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!