable stalls. There was plenty of room for both of us, but apparently Cricket was in a mood because one minute, I was aiming my pitchfork at a pile of poop, and the next, Cricket had tossed me into the corner with one ornery flick of her head. "Cricket!," I hollered in my exasperated voice, "what're you doin'?!" Even I had to laugh, though: that's just Cricket being Cricket!

Cricket provides most of the comic relief, but many of the horses are interesting in their own way: there's Big William, who's so dopey that he seems to have the mind of a 5 month-old puppy; there's Nicky Naylor, who's just the calmest, nicest horse you'd ever want to meet. There's my personal favorite, Sidney, who's a mellow guy with big round eyes. Sidney endeared himself to me forever the day I sent him outside with a promise of snacks: "I'll bring some out later, Sidney," I told him.

Five minutes later, as I ducked under the electro-braid fence, I called, "Hey, Sidney!" That's all I said, but Sidney backed away from the horse he was standing next to and turned expectantly to me. He knew, you see. He knew that I was bringing that snack I'd promised, and I don't think I've ever been more impressed by a horse's intelligence as I was at that moment. If I could bring him home and keep him in my back yard along with the shrubs and rose bushes, I'd do it in a heartbeat!

My least favorite horse is Charlie. In my opinion, he's just plain mean. For no reason that I can explain, though, Mandy likes him, and he's her regular riding horse. One of the perks of volunteering at the barn is that sometimes, Nancy lets us ride for free when we've finished working. Mandy will grab Charlie, and I'll get Ruckus, and together, we groom and tack 'em up.

Grooming's an important element in the whole riding process. You want to check the horse from head to toe, making sure he doesn't have any wounds in places that a saddle would irritate. Picking their hooves is equally important - you want to pick out anything that might create a problem, like gravel, and usually, you can smell trouble before it gets too serious. Believe it or not, there's a "normal" stinky hoof smell, and plenty of abnormal ones that indicate an issue in the works. It's the abnormal smells that I keep my nose open for.

For whatever reason, Charlie takes an apparent dislike to having his hooves picked. Ordinarily, the horse is supposed to lift his foot on command so that you can get at the underside. When Mandy tries to do that with Charlie, he usually tries to knee-cap her in response. I'll hear endless rounds of, "No kicks, Charlie! No kicks!," which he ignores completely, along with any other rule he doesn't like. It's frankly a wonder he hasn't hurt her yet.

Horse owners are funny people. There are any number of them who own a horse simply so that they can tell people they own a horse. I've met Charlie's person and I'm pretty sure she falls into that category. Once in a blue moon, she'll come out and "help" at the barn. In her case, though, "helping" usually involves nothing more than taking an endless number of cell phone calls as she tries to order the rest of us around. I'm sure she views herself as a capable, assertive woman. I view her as an arrogant pain in the ass who's far more interested in herself than anything or anyone else - including Charlie.

As you can see, in addition to caring for the horses, there's a certain amount of gossip and intrigue going on at the barn as well! There are horses who were rescued from abusive owners, and there are past and present champion competitors. There's a crabby donkey, and great gang of women who think that scooping poop is a fun way to spend a few hours! We rarely miss a Saturday, and I'd be willing to bet that everyone else leaves there feeling as energized as I do. There's something very satisfying in knowing that I've helped critters in need. And insulted Mandy better than she insulted me!

So that's the barn in a nutshell. We're out there sweating in the summer, and freezing in the winter. We'll go even when we don't feel all that great, because it's our one day out of the week to get away from life's annoyances and do a little good for the animals. It's better than any drug I've ever been prescribed.

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Duck!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I've got a great Christmas story for you, so settle in and here we go!

Several weeks ago, I got an email from my weekend duck feeder, Liz. She'd noticed that one of the ducks was limping, and wanted to let me know about it. From her description, I knew she was talking about Ducky. If you scroll down the photos on the right side of this page, you'll come to a picture of a black duck with a caption underneath that reads, "Pretty Boy's wing man, Ducky." Ducky is indeed Pretty Boy's shadow, following him everywhere and taking his cues from the Alpha duck. It's a nice relationship they have, and it's comforting to know that Pretty Boy looks out for his less-courageous friend.

Initially, I assumed that Liz was talking about Ducky's gait, which has always been a much more pronounced waddle than his fellow ducks. But when I turned up at the pond for a feed, it became clear that there was indeed a difference to his walk now: he moved considerably more slowly than usual, and stopped to rest several times on his way to the pile of corn. Imagine an elderly man with a dicky hip, and you'll know what I mean.

Now, I'm more than happy to help the ducks out by taking them to the veterinarian when the situation calls for it, but the truth is that taking them to the vet is a royal pain in the ass on a good day. There's the difficulty in getting them to move into grabbing range, and the hassle of trying to figure out which avian vet is working on which day of the week. There's the stink of duck poop which permeates the inside of my car. There's the cost of the office visit. And there's the inconvenience of spending a week sharing my bathroom with an unwilling and deeply unhappy duck. Ugh!

And with Christmas right around the corner, I confess that I just didn't have the energy to deal with Ducky and whatever was causing his limp. I decided to keep an eye on him for a week or so, and make a decision then. In the meantime, the temperature outside dropped in a big way, freezing most of McKinnon's Pond, save the area around the always-running fountain. Curiously, there was also a small hole in the ice some yards away from the big hole. Making themselves comfortable around the fountain were an untold number of wild mallards and Canada geese, as well as my gang of ducks. In residence next to the small hole in the ice was Ducky.

I don't know how he managed to create and maintain that small hole in the ice, but he looked terribly forlorn there all by himself. After a week of procrastination on my part, it was clear that something would need to be done about Ducky's dicky leg. So I poured out a large measure of cracked corn to attract all the birds from the big hole. Once they'd settled in, I walked over to an area that would be a shorter distance from the small hole to dry land, and poured out more corn for Ducky.

He struggled over the slippery ice, taking a considerable amount of time to make the journey. Once he got close enough, I grabbed him up, put him in the carrier and headed home. I wasn't able to get an appointment with Dr. P. until the next day, so I settled Ducky into my bathroom as best I could, which turned out to be no small feat.

I knew that Ducky wasn't an Alpha duck, but I'd had no idea just how much of a scaredy-duck he really is. Every time I went into the bathroom, he pooped (a sign of fear), and climbed into his food bowls in an attempt to get away. He clearly believed I was going to murder him - even though he's known me for well over four years. Nothing I said or did convinced him that my motivations were strictly benevolent, so I tried to leave him alone as much as possible.

The bad news came on Tuesday, when Dr. P. announced her belief that Ducky had an old leg injury that, instead of healing properly, created a new hip socket (which is fairly common in animals). The new hip socket wasn't the problem, though. The painful arthritis in that new hip joint was apparently the problem.

I don't know about you, but when winter hits, what little arthritis I have acts up pretty badly. I could just imagine how Ducky felt out at the pond, exposed to the elements for five months straight with no relief. Dr. P. and I agreed that Ducky shouldn't spend the winter at McKinnon's Pond, but apart from a few doses of anti-inflamatory medication, she had no help to offer.

Uncertain what to do next, I took Ducky home and made a call to one of the other area avian vets, Dr. Susan. Dr. Susan had worked on Pretty Boy's torn eyelid, and had told me at the time that she knew some folks with a barn who would be happy to take in a duck. Well, you know how much I love Pretty Boy! Call me selfish - and in this instance, you'd be right - but I wasn't prepared to send Pretty Boy off to some stanger's barn. Ducky, on the other hand....

Well, it's not as if I love Ducky any less. It's that he needs a barn more than Pretty Boy did. Unfortunately, the barn option was no longer available. Having used up my one and only idea, I was stumped for what to do about Ducky. Goodness knows he couldn't just spend the next four months in my bathroom!

I've found that usually, story-book endings only happen in the movies. But I'm starting to see that every once in a while, right here in real life, the Gods like to throw you a bone when you're not expecting it. And so it was when that very same Tuesday, Officer Jeff called me out of the blue (the guy only ever calls once or twice a year), and left a message about a report of an injured duck. When I called him back, asking if he knew anyone that would like a duck, he said he'd think on it (I've yet to hear back from him, though!), and he repeated the voicemail some woman had left him about an injured duck at McKinnon's Pond.

I called the number he gave me, asked for Pat, and immediately, my whole day changed. Pat told me that she'd been watching a black duck who appeared to be injured. She mentioned a small hole in the ice, and said that when she'd been to the pond that very morning, the duck was nowhere to be seen. Recounting her worry, Pat was on the verge of tears.

I told her that the black duck in question was not at the pond because he was in my bathtub. My goodness, the sigh of relief Pat heaved! Did I know, she asked, that there was also a duck at the pond with one wing? "Yes," I replied, "that's Pretty Boy. He had cancer in the wing and the doctor amputated it."

Now, folks, I can't put too fine a point on this when I say that you REALLY have to be paying attention to notice that Pretty Boy's missing a wing. In the first place, he'd have to be flapping right in front of you, then it would have to register in your already-busy brain that that particular duck seems to only have one wing. The odds are strongly against you noticing, which is why I was so impressed that Pat DID notice. Already, she was my kind of person!

As we talked on the phone, I told her what Dr. P. had said, and that I was now trying to find Ducky a winter home. Pat immediately came to the rescue, offering the use of her garage. She already had a rescued chicken in there - what difference would one duck make?! Based on the depth of emotion she displayed during that phone call, and the obviousness of the fact that she was very fond of that gang of ducks, I made the decision to trust her with Ducky's care. We arranged for me to bring him over on Friday.

In the interim, poor Ducky was stuck with me. His fear and anxiety never diminished, and he never acquired the sangfroid that was the staple of Pretty Boy's coping skills. It was hard to enjoy the visit when I spent so much of Ducky's time here feeling like an ax murderer! When Friday came, I was more than happy to hand him over to Pat and her husband, Pete.

Pat hadn't been kidding about the size of the chicken in their garage - he was HUGE! We had already agreed that the chicken (creatively named, by the way, "Chicken")would probably have territorial issues, and that it would be best to keep the two fowl separate, if for no other reason than Chicken's beak looked particularly lethal.

Toward that end, Pat had already installed a large dog cage in the garage, filled it with straw for bedding, and supplied Ducky with not only a substantial bucket of water, but also a bowl filled with cracked corn AND duck pellets. I'd forgotten to mention duck pellets on the phone, so I was surprised and very pleased to see that Pat and Pete had already done their duck food homework.

In addition to comfortable quarters, Pat showed me the children's wading pool that would provide Ducky with plenty of tub time. She assured me that the yard was completely fenced, and any excursions Ducky might take out into that yard would be closely supervised. Unloading Ducky from the carrier into the cage, I had no doubts about the care he would be receiving from the Mitchells. As I left, I thanked them profusely for their willingness to take in a gimpy duck for the winter.

Over a week would pass before I was able to stop in and visit Ducky. Christmas has a way of getting in the way of things, doesn't it? Between last-minute shopping and last-minute errand-running, I just didn't have any free time available. This concerned me, enough so that as I laid awake in bed at night, I'd indulge in a few minutes of anxiety about whether I'd done the right thing. What if I'd been wrong? Worse - what if they ate him?!

Well, the good news, folks, is that they didn't eat Ducky! I stopped by for a visit today, planning to stay just a few minutes, and ending up staying for well over half an hour. Pat had put Ducky in his paddle pool, and as we three humans sat chatting, and as Chicken lorded over his garage floor territory, Ducky paddled and bathed, splashed and preened. While he enjoyed some of the bread snacks I'd brought him, the feral garage cat came down from her perch in the rafters and allowed me to pet her.

Pat expressed surprise, when I first arrived, that Ducky seemed to know me on sight. I've learned from long experience that the ducks are great that way: they always remember me, and they're always glad to see me. As I approach the pond, the quacking starts. As I get nearer, the ducks all race toward me en masse, quacking to beat the band. It's a sight that never fails to amuse me and warm my heart.

I love those guys, every quirky, quacky one of them. They all have different personalities, but they all have one thing in common: their love of Kelly and her bag of food. After all our years together, I've managed to earn their trust, and their affection. It didn't surprise me that Ducky recognized me, there in the Mitchell's garage. What did surprise me was how attached the Mitchells had become to him, in such a short amount of time. Domestic ducks will do that to you, though: they're highly addictive!

So while awful things are happening everywhere around the world - from the quagmire that is the Iraq war, to the global economic mess, to all the poor Americans who have suddenly found themselves out of work - it's always heartening to come across some good old fashion KINDNESS; people doing good things for no other reason than that they want to help.

I know that to some of you, helping an injured duck would probably be at the very bottom of your list of things to do, but that's precisely the point: clearly, the Mitchells are people who care a great deal about the most vulnerable creatures in the world. There is no doubt in my mind that they, and all the other folks like them, have earned a special place in heaven, when their time on earth is through.

In the meantime, I'm very pleased to be able to say that I know Pete and Pat Mitchell. They've made my Christmas so much better than I ever thought possible.

I'd also like to give a shout to my weekend volunteer, Liz, who does so much more than just feed the ducks. Thanks for a great year, Liz! I really appreciate all your help.

That's all for now, folks. I wish all of you a great holiday season, and a happy, healthy new year. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Typical Day

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by again!

A lot of people wonder what I do all day, so I thought I'd describe a normal day in the life of the Critter Lady. Mind you, today's events don't happen every day (thank goodness for that!), but you'll get an idea of what I'm up to.

I got an email last night from the woman who feeds my gang of ducks on the weekends. Liz read about me in the local paper a while back and got in touch with me, volunteering her services. I've been relying on her ever since.

In addition to feeding the ducks, Liz is also my eyes and ears at McKinnon's Pond. She sent me an email a couple of months ago, when she became concerned about one of the Pekins. She thought maybe he had a leg injury. After I checked him out, I told her that no, he's not injured; Puddleduck's just bow-legged! I sure am grateful for the observations, though!

In any case, last night's email told me that Liz had come across a dead goose at the pond. She didn't know why the poor creature had died, or what to do with the corpse, but she wanted me to know about it. I immediately replied and asked if she was sure it was a goose, and not one of my guys. She reassured me that the dead critter in question was, indeed, a Canada goose. I told her I'd check it out today.

I had a holiday open house to go to this afternoon. Julie, the pottery instructor at the studio where I make stuff (vases for animal charity events, to be specific), has her own gallery up the road in the quaint and historic town of Watersedge. It's a thirty-minute drive from Whoville, but all the Watersedge shops are open for the event, most of them set out free cookies, and there are carolers and horse-drawn wagon rides, as well.

It's a festive occasion (although, due to our current economic woes, it was also rather subdued this year) and Julie always has good stuff in her gallery. She features a number of artists in different mediums, and my favorite is the boiled wool lady, who makes catnip mice out of wool.

For reason I can't explain, cats in general seem to like wool, and my cats in particular are no exception. Every year, at Julie's holiday open house, I avail myself of the free food and pick up a couple of wool mice for the cats' Christmas stocking. And every Christmas Day, my cats get stoned out of their minds on those mice!

I stopped off at McKinnon's Pond on the way to the open house. I decided to give the ducks an extra helping of cracked corn before I looked into the dead goose issue. I figured that if they were occupied with food, my gang wouldn't follow me all over the place like they occasionally do. Sometimes, I get to feeling like the Pied Piper of Hamelin, except with ducks instead of rats. One day, I had over forty ducks (mostly wild mallards) following me in search of extra corn!

After I dumped a pile of feed near the boathouse, I followed Liz's directions and walked half-way around the pond before I found the corpse. He seemed to have a neck injury, and when I turned him over, I found a big, yucky, maggot-filled wound on his belly. I'm guessing that a raccoon got him because they never seem to eat what they kill. I think a dog would've played with the corpse, and a coyote would've made a meal of it, but it seems like only raccoons kill an animal, make a hash of the body, and then leave it without eating. What a waste.

In any case, I had with me the empty paper sacking that the cracked corn had come in, along with a lawn-and-leaf bag, for disposal. I wrapped up the goose in the paper, then put the whole package in the plastic bag. I headed back around to the boathouse, putting the carcass in a garbage barrel along the way. The Whoville City garbage collectors will come around next week and take care of the rest.

The ducks, having eaten every last piece of corn in the six minutes I was dealing with the goose, all took a renewed interest in me and started heading in my direction. I spent some time reassuring them that there was, in fact, no more corn, then climbed into my car and drove to Watersedge.

As I travelled, I reflected on the thought that while an untold number of people use the park and pond every day - for duck feeding, as well as exercising dogs, and making clandestine cell phone calls - I seem to be the only one who's involved to the point of handling dead critter issues.

There is, of course, Animal Control Officer Jeff, who I usually call in such situations. Part of his job is disposing of just this sort of unfortunate creature before children start playing with them and catch some disease or other. But since it was Sunday, I decided to give Jeff a break and handle it myself. Besides, a maggoty dead critter is a lot easier to deal with in winter than in summer!

I wish there was good news to report on the wool mouse front, but by the time I got to the gallery, they were all sold out. Julie assures me that she can hook me up with some before Christmas arrives, though, so that's all right. I sure did enjoy spending some time among the living, savoring the thin, wintry sunshine, wandering the antique shops and listening to carolers as I did. There's just something special about a quaint old village that puts me in the holiday spirit.

Any day now, I'll start putting up my Christmas decorations. My all-time favorite thing is a stocking that a friend of mine cross-stitched for me, some years ago. It's a picture of a white cat lying under a Christmas tree, playing with a string of lights. It is, of course, the cats' stocking. Every good-smelling thing that goes into it (like catnip mice) has to be sealed into a Ziploc bag, first, lest the cats get curious too soon! On Christmas day, I'll pull out all the new toys and snacks and let the cats have at 'em. It's the best part of my holiday!

So that's a day in the life of the Critter Lady. Fortunately, there aren't always critter deaths to deal with! A typical day is usually about feeding and nurturing living animals, which makes dealing with the occasional death a little more tolerable.

I hope you all have your own special winter critter traditions - whether it be feeding the wild birds or putting out a salt lick for the deer (but please, no hunting!), or buying a nice new blanket for that old horse in your pasture. May you all be as blessed with wonderful critter characters as I am!

That's all for now, Folks. Thanks again for stopping by, and until next time, please be kind to all the critters.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Scruffy the Kitten

Hi Folks! Thanks for stopping by. I had a rough morning, today, and I want to tell you about it.

My boyfriend's barn cat (who will be spayed ASAP) had a litter of four kittens this past spring. They were cute little buggers, as kittens always are. They spent their days chasing bugs, pouncing on each other, and watching as mama taught them how to kill mice. It seemed like an idyllic kittenhood. Idyllic, I know now, for all but one.

John named her Scruffy because she always looked so unkempt. She never really got the hang of bathing, so her coat was always matted and oily. She never seemed to gain any weight, either. While her siblings thrived, Scruffy did not. There came a time when her siblings were easily twice her size. She ate, but the food never stuck to her ribs. Indeed, she was terribly emaciated, with her bones sticking out sharply under her skin; when you touched her, you could feel every vertebrae in her spine.

At some point, she developed a respiratory infection. She was so weak and sickly that she couldn't even be bothered to clean away the snot that hung from her nostril. She was a pitiful sight, hunched over on an old couch, looking fragile. I wiped the snot off her face several times the day I visited, but her nose never stopped running. Hearing the bubbly, uneven breathing, you wondered how she stayed alive.

It was heartbreakingly painful just to look at her. She rarely made eye contact with me. Mostly, she huddled uncomfortably on that ratty couch, looking like she was waiting for death. That was how she passed her days - just waiting. I never saw joy in her eyes, or interest in anything. It was an existence, and barely that.

John and I assumed that she would simply pass away at some point, but she never did. Whatever compelled her to keep going is beyond me, because she certainly had no quality of life. When I'd had enough of waiting for the inevitable, I took her to the vet. I was pretty sure that she'd need to be euthanized, a fact I tried to get across to John as gently as possible: they may be barn cats, but he still gets attached to them.

I didn't give the matter much thought as I drove to the clinic. I was too busy being indignant about how long it had taken John to acquiesce. I hadn't formed a bond with this particular kitty anyway. In the first place, she always looked so unhappy, I didn't want to touch her and make things worse. At the same time, she was too sick to be cute and cuddly. Indeed, out of all the photos I took as the kittens grew, I'm sad to say that I only have one picture of Scruffy.

The doctor told me that there is a veterinary term called "failure to thrive," and it described Scruffy to a tee. For some unknown reason, Scruffy's siblings came out of the womb completely healthy, while Scruffy herself did not. The vet said that the kitten's future consisted of nothing more than illness after illness, with diagnoses and cures an uncertainty. The doctor went on to say that she wasn't even confident that she could cure the current respiratory infection. Gently, she concluded that euthanasia was a kind and reasonable alternative. I nodded in agreement.

There was a form to sign, authorizing the doctor to put Scruffy down. I had planned to be present for the procedure, but when the vet tech exlained that it would be impossible to find the kitten's veins - requiring the doctor to inject the needle directly into Scruffy's heart - I passed. That was not a picture I wanted stuck in my head for the rest of my life. Instead, I asked the tech if she would please be present in my place, and hold the kitten for me. She kindly agreed.

Afterward, the doctor wrapped Scruffy's body neatly in the towel I'd been holding her in earlier. I placed the package gently in the critter carrier, and left the building. The tears began to flow as I pulled out into traffic, and they continued all the way home.

It took a bit of wondering to figure out why I was crying so hard for a kitten I barely knew. I finally realized that I was crying for all the opportunities I knew she'd miss: Feeling healthy. Lounging in the grass. Napping in the sunshine. Chasing birds, and mice, and chipmunks. And I cried, too, for my own selfish reasons: Because I'd never have the satisfaction of seeing Scruffy get well. Because I'd never get the opportunity to see her grow and thrive like her siblings. Because for her all-too-brief life, she knew only sickness and suffering, and no animal deserves that.

Hindsight is a given: I should've done something sooner. I should've known more (in spite of my complete lack of veterinary training). I SHOULD HAVE. I'll torture myself with that thought for a while, then file it away in that mental folder called "Learn From Your Mistakes, Will Ya?!" If there is a next time, I can assure you that relief will come to the animal in question much more quickly. For now, all I have to go on is the doctor's reassurance that I did the right thing. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn't ease my sadness.

It was Cleveland Amory - author of "The Cat Who Came For Christmas" - who summed up his sorrow at the loss of his beloved cat so succinctly when he said, "It was not just that Polar Bear was not there. It was the awful, overpowering weight of knowing that he would never ever be there again." Indeed, euthanasia relieves the animal's misery, but rarely the human's.

That's all for now, folks, but I'd like to leave you with this one request: please, when your pet is suffering, please take him to the vet and allow the doctor to alleviate that suffering. As a responsible pet-owner, you owe your beloved animal this one last act of unselfish kindness.

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

Friday, August 29, 2008

Pretty Boy's Latest Stay In My Tub

Hi Folks!

Welcome to Kelly's Critter Talk! I'm glad you're here!

Well, Pretty Boy's latest visit went off without a hitch. His eye responded to the antibiotic drops and I took him back to the pond as scheduled. He's always so pleased to be home again that he's developed his own little happy dance: he paddles back and forth in the water, opening and closing his bill as if he's too excited to speak. He searches out Girlfriend Duck, makes sure she's o.k., then zips around the pond some more, like he can't believe his good fortune. It's the same every time.

I used his latest stay in my bathroom as an opportunity to reinforce the idea that he and I would be sharing the space during his visits. Pretty Boy wasn't terribly keen on that, and never really did get used to me walking in and conducting my business. He'd eye me suspiciously while I brushed my teeth/styled my hair/used the toilet, and growled if I came too close. When I'd swab the floor with paper towels - attempting to clean up yet another pile of duck poop - he'd squawk and nudge my hand with his bill as if to say, "I don't like this! Back off!"

I'm convinced that Pretty Boy knows perfectly well who I am: that human who's been feeding him since he was a duckling. Considering that he's about five or six years old now, it's been a lengthy relationship. I've lost track of how many times I've taken him to his various vets. He's been a guest in my bathroom four or five weeks out of the last year alone. In spite of all this, I remain somewhat of a stranger to him, or at least, a danger. I tower over him. I control his day - from when he gets tub time to when he's caged, to when we go outside for exercise. And I dictate what he eats while he's here. For an alpha duck like Pretty Boy, it must be hard to take.

So it should have come as no surprise that as I drove him back to the pond - in our new fashion of carrier in the front seat with the top off so he can stand up and get a look around - Pretty Boy took advantage of every opportunity to chomp my hand. And he can pinch you good, if he's got a mind to! "Pretty Boy," I'd ask him, "what're you doing?!" His answer was always the same: another chomp. I try not to take it personally.

Happily, my favorite duck is back where he belongs, hanging out with Girlfriend Duck and relishing the cooler weather we've been having. For a duck who really enjoyed biting me, he doesn't seem inclined to hold a grudge: he's put himself within grabbing range at every subsequent feed, and eats out of my hand when I offer him a fistful of corn. Clearly, he's developed a measure of trust in me, even if he does resent being imprisoned in my bathroom. I'm just glad that I'm able to help a critter in need.

That's all for now, folks. Thanks for stopping by! I'll be back again soon with more animal adventures to tell you about. In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Favorite Duck

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're all having a great summer.

Well, as I write this, Pretty Boy Duck is back in my bathroom yet again. This will be his third eye infection in five months. The good news is that during the cold winter months ahead, it's entirely likely that he won't experience any more infections. The bad news is that next summer will probably be fraught with the same chronic problem that plagued him this summer.

In the interest of convenience, I've tried to streamline the duck-keeping process. Taping plastic drop cloth to the floor really cuts down on clean-up time, while cracking the bathroom door when I'm in the vicinity provides some much-needed ventilation and really cuts down on the duck poop smell.

Despite all the care I put into hosting my favorite duck, Pretty Boy continues to be a biting, growling force to be reckoned with. He's not above trying anything that will make my tasks more unpleasant, and he's not the least bit interested in behaving. When I wrap him in a towel at eyedrop-application time, he bites the towel. When my hand gets in the way, he bites my hand instead. It's my good fortune that he doesn't have any teeth!

I'd given considerable thought to the idea of buying a figure-eight harness - with a view to walking Pretty Boy on a leash in my back yard - but ultimately decided that, since the yard is fenced, letting him have a supervised walk around would be sufficient. My yard is bisected by a picket fence. For whatever reason, a previous owner chose not to continue the picket theme around the rest of the back yard. Instead, they used a nice, tall privacy fence. It's actually one of the reasons I bought the house: because nothing says "go away and leave me alone!" like a nice, tall privacy fence!

While the fence is pretty much duck-proof, I keep a close eye on his movements anyway. Pretty Boy spends his entire time outside looking for the exit. This is so obvious that there's no way I can be accused of anthropomorphism. He pokes his bill at the fence, and cocks an eye at the cracks to see if they might be big enough to squeeze through. He runs through the ivy, across the mulched bed, and around the shrubs. All the while, his head swivels back and forth like a periscope, intent on finding the way out.

We've had a bit of drought, the last couple months, so I've been putting my Playground Monitor time to good use watering some of my plants. When Pretty Boy wanders within range, I've taken to hosing him down as well. Interestingly, he seems to like the showers, and always turns himself to face into the blast. Every now and then, he'll try to catch some water in his mouth. Then he finds a shady spot to do a little preening. So far, he seems to enjoy the twice-daily excursions out into the fresh air and sunshine.

Meanwhile, getting him to eat enough is always a concern. Pretty Boy does eat some of his cracked corn, and picks at the duck pellets, but it's only enough to get by. He doesn't eat nearly as much in my bathroom as he does at my feeds at the pond. I don't suppose he's working up much of an appetite huddled on the floor by my tub.

I always try to supplement Pretty Boy's diet with greens from the grocery store, whether he wants them or not. As I stood before a fairly impressive array of choices yesterday, I recalled what my friend Bob Tarte wrote in Enslaved by Ducks about feeding a sickly goose. Bob said that in his attempts to encourage the bird to eat, he would wander his yard searching for the choicest dandelion greens to offer his pet.

Standing idly in the produce section, my gaze wandered back and forth before it settled on a area marked "dandelion greens." But the rubber-banded bunch of greens on offer didn't look anything like what Bob had pulled from his yard. These greens where huge - the sort of thing you'd expect to find growing in the Chernobyl fallout zone. I bought them anyway, but Pretty Boy doesn't seem the least bit interested in trying them. Indeed, I've seen no evidence at all that he's eaten so much as one chopped-up, bite-sized piece. Figures.

In the meantime, we've got three more days before he's due to go back to the pond. Dr. P. and I agreed that we wanted to treat this infection more aggressively than the last one, so Pretty Boy's getting his eye drops three times a day instead of two, and staying a day longer in my bathroom than he did last time. It's not nearly as much of an inconvenience as you would think. Establishing a routine and sticking to it is the key to maintaining my sanity, and throwing in extras like exercise time in the yard serves to make things more interesting for my favorite duck.

That's all for now, folks. I'll be sure to keep you updated on Pretty Boy's latest stay in my bathroom. Until then, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Pond Update

Hi Folks!

Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by again!

Now that summer's in full swing, I've been a little preoccupied with my usual summer activities like art festivals, and studio time at the place where I do pottery. Some weeks, I've actually missed a duck feed or two. At this time of year, I don't worry too much about that because Domestic ducks are famous dabblers, which means they smack their bills around in the mud, hunting for bugs and worms. They do the same thing in the water, too, searching for tasty duck treats at the bottom of the pond. So in theory, they should be getting plenty to eat on their own - even if they do act like they're starving to death when I show up with my bag of corn!

Because I'd missed a couple of feeds the other week, I thought I'd better make the rounds and see whether any of the girls had started another nest. The easiest way to tell who's nesting is to take a quick head-count when I first get out of the car. Who's lying around on the grass with the gang, instead of sitting on a nest somewhere? Let's see: Baby Fuzz is here. So are both Freckle Ducks. Pretty Lady is missing. Pretty Boy and Girlfriend Duck are here. Ethel-Ethel? Nowhere to be seen. And it would be some minutes before Ethel showed up, which led me to believe that she might just have a nest over there on the side of the pond. I made a mental note to check it out after I went around the apartment building and fed Lady.

Good old Ethel is the friendliest duck on the pond. She and a sibling had been dumped there a few years ago after what must have been considerable handling by the humans who'd owned them. Always glad of a friendly face and a little food, both girls were congenial from Day One. Even though Ethel's sister disappeared this spring (probably the victim of a raccoon), Ethel's cheerful nature has not diminished one iota. She'll let me pet her, and she's the only Domestic trusting enough to actually crawl inside the bag of cracked corn without worrying about what the hulking human outside might do.

As it happened, Ethel did lay a new nest of eggs while I was off prowling around art fairs. I found the nest in a location she's tried to use before, behind a small shrub just at water's edge. It was fairly well-hidden, and contained eight eggs. She'd clearly been sitting on the nest, as the whole thing was covered in feathers. Domestics don't seem to consider a nest sit-ready until they've laid quite a few eggs and covered the nest in down feathers plucked from their own breast. While Ethel was off eating corn, I tossed all eight eggs into the water and replaced them with chicken eggs. I left the small pine cone that was already in the nest.

The lesson I took away from Ethel's latest nest was that perhaps I needed to tone down my zealous approach to duck nest-hunting. Instead of spending time during every feed searching for nests, maybe I'd have more success if I gave the girls time to lay more than an egg or two. It's a thought worth considering.

In any case, most of the girls have given up on their nest attempts for the year, and the boys' hormones have settled back down to normal. They're now beginning their yearly molt, and the cliques that inevitably separate the ducks during spring mating have now merged back into one big gang of ducks in which Pretty Boy seems to be the Alpha Duck, and Ducky, his willing henchman. In other words, all's right at the pond!

That's all for now, Folks, but it's by no means the end of the story: we still have two girls trying to nest (Lady and Ethel), and all the usual summer hazards (fishing line and hooks, and unkind children) to contend with. I'll be sure to keep you posted as events develop. In the meantime, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Duck With A Chronic Eye Problem

Hi Folks!

Welcome to Kelly's Critter Talk! I'm glad you stopped by.

Well, Dr. Chrys was right when she said Pretty Boy's eye infections would most likely be a chronic problem. Unfortunately, Dr. Chrys isn't here anymore to take care of them: she recently moved to Germany for two years, leaving Team Pretty Boy in search of a vet that didn't require the sort of thirty-minute drive it took to reach Pretty Boy's other, sometimes-vet. After asking around, I got the name of a vet with avian experience whose office is much closer to the pond than Dr. Susan.

I initially spoke with Dr. P. on the phone, explaining about the pond-ful of abandoned ducks, and the need for a vet who could handle their usually-unscheduled emergencies. She seemed nice enough, and willing to help where she could. I closed the conversation by saying I hoped I wouldn't be meeting her any time soon! Naturally, I found myself in need of her services less than a month later.

I'd been growing concerned about Pretty Boy's eye. It looked cloudy, and Dr. Susan's words about ducks needing two good eyes kept ringing in my head. Last Friday, I made the decision to take him in to meet Dr. P. With his guard down, he was easy to grab. I'd already set the critter carrier out by the far side of my car where he couldn't see it. It was a simple matter to scoop him up and drop him in the carrier.

Riding in the front seat with the top of the carrier off, Pretty Boy spent another car trip clearly entranced by the idea of flight. Head swiveling like a periscope, he took in all the sights and sounds. When a truck drove by and made that hydraulic hissing noise, I chuckled and announced to my favorite duck, "Geese, Pretty Boy! Noisy ones!"

Dr. P. confirmed my suspicion of an infection and explained why, exactly, Pretty Boy's eye would always be an issue. Because the sutures hadn't been able to completely join his torn eyelid back together (you can go to my archives to read the blogs on his original eye injury, last November), his left eye no longer drains properly, meaning that his tears are no longer able to sufficiently cleanse his eye of all the yuck and bacteria that live in his pond. A build-up of that bacteria will eventually, inevitably, cause an infection.

I had been hoping that Pretty Boy's immune system would take care of the problem, but that was not the case. Dr. P. prescribed antibiotic eyedrops, and we agreed that the best course of action would be to put Pretty Boy in my bathroom for the few days he'd need those drops. He's been in there for three days, now.

As you may recall from past blogs, the last time Pretty Boy was in my bathroom (this last spring), he was in full mating mode. Mad as hell at being trapped in a stinky bathroom, away from Girlfriend Duck, he proceeded to tear the place up. Pulling bath towels off their racks was a favorite trick. Thankfully, mating season is over at the pond. Unfortunately, I forgot about molting season!

It must be said that molting season is a hell of a lot easier to deal with than mating season. For one thing, he doesn't have duck hormones racing through his veins, making him slightly nutty. But molting is a messy affair, one that involves individually picking the multitude of feathers out of the bathtub before I can drain it. The tiny down feathers go down the drain; I'm hoping they don't collect in a pipe somewhere and cause a clog!

There are also feathers all over the floor, but I believe I've stumbled upon an effective clean-up method that you might like to borrow for your own critter needs. After wasting a number of tall kitchen garbage bags, which I cut in half, spead out in the bathroom and taped to the floor, it finally occurred to me to use the drop cloth I had left over from a painting project. I could cut the stuff to any width and length, and when it was time to clean, simply roll it all into a poopy, stinky bundle and drop it in the garbage.

Because Northwest Ohio has been in the midst of a heat wave, the stink in the bathroom is far worse now than anything I endured last winter. The ninety-plus degree days literally bake that duck poop smell into the room, regardless of the two fans I have running. No matter how many piles of poop I clean up, the stink remains until - Pretty Boy watching closely from the tub - I wash down the entire floor, and some of the walls!

I've been so impressed by the cleaning product I've been using (and I'm not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination; I simply needed a product that wouldn't kill a duck), that I'm going to mention it again in this blog. It's a spray bottle of stuff called Seventh Generation. Billing itself "Free & Clear," it claims to have no fumes, no phosphates, and to be non-toxic. As near as I can tell, they're not kidding.

While I object strenuously to the idea that Clean, Green and/or Organic must for some reason be exhorbitantly high-priced, I was then, and will be in future, willing to shell out the extortionate sum my local grocer asks for Seventh Generation, if for no other reason than it's the first effective cleaner I've bought that didn't bring to mind worries of COPD every time I breathed the stuff. Indeed, this cleaner has no fumes at all.

While I'm happy to be able to help Pretty Boy, the feeling does not seem to be mutual. In spite of the fact that I've known that goofy duck since he was an egg, he remains wary and standoffish, growling in warning if I get too close. As I squat down to clean up the piles of poop, he'll tilt his head and scrutinize me with his good eye. No matter how many times we go through this trapped-in-my-bathroom routine, he refuses to get used to it. I suppose it's just as well: a certain guardedness around humans might keep him out of harm's way at the pond.

At any rate, his eye seems to be improving, thanks to this latest round of antibiotics. He was due to return to the pond today, but I thought an extra day's-worth of drops might be beneficial so I'll be taking him back to the pond tomorrow. The thought occurred to me, though, that, given the chronic nature of his eye problem, I should expect these bathroom visits to become somewhat routine. If that's the case, I definitely need to find some sort of non-toxic air de-stinkifier!

That's all for now, Folks. Thanks so much for joining me! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Old Molly

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're all keeping cool in this awful heat.

I've put off writing this particular blog because I'm not entirely sure what I want to say. Back in December of '07, I wrote a blog about critter trust, and I mentioned Old Molly the Belgian draft horse as an example of how an animal that's been neglected by its' owner can learn to have faith in its' new, better owner. This was certainly the case with Molly.

She had been confiscated, along with two other Belgians, from a man who neither fed nor watered those horses, but simply left them out in a field to survive on grass. My friend Nancy, who runs The Healing Barn, had been called in to foster them while the local Humane Society did battle with the horses' owner. Nancy maintained custody for the last nine years, ever since the judge found in favor of the Humane Society.

While one of the Belgians died shortly after being moved to The Healing Barn, a second lived another six-odd years, until his heart gave out due to old age. Molly plodded on without them, having taken a wild mustang under her wing for company. Molly and Baby the mustang were virtually inseperable. They were stalled next door to each other, and frequently touched noses over the top of the stall wall as a gesture of comfort and security. The times when Baby was out of Molly's line of sight, Molly would whinny anxiously, and you knew she was asking, "Where are you?"

For as long as I knew Molly, she was skin and bones. Imagine my surprise when I saw an old photo of her in which she looked fit and healthy! As with many animals, though, Molly's advanced years brought with them a rather extreme weight loss, and it's all but impossible to get an aged animal to gain weight. For the last three-odd years, I wondered how a horse that thin could survive the cold Northwest Ohio winters, but much to everyone's surprise, survive she did.

There were a number of times, during the past year, when Nancy worried about Molly's failing health. With every incident, she was certain that Molly wouldn't pull through, and yet somehow, Molly always did. Privately, I began to grow skeptical about Nancy's concern - precisely because Molly always seemed to bounce back. I'd show up on Saturday morning, and Nancy would tell me that Molly had gone down in her stall earlier in the week. Things would be touch-and-go for a day or two, but Molly always got up again. Until last week.

It's funny how your mind reacts to the news of someone's passing. When I walked into the barn last Saturday, scanned the bulletin board for announcements and found "Goodbye, Molly" written in Nancy's scrawled hand, my mind struggled to process it. "But I just groomed her last week," I thought frantically, "She was fine!" Intellectually, I understood - Old Molly was ancient, after all, and had had a hard life - but in my heart, it just didn't make any sense. Death never does.

I'm glad now for the time I gave Molly then. She seemed to enjoy being groomed, and would stand patiently in one place for the duration. Eyes half closed, lower lip jutting out, she was the picture of relaxed contentment. I'd talk to her quietly, remarking on how much of her woolly winter coat I was combing out - enough to make a couple of ponies! "Pretty old lady," I'd tell her. Every now and then, I'd pull a treat out of my ever-present fanny pack and give it to her. Molly never turned down a snack.

While I'm sure that Nancy will tell anyone who asks that Molly's in a better place now (and that may well be true), I can't help thinking about what a large presence that quiet, skinny Belgian took with her when she left. Other horses will come and go at The Healing Barn, but there will always, I think, be a void where Molly used to be. She was a singular lesson in the healing power of love, a horse who came to the barn frightened and neglected, but learned to trust again in spite of what had gone before. That's a testament not only to the work that Nancy, Allen, and Corri do at the barn, but a testament to Old Molly's faith in humanity, too. I hope we all served her well.

That's all for now, folks. Thanks for spending some time here! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters.

Monday, June 2, 2008

At The Pond

Hi Folks!

I'm glad you're here. Thanks for joining me again.

As you know from previous posts, I'm in charge of population control at McKinnon's Pond here in Whoville. It's my job to keep the Domestic ducks from having offspring, and the reason for that is because Domestic ducks lay a hell of a lot of eggs. One nest I found this spring had seventeen eggs in it! That's just from one duck! If you multiply that by the number of female Rouens on the pond, you'd get around one hundred new ducklings every single summer.

That amount of ducks on one pond is unsustainable, of course. They'd run out of food fairly quickly, and since they can't fly away, they'd be stuck at the pond, starving to death. Which is one of several scenarious I'm trying to avoid. Another involves the City of Whoville deciding to get rid of the problem (the ducks) altogether. As I've said before, there seems to be an unspoken understanding at some level of local government that as long as the number of ducks is manageable (and the person doing the managing isn't doing it on company time), then they'll be allowed to stay on the pond.

This spring, I decided to replace the duck eggs with chicken eggs because last year, when I removed the eggs and left nothing in their place, the ducks would abandon that nest and build another one in a different (and harder to find) location. I was thinking that if I fooled the girls into staying put, it would make my job a lot easier. You'd think it would be easy to think like a duck and find every nest on the first try, but you'd be wrong! Humans tend to over-think things anyway, and I was no exception: I kept looking in places that I thought would be good (under a shrub, say, away from local traffic), and kept coming up empty.

As it turns out, ducks don't seem to put that much thought into nest location. Indeed, several ducks chose sites that were far too close to danger for my liking: right next to an apartment building, for instance - entirely without cover and out in the open. That was Pretty Lady's chosen spot, and she laid twelve eggs. Even though they've been replaced with chicken eggs, she's still there, faithfully sitting on them, having no idea that they'll never hatch. Every time I feed the ducks, I walk around to the back side of that building, shoo Lady off her nest, and pour out a pile of food. She always gobbles it up like she hasn't eaten in days.

Another of the ducks - Freckle Duck, a hybrid Rouen who's mostly white with creamy spots, chose a clump of tall grass and saplings at water's edge for her second nest attempt. The first nest was disturbed - probably by neighborhood children - so she abandoned it fairly early in the season. Because her white feathers stand out like a sore thumb against all that green grass, she's ridiculously easy to spot.

Freckle's poor choice of location concerns me because children have an unfortunate tendency to tease the ducks, often throwing stones at them, or poking them with sticks. I sure would love it if every single parent on the planet spent time teaching their children about kindness to animals. Just think of how many less cruelty cases there would be if parents did that! Every day that I make my rounds at the pond, I worry about whether Freckle will still be o.k. She's just too out-in-the-open for my liking.

In any case, Freckle Duck is currently sitting on nine chicken eggs. She had laid twelve (which seems to be the average number of eggs laid per duck), but I ran out of chicken eggs at nine, and I'm pretty sure she can't count! Indeed, none of the ducks seem to notice that their eggs have been replaced with something noticeably smaller, and a different shade of white, too boot. Thank goodness for that!

Even though I've replaced all the duck eggs with chicken eggs, I still check the nests after every feed because the ducks have a tendency to keep adding more eggs to the batch. I collect all the duck eggs in a bag, then toss them one by one out into the pond. It seems a more appropriate and respectful resting place than the trash barrels the City provides.

At some point, as spring wanders into summer, Officer Jeff will drive by the pond and express his satisfaction that there are no new ducks to contend with. Don't get me wrong - Jeff likes the ducks just about as much as I do; he simply wants to avoid any unpleasant outcomes such as culling. Because if someone decides the flock needs culling, the job will inevitably fall to Animal Control Officer Jeff. And killing ducks is the last thing he wants to do.

For now, everything is going pretty much according to plan. I'm keeping tabs on five nests, and I'm watching to see where Ethel-Ethel decides to set up shop next. Some City worker with a weed whacker and too much time on his hands disturbed her first nest (which annoyed me no end: she'd laid nine eggs and had just started sitting on them). Hopefully, her next nest will be as easy to find as the first. The fact that she's not the brightest bulb in the pack definitely works in my favor!

Regardless of what happened to her first nest, though, Ethel remains cheerful and friendly, and always eager to approach me and my big bag of corn! It's an almost daily occurance to see her racing toward me through the grass, quacking boyfriend in tow. It's a sight that never fails to charm and amuse me.

So that's what's happening at the pond. I'll be sure to keep you updated as the summer goes on, because it seems inevitable that some sneaky duck will hatch a few ducklings in spite of me. It happened last year, and it's why the pond is now blessed with Baby Fuzz, who laid twelve eggs this spring, and Peepers, who will undoubtedly find himself a girlfriend next year.

That's all for now, Folks. Thanks so much for stopping by! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Untimely Demises

Hi Folks!

Thanks for joining me again! I hope you're all enjoying the great spring weather we've been having.

A funny thing happened the other week, and it fits right in with what I want to talk about today. I was idling at a four-way stop in downtown Whoville. Up ahead on my left was a small house someone had turned into a knitting supply shop. There were a couple of trees out front, and some grass and a sidewalk. There were cars parked in the street. Across the way was the local grocery store.

As I sat in my car, I noticed a squirrel rooting around in the grass out in front of that knitting shop. I watched him as two women left the building. The squirrel was spooked by those ladies, and did exactly what I thought he was going to do: he ran under a parked car and then out into the street.

I did what I always do in situations like that. I rolled down my window and hollered, "Squirrely! Get out of the road!" I find that yelling works much better than laying on your car horn, though it took me a long time to figure out why: because even after a century of internal combustion engines, animals still don't see cars as predators. Humans, yes. Cars, not so much.

I'll admit that I felt a bit stupid, hollering the way I did. Not because of the squirrel, of course, but because those two women overheard me. From the corner of my eye, I saw the squirrel quickly make his way up a tree while at the same time, two humorless thirty-somethings swivelled their heads in unison, keen to get a look at the crazy broad who talks to animals. The good news is that Squirrely lived to see another day.

A veterinary technician of my acquaintance once claimed that hitting the occasional animal with your car was inevitable. I disagreed with her then, and I still do now. In truth, I suspect that she was looking for a plausible excuse as to why she'd run over so many. As for myself, I've only hit one animal in my forty-five years, and I can tell you, I swerved mightily to avoid him.

The "thunk!' I heard told me that my swerve was unsuccessful. Glancing out the passenger-side mirror, I could see the squirrel's lifeless form at the side of the road. I pulled into the nearest drive and fished the shovel out of the trunk. If nothing else, I would see to it that he wouldn't be flattened into a pancake by the cars behind me. As I scooped him onto the shovel, I noticed that the squirrel was still breathing. Thinking that he probably had internal injuries and needed euthanized, I headed back to my car to pull out the critter carrier, with a view to taking him to the nearest vet.

I had some difficulty with the latches, and apparently the four-odd minutes I struggled with the carrier was the time the squirrel needed to get his wits back. Just as I popped the carrier top, the squirrel sprang to life, ran a couple of circles around my now-frozen body (they bite, you know!), turned what looked like an entirely accidental back-flip, then ran off toward the woods. When I stopped back an hour later and searched the treeline, I found no trace of him. It was an unexpectedly happy ending.

A few weeks before I write these blogs, I give the topic a good think. I'll ask my friends salient questions, get some opinions, listen to stories. Indeed, I invited my friend Bob Tarte (author of such gripping page-turners as Enslaved by Ducks and Fowl Weather - both available at to weigh in on the subject. Bob told me that he's never hit an animal in his fifty-odd years.

When I asked what he attributed his success rate to, he claimed it's because he skateboards everywhere instead of driving. Because by Bob's own admission he's far too lethargic for something as strenuous as skateboarding, I suspect that he simply didn't have the stomach for a detailed coversation about roadkill. Who can blame him?

My friend Aimee, who is, among her many charms, the Director of Humane Ohio (low-cost spay/neuter in six Ohio counties), once told me something about herself that makes me look tame by comparison. She said that in the spring, female opossums are often killed by cars while carrying a pouch-ful of young. Aimee is one of those hardy souls who will pull over to the side of the road and stick her hand in that dead critter's pouch, checking to see if any babies need rescuing. I'm pretty sure I successfully concealed my nausea during that conversation!

On the other hand, it cheered me no end to learn that I'm not the only person with a shovel in my trunk intended for scraping dead animals out of the road. Turns out Aimee and I have both passed roadkill in the street and made mental notes to shovel it out of the road on our way back - only to find that in the interim, someone else (no doubt one of us two) beat us to it! It takes a tender-hearted soul indeed to care about an animal that's already dead.

In a rather alarming coincidence, maybe a week after Aimee told me about female opossums with pouches-ful of babies, I happened to come upon a dead opossum in the road. Pulling my car to the side, I noted grimly that the thing really took a mashing: there were guts all over the place. I may have a tender heart, but I definitely have a weak stomach, too, and there's nothing like critter intestines to give me serious dry heaves. Wanting to scoop the poor creature up on the first try, I gave it one brief glance and discovered to my horror that all those things lying in the road weren't intestines at all. They were dead baby opossums.

There must've been eight or ten of them, all tiny, white, hairless, wormy-shaped things. Say what you will about opossums - and most people tell me they hate them because they hiss (which, by the way, I'd be inclined to do, too, if humans disturbed my peace), but the fact is that if you believe in God - any God, I'm not particular, then you cannot deny that the ugly critters, the mean ones, the hissers, they're all His creatures. And they all have a right to cross the road safely.

My experience with the somersaulting squirrel taught me that some accidents do seem to be inevitable. But I find that, more often than not, most folks just aren't paying attention. I know this because any number of you have had vehicular near-misses with me while you chatted away on your cell phone. Or tried to discipline your kids in the back seat. Or fussed with your groceries/briefcase/whatever else took your attention from the road.

And while they may seem like nothing more than nuisance animals to you, you might want to consider the possibility that your deity is unimpressed with the money you toss in the basket on Sundays, but is instead very interested in why you gave his lesser creatures such little regard. We're all going to have to answer for ourselves one day - or at least I hope so - and I'd love to be a fly on the wall up there, listening to people's excuses as to why they didn't go back and check on that critter they hit on their way to Somewhere Important.

Every single day, as I drive around Whoville, I see construction workers building new shops, new restaurants, new crap that we don't need, all the while bulldozing the one thing His critters do need: habitat. And we never give it back. You'll never see Wal-Mart tearing down one of their ubiquitous stores in order to give some land back to the local skunks. Seeing all that new construction, and knowing that the people responsible don't give a second thought to all the creatures they've displaced, depresses the hell out of me. It's no wonder so many of them end up in the road - they've got nowhere else to go!

So please, folks, try to be a little mindful, the next time you're in your car. How would you feel if some fool babbling away on his cell phone hit your pet and kept on going? I know that skunks and opossums and the like don't seem terribly important in the grand scheme of things, but God made them all for a reason, and I think it's safe to assume that when you kill one of His critters, you kill a little piece of Him as well. That won't look good on your resume.

That's all for now, folks! Until next time, enjoy this beautiful spring weather, and please be kind to all the critters!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

That Incorrigable Duck!

Hi Folks!

Hey, how 'bout this spring-like weather?! Makes me want to go out and play!

I've put off writing a follow-up about Pretty Boy's second stint in my tub not because the story has an unhappy ending, but because he was such a shit while he was here, I'm still reeling from it! As you may recall, the ducks are in the midst of the spring mating ritual down at the pond. The drakes are chasing the girls around, they're also chasing the other drakes away from their conquests, and the poor girls just look harried and worn out. It's not a pretty sight.

I guess I didn't realize how strongly those duck hormones rage at this time of year, but I'll never make that mistake again! Because for the three days that Pretty Boy was in my bathroom, he spent all his waking hours looking for trouble. He poked his bill into the shelves he could reach, he banged his way around the room, and, in one astonishing instance of duck rage, he yanked my full-sized bath towel off the rack. When I walked into the bathroom to investigate all the noise, I found my towel lying in a heap on the floor.

I said in my book - and it bears repeating here - that when you mess with nature, nature will find a way to mess back. Instead of a complacent duck in my tub, I had an incensed, hormone-driven creature being compelled by forces that he couldn't control if he wanted to. Why I fail to see these things in the course of events is beyond me; hindsight truly is 20/20.

In any case, I managed to snag an appointment with Dr. Chrys, who was, apparently, back from house-hunting in Germany. I'm told that her last day at the animal hospital will be May 31st. She'll be sorely missed. Dr. Chrys looked Pretty Boy's eye over carefully, and pronounced it infection-free. Thank God! She cleared him to go back to the pond ASAP, and gave me a salve to put in that eye once a month as a preventative measure. All the while, Pretty Boy was as bitchy with Dr. Chrys as he had been with me. I left the animal hospital and drove him directly to the pond.

There is an interesting aside to this latest duck adventure. In an effort to keep the car-time crabbing to a dull roar, I opened the top of the carrier so that Pretty Boy could stand up straight and get a look at things. He and the carrier were in the front passenger's seat, so I had a clear view of what happened during the drive.

What happened during the drive was this: Pretty Boy stuck his head up out of the carrier and suddenly realized he was flying. I don't need to remind you that Pretty Boy is a flightless duck - and I don't know whether he even has any concept of flight, given that he's never once flown at all. But something about the movement, the speed, the sense of being above the ground, struck a chord in him, and he was captivated.

Pretty Boy stood motionless in the carrier. Once, on the highway, a tractor-trailor passed us. He tilted his head to get a better look at it. "Geese!," I announced, for lack of an explanation he'd understand, "big honking geese, Pretty Boy!" During that ride, he never once bitched. He didn't even poop.

It was terrific fun being able to give my favorite duck an experience that he'll otherwise never have on his own. The look of rapture on his goofy duck face was worth all the bathroom tantrums he threw, and then some. I don't know whether duck brains have any capacity for memory - although I think they must do, since they've remembered who I am for the last seven years - but I certainly hope so. Particularly in light of the fact that he'll forever more be missing half a wing, I really hope that Pretty Boy retains that "I'm flying!" feeling for the rest of his life. He deserves no less.

So, another duck story with a happy ending. When I dropped him off at the pond, Pretty Boy made a beeline for Girlfriend Duck, exchanged greetings with her, then proceeded to chase the other drakes away from his lady. Things are apparently back to "normal," or whatever passes for it during mating season.

I've already done some egg-hunting - and I've already found a few, despite the current vagaries of the weather. I'm looking forward to summer, when the hormone-addled behavior subsides, and my guys get back to being The Gang. In the meantime, I have a new respect for the power of nature, which revealed itself through an angry duck and an innocent bath towel that was in the wrong place at the wrong time!

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

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Ungrateful Duck In My Tub!

Hi Folks!

Welcome back!

Well, as you can see from the title of this blog, I was a bit too optimistic about Pretty Boy's eye responding to the antibiotics. I could've sworn that the infection was clearing up, but when I looked him over yesterday, I decided that I didn't want to take any chances. So I ran a bunch of errands and got myself mentally prepared for another week of growling ingratitude.

I grabbed Pretty Boy today as he was availing himself of the pile of corn. Thank goodness he's fairly easy to catch. He appeared to resign himself to his fate quite quickly, settling down in the carrier as he did for the ride to my place. He didn't even make his usual escape attempts, but just laid there listening to the radio along with me.

I had some trouble coming up with suitable nest material. I'd raked up all my leaves last November, after all. I emailed my friend, "Enslaved by Ducks" author Bob Tarte, asking for bedding suggestions. Bob wrote back that the rare times he and wife Linda had had a duck in the house, they'd used towels, which, he remarked, they'd had to wash a LOT! Given Pretty Boy's habit of pooping every 12-odd minutes, using towels as bedding was one of the few suggestions Bob's made that I'm gonna pass on! In fact, I found some leftover leaves hiding under my shrubs in the back yard. I raked those into a basket, and I'm really hoping there'll be enough to last seven days.

I set out the usual dishes of water, cracked corn, and duck pellets. Pretty Boy dug into both food bowls as though he hadn't eaten in weeks. Since the grass around here hasn't greened up yet, I made a quick run to the grocery store for something fresh and tasty. Not being a veggie eater myself, nothing on offer at the store looked the slightest bit compelling. I remember Bob telling me that he feeds his fowl all sorts of things, like kale, lettuce - even chopped up hard-boiled eggs. Yuck! Seems a little canabalistic, doesn't it?!

In any case, I ended up buying a bag of spinach, another of watercress, and a head of green leaf lettuce. The bag of Cheetos is for me. I chopped up portions of all three vegetables and put them in a bowl. Why I do this is beyond me - it's not as if the ducks eat off plates out at the pond, for heaven's sake! I set the bowl of greens next to the other bowls of feed and left Pretty Boy alone.

While I was enjoying a cup of tea and some of the aforementioned Cheetos, I heard various banging noises emanating from the bathroom. I'd already duck-proofed the place, so I didn't get up right away and investigate. When I finally did have a look, it appeared that my favorite duck had sneezed right in the bowl of greens, for they were scattered all over the room! I think he might've actually eaten some, though, which pleases me no end.

So that goofy duck is back for another week of eyedrops and healing. In spite of what I said in a previous blog, I've chosen not to bring Girlfriend Duck along. Having discovered that Ducky (who's been hanging around with the couple) is actually a drake, I'm satisfied that he'll look out for Girlfriend Duck while Pretty Boy's away. My only concerns at this point are whether the eyedrops will take care of the problem, and (in a strictly selfish vein) how much duck poop I'm going to have to contend with!

That's all for now, folks. I need to go put Pretty Boy in the tub for some water time. It sounds like he's getting restless in there. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Great Crayfish Rescue!

Hi Folks!

Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by!

I want to tell you about an interesting experience I had yesterday. We've been having some spring-like temperatures on and off for a couple of weeks, and yesterday was a fine example: the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, and I was in desperate need of some exercise. I set off for a walk around the neighborhood late in the afternoon.

I usually walk around this area filled with nothing but ranch houses; visually, it's pretty boring. Everyone's inside waiting for warmer weather, so I don't even get the pleasure of a wave or a "hello!" On walks like that, I generally just let my mind wander, paying little or no attention to what's around me. Luckily, though, when the leaf in the street started walking toward me, I had the presence of mind to stop and get a better look.

You may have noticed from pictures on my website that I wear glasses. The prescription is up-to-date, too, so I can't blame my poor vision on old lenses. Personally, I think that wires get crossed in my brain and don't translate things properly, for the "leaf" that I initially saw walking toward me turned out to be a very large crayfish! I haven't seen one of those since I was a kid!

You can imagine my surprise. How on earth did a water-critter end up on the pavement a good mile away from the nearest creek?! I wondered if the over-flowing drains had anything to do with it. Like, maybe the poor thing got swept away by a strong current and ended up being spit out of a drainage grate in the street. It was the only explanation I could come up with.

He looked an awful lot like a spider with all those legs. And I hate spiders. But there was no question of leaving him in the street to be run over. Moving him into someone's yard didn't seem to fit the bill, either. He belonged in a creek, and there just so happens to be one running through the property behind my back yard. Gingerly, I picked the critter up and set him in the palm of my gloved hand. He remained there, immobile, for so long, that I thought I'd killed him. Turned out he was just taking stock of his new situation.

I wasn't terribly keen to cut my walk short so I kept going, crayfish in tow. I must've looked ridiculous, walking down the street staring at my open hand! When I rounded the last corner, changing direction just enough for the sun to shine down on the newly-christened "Bubby," the crayfish seemed to wake up. Now he wanted to walk, too, and I had to keep putting one hand in front of the other as he walked across them in an earnest attempt at escape.

I made a quick stop at my house to grab the camera: I wanted some proof that this rescue really happened because I was fairly certain that even the people who know me wouldn't believe me. I put Bubby in a bowl that he couldn't crawl out of, took a few snaps, then made my way to the creek.

Owing to all the snow we've gotten lately, which is now melting considerably faster than the ground can absorb it, the creek was moving fast and high. I entertained more than a few passing thoughts about the possibility of my falling in and being swept away, and concluded that I really didn't want to go swimming just yet. So I endeavored to be extra careful.

When I told this story to Mandy out at the Healing Barn, she teasingly asked me whether I'd weighed the crayfish's new homesite options, or just tossed him down any old place. It must be said that Mandy relishes every opportunity she can find to zing me, and I handed her this one on a silver platter! I mean, of COURSE I chose his new homesite carefully! Hell, I spent a good ten minutes in a lather of indecision over the area on one side of the bridge, which consisted mainly of broken chunks of pavement, and the other side of the bridge, which was mostly twigs and the usual sort of detritus you find creekside.

Twigs and detritus are, of course, preferable to chunks of pavement. But there was a hitch: the twiggy area could only be got to by first passing through a couple of trees with branches full of thorns longer than my fingers! Once I made it past that obstacle, then there was the loose earth to worry about: I wasn't sure whether I was actually standing on solid ground or just a bunch of sticks that were floating at water's edge.

I know what you're thinking. "Jeez, Kelly, all this fuss over a stupid crayfish! Why bother?" My answer is, "Why not bother?" Where do you draw the line and stop helping? It's o.k. to help dogs and ducks, but the crayfish of the world are on their own?! I swear to you that I don't go looking for these things, but there he was, a critter in need, so I stepped up to the plate and helped. He most surely would've died otherwise, and I didn't want that on my conscience.

So I trod very carefully on the sticks and twigs. I chose a spot where he could rest and take stock first, and then hop in the water when he was ready. I picked him up out of the bowl and gently set him down. Then I crouched there, waiting, to make sure he knew what to do. After considerable assessment on his part, Bubby slowly made his way across the sticks until he found a place he felt comfortable with. Watching for a few more minutes while nothing happened, I concluded that he was indeed where he wanted to be and I carefully made my way back through the obstacle course.

That's where the story ends, folks. I'm hoping that Bubby lives happily ever afer, but I'll never know for sure. Some rescues are like that: you do your best, then you set them free and hope for a good outcome. If nothing else, this story certainly proves that the Critter Lady will rescue just about anything!

In other news, Pretty Boy got his last Baytril pill today. His eye infection seems to have cleared up. Dr Susan - who stitched up his torn eyelid last November - said very firmly that in her estimation, birds need two good feet, two good wings, and two good eyes. We already know that Pretty Boy's half a wing short, there, but I take the "two good eyes" part very seriously, so I'll have Dr. Chrys check him out next week, just to be on the safe side.

Well, that's all for now, folks! Thanks so much for stopping in! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

That Troublemaking Duck!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by again.

Well, I should've known that the next duck problem would involve the same duck who's been at the center of every other problem! Pretty Boy is just prone to bad luck, I guess. I'd been noticing that his eye looked funny, at the last few feeds. His third eyelid was partially covering his eye - the same eye we'd had all that trouble with last November. I couldn't imagine what the problem was, and to be honest with you, I spent a day or two procrastinating before I made an appointment with Dr. Chrys.

It's not that I don't worry about the ducks - you know I do. It's just that taking them to the vet's office is a hassle of epic proportions. First there's the grab 'n go, wherein I scoop up the duck in question, try to wrap my arms around his wings before he can leverage them in an escape attempt, then chuck him into the waiting critter carrier. That's probably the easiest part of the exercise.

On the drive to the animal hospital, Pretty Boy is guaranteed to poop several times in the carrier. In the middle of winter, with all the windows up, it's not the nicest smell I can think of. But Pretty Boy's not a big fan of these forced vet visits, so a puddle or two to underscore his feelings is understandable. He'll go on to leave several souveniers in the exam room, as well.

Because these visits tend to be last-minute, the kind staff at the hospital squeeze us in between several other clients. So once they put us in an exam room, we tend to be there for a good twenty to thirty minutes before Dr. Chrys comes in. I'll let Pretty Boy out of the carrier, and he'll spend some time investigating the room. He always has an uncanny knack for locating the door, but when I opened it, on this latest trip, and offered to let him wander down the hall, he declined. He chose instead to hunker down under the exam table, facing the wall.

He does that out at the pond, too. I have a picture I took of him a year or so ago, during a summer feed. I was sitting on the ground, surrounded by ducks, and when I looked around to take stock of things, I found Pretty Boy about eight feet away, hunkered down on his tummy, with his back to the crowd. It was the funniest thing, like he'd had enough of the all the ducks and just turned his back on us. When I called to him, he refused to look around. That's Pretty Boy: a little wierd but definitely his own duck!

In any case, Dr. Chrys finally came in to have a look at her favorite duck. Some things had changed since she'd seen him last: most notably, his attitude had taken a turn for the worst. During his time in my bathtub, I gave Pretty Boy free reign to express every feeling he had that week - and judging from his comments, all those feelings were distinctly negative! But I understood. After all, I wouldn't want to be held hostage in some strange, stinky place, comepletely alone and worried about my Girlfriend Duck and all the others. So I let him have his say and I didn't try to sweet talk him out of being crabby.

Now, though, he was using his extensive vocabulary of honks and growls on Dr. Chrys! She didn't take it personally - she understood that he wasn't happy about having been rudely yanked away from his pile of corn at the pond. I told her my observations about his third eyelid, and upon close examination, Dr. Chrys agreed that there did seem to be an infection in his eyelid. She said that Dr. Susan's surgery on the torn eyelid had clearly been a success, but that Pretty Boy might now be prone to difficulties related to the original trauma. Rats!

Dr. Chrys administered some eyedrops to get the duck started, then handed me the usual Baytril regimen - half a pill crushed up in some bread chunks once a day, and, if the antibiotic didn't do the trick, she gave me a bottle of eyedrops as well, just in case. Oh, crap! Not another duck in my tub!!! Determined to avoid that at all costs - if for no other reason than that mating season is upon us, and how would his two girlfriends hold up for a week without him? - I found myself having to re-learn how to be smarter than my favorite duck, in order to get those pills down his gullet.

I know what you're thinking: jeez, Kelly, if you're not smarter than the average duck, then you really have problems!!! You'd think that, but I'm here to tell you, sometimes humans are so busy trying to think outside the box, they don't bother to think like the critter they're dealing with. So let's break it down here: I'd just dragged Pretty Boy off to the vet, who man-handled him and put drops in his eye. Once I released him at the pond, he wasn't inclined to get close to me for a while. Which meant that he wouldn't take the proffered bread chunks out of my hand like he ordinarily would. Now what do you do? He's gotta have his crushed up pill every day, so now what do you do?

Believe it or not, it took me a couple hours of anxious examination of the problem before I came up with the solution. Pretty Boy wasn't going to take the bread chunks out of my hand no matter what. That left the one thing I knew he would do: eat them in the water. I could toss the chunks to him one at a time, and the greedy little stinker would eat them right up. Which is exactly what he did. Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the hardest ones to find, don't you think?

In any case, we're still in the middle of the Baytril regimen, so it's early days yet, but I'm cautiously optimistic that his eye is clearing up and the swelling is going down. In the event that I'm wrong, I'm absolutely prepared to bring him home and do the whole bathtub-and-eyedrops routine again - although this time, I think I'd bring along Girlfriend Duck to keep him company. I'd hate for her to worry about where he'd gotten to.

That's all for now, folks. I'll keep you posted on that silly duck's latest medical issue. Here's hoping he heals up just fine without another visit to my bathroom! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters.

Friday, March 14, 2008


Hi Folks!

Thanks for joining me today! I know it's been a while since I posted my last blog - I've been stuck in the grip of the winter doldrums. Heck, just about everyone here in Northwest Ohio has had enough of winter. I bet you have, too! The good news is that spring is on the way.

You may well be skeptical about this, given the massive dumping of snow the entire midwest endured recently. I think some areas got four inches. That's the least amount of snow that fell. Here in Whoville, it was more like eight or nine inches, with blowing and drifting winds.

I was so disheartened by winter's insistence on sticking around that I laid down on the couch, put my head on my boyfriend's lap, and slept an entire afternoon away. He didn't mind too much because the remote was nearby and some Nascar race was on t.v. Even so, that's a good four hours of my life that I'll never have back again!

In any case, the temperature outside has been creeping up ever so slowly, the past few days, and there's finally a promise of spring in the air: some of the summer songbirds are back already, waking me up too early with their cheerful music; the air itself smells of the rich, damp earth and hints at the blooming season to come; I can finally stop wearing my coat with the 800 geese-worth of down in it. But none of these things confirms that spring is coming quite like my ducks do.

As critters of the wild, they see and hear and feel unknown-to-me signs of the changing seasons. Maybe they, too, smell something in the air, but they clearly operate on a different timetable, a different schedule, than we humans. Indeed, all animals seem to know things that we don't. For instance, I've noticed that some years, the horses at the Healing Barn grow their wooly winter coats earlier than other years. And sometimes those coats are extra-shaggy, too. I always assume that they know something about the winter to come that we humans don't.

So I've been mindful of the fact that while winter seems to not want to let go anytime soon, the ducks are behaving as though spring is already here: Freckle Duck, who enjoyed a certain amount of independence during the cold months, is again being shadowed by the three optimists who staked their claims to her last year. Where she goes, those three big drakes always follow - a thing that never fails to amuse me: it's nice to see that she's got a fan base!

Pretty Boy and Girlfriend Duck spent the whole winter hanging around together, but now Ducky has joined them. I'm not sure why, though it's possible that Ducky is vying for Pretty Boy's attention. And while some of the other Domestics may not have paired off yet, they've begun the spring ritual of dividing up the turf nonetheless.

I assume this has to do with staking a claim to a nesting site. Everyone wants their own bit of property, and eventually, there will be nests hidden all around the far side of the pond. The Ethels will nest close to each other over by the fence near the interstate. Pretty Boy and Girlfriend Duck like the shrubbery under the "McKinnon's Pond" sign near the parking strip. Pretty Lady likes the shrubs under the apartment building windows. Freckle Duck likes the clump of wild bushes growing right next to the water.

Once Officer Jeff showed me how to find the nests, last spring, I faithfully made the rounds five days a week, picking up all the Domestic duck eggs and disposing of them in a respectful fashion. Since the Domestics are all prolific egg-layers, it was the only way to control the population. I picked up eggs every week day for three months!

Since the ducks have already begun to pair off, I've been wondering how soon I'll need to start the routine again. This year, though, in an effort to keep the ducks from going off in search of better nesting sites (that I won't be able to find!), I've decided to try replacing their fertile eggs with fresh-from-the-store chicken eggs.

My understanding is that the ducks won't know the difference, and will eventually give up on the eggs when they fail to hatch. This approach makes more sense than simply removing the duck eggs, which just encouraged the ducks to lay more eggs. I'll let you know how the experiment turns out!

Anyway, even though the weather may still be dicey where you are - and the forecast here for the next few days is promising increasing cold - know that the most important signs of spring are well in hand and already happening, even if your thermometer says otherwise! I'll trust my ducks over the local weatherman any day!

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

Friday, January 4, 2008

A Few Good Men

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! As you already know, this blog is mainly about animals. But every now and then, I come across an animal-lover worthy of recognition, and Kelly's Critter Talk seems like a good place to give them their due. Today I want to tell you about two guys who help make the world a better place for animals in general, and for my gang of ducks in particular. In the interest of keeping them out of trouble with their bosses, I'm not going to mention their last names. They know who they are, though, and when I'm finished, so will you!

The first guy I want to mention is Jon. He's the Director of Important Things here in Whoville. I'm not sure what his job entails, but it seems to give him enough authority to decide whether to keep the fountain at McKinnon's Pond running through the winter. In years past, the pond froze sometime in December and stayed that way until spring. I don't remember whether there were Domestic ducks on the pond, then, or if so, how they managed. What I do know is that for the past few years, it's been Jon who's kept the fountain working, providing the ducks with a much-needed open area of water in which to bathe, drink, and escape predators.

From what I've gathered in my research about the ducks, water is a vital component of their diet. It seems that they especially need water to wash down their food - and nowhere is that more important than when they're eating dry, powdery cracked corn. I don't know whether Jon knows this about the ducks, or whether he just likes having them around - whatever the case, he does more for their survival every winter than just about anyone. That's a little-known and unremarked part of what he does for Whoville, which is why I've tried to thank him in a discreet, no-need-for-the-boss-to-know kind of way.

The information that Jon was a fan of the ducks came to me by way of Officer Jeff, who is the Animal Control Officer for the Whoville Police Department. I imagine that most Whovillians think that Officer Jeff's job is all about trapping that pesky raccoon that's taken up residence under their porch, but Jeff does a lot more than that, and he does it with heart.

Officer Jeff and his wife have raised any number of orphaned mallard ducklings in the family swimming pool, and, when Jeff was recently given a brand-new Animal Control truck to do his crittering in, he alone recognized the inherent problem of having a black vehicle with no air conditioning in the back. When he voiced his concern about it, the Chief of Whoville Police told him to go buy a nice seat cover for the (air conditioned) cab - which is where Jeff will be housing those pesky raccoons during transport on hot summer days!

It was Officer Jeff who first noticed that there was a duck lady (me) hanging around and making friends with those flightless ducks at McKinnon's Pond. Having done his homework, and knowing that those ducks multiply astronomically, Jeff approached me about doing some population control. Last spring, after he showed me where to look for nests, I spent over three months picking up eggs five days a week.

The effort paid off: with the exception of the dumped-by-his-humans Puddleduck, the Domestic duck population remained stable for the first time ever. Officer Jeff was exceedingly pleased, which puts my gang of ducks in a better position to comfortably live out their lives at the pond: as long as the numbers are manageable, then apparently, there are those with some influence in Whoville who are willing to help manage them.

It must be noted that neither one of these men is required to do what they do for the ducks. The City of Whoville is in no way responsible for those abandoned animals, and, indeed, it's actually Officer Jeff's job to catch and have euthanized that very sort of unwanted, unadoptable critter. In Jon's case, it would no doubt be much easier - and less costly - to turn the fountain off between October and May. I have no idea what motivates either man. Given the flavor of my conversations with Jeff, though, I sense that he's a man who experiences a genuinely innocent child-like joy around animals.

I can't thank either Jon or Jeff enough for what they do - and allow me to do - for the Whoville ducks. It may be a small matter to Jon to leave that fountain on through the winter, but it's life and death for the ducks. And the fact that Jeff believes the ducks are good for the health of McKinnon's Pond tells me that he has indeed done his homework, and found good reasons (and good arguments, should he need them!) for keeping the ducks around. May the Gods smile on both men, and their families, for the good deeds they're doing for animals in need.

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

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

My Favorite Things

Hi Folks!

Thanks for joining me again. Happy New Year!

Every year around Christmas time, I look forward to watching that sappy, soppy, sentimental favorite, The Sound of Music. Every year the movie seems hokier than the year before, but I tune in anyway, and invariably tear up at some point in the proceedings. This season, though, I never saw any promotional ads on t.v. And, when Christmas came and went without a von Trapp in sight, I assumed I had missed my once-a-year treat.

So as I channel-surfed two nights ago, you can imagine my surprise when I found the movie playing on a local station. Yay! But then I did some mental figuring and concluded that they'd already shown the best part of the whole three-hour movie. Rats! I don't sit through all that doe-a-deer stuff for nothing!

Realizing that my one opportunity for the year had been blown, and feeling mildly bummed about it, I began making up lyrics in my head. I do this sometimes, to amuse myself. And I liked the result enough to want to share it with you now, on this first day of a new year full of adventures and possibilities. So with sincere appologies to Oscar Hammerstein, I submit the following for your approval:

Saddles on horses and whiskers on kittens,
huge bags of chocolate and warm woollen mittens.
Big ducks that quack til it makes my ears ring,
these are a few of my favorite things.

Folks, the moral of the story is that if the song doesn't work for you the way it's written, then write your own song. Take a risk. Put your heart on the line. Live dangerously - or at least, more fully. Stop waiting for someone to drop a life in your lap and go out and get one! Smile more, and bitch less. Make someone laugh. Be kind. Say yes.

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