Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Mouse In The House

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! Most of you probably don't know that today is my birthday. I turn forty-seven fabulous years old, and I don't mind a bit! Seems like the older I get, the better I get: wiser, more sensible, more comfortable being me. Let's face it - many people in their twenties are idiots! I know I was. Most people in their thirties still have a lot to learn. But I think by the time you get half-way through your forties, you finally get a few things figured out, and you stop caring so much what other people think. It's a calmer, easier place to be. Something happened last night, though, that threatened to derail my happy birthday.

I was sitting on the floor playing solitaire - something I frequently do when the t.v. offerings are less than exciting - when favorite cat Junebug calmly plopped a dead mouse down in front of me, then laid down a foot or so away. I believe her thought at the time was something along the lines of, "You can have it, Kelly, I'm done with it." When I examined the poor creature closely and realized there was no bringing him back, my heart sank. The tone in the room immediately changed, and it's been off-kilter ever since.

I'd known for some months that we had a boarder: I kept finding mouse poops in the knife drawer. The knife drawer as litterbox was a mystery to me until it hit me that the cupboard holding the bags of cat food was directly underneath. As long as he wasn't eating my food, his presence didn't bother me. After a time, though, he stopped pooping in the knife drawer, and I didn't give him another thought.

We had a number of mouse boarders when I lived in the converted chicken coop. I always knew when the cats were after them by the way Buddy and Spanky would stake out spots in the laundry room and stare for hours at a small hole in the wall. Once in a while, all five cats would go racing off into the spare bedroom, or the living room, hot on the trail of some poor terrified creature. Most times, I was able to rescue the mouse and set him free outside.

But no one among the cats has done anything like Checkpoint Charlie here at the new place. It was as if we had no mice in the house at all. So I was stunned by the sudden appearance of that poor dead mouse. I looked at Junebug and asked, "Why did you hurt the mouse? It's not good when the mouse gets hurt." She looked up at me, uncertain about the flat tone in my voice. Over the course of the evening, I asked her that same question several times.

In a curious irony, earlier yesterday I had discovered the presence of a mouse - though not the critter himself - in the trunk of my car. I had gone to the trunk to retrieve a spare bag of cracked corn for the ducks. When I popped the lid, I noticed a mouse-sized hole in the bag, and a pile of corn husks on the floor nearby. Glancing at the duffle bag that I keep extra winter clothes in, I saw a pile of duffle bag shavings, as well. Someone had definitely made himself at home!

I went through the duffel bag but found nothing. Before cleaning up the corn husk mess, I grabbed my camera and took pictures of the evidence, so that I'd have something to show you later. Oddly, when I grabbed the same camera to take pictures of the dead mouse, hours later, I found that the damn thing had died on me in the interim. Minolta Freedom Zooms have a way of doing that, and I've gone through three or four of them in the last two years. You'd think I'd have learned after one or two camera deaths, but alas, I'm a creature of habit! I can say this, though: Minolta has done more to push me toward upgrading to a nice Canon digital than any t.v. advertisement!

In any case, it was too late at night to consider burying the mouse then, so I found a mouse-sized box, wrapped the little fellow in a tissue and tucked him into the box, then put the thing in the freezer until morning. I spent the rest of the evening searching Ebay for yet another Minolta Freedom Zoom Right To The Garbage Can, then staring blankly at Junebug as she lay on the family room floor. She kept glancing up at me in a manner that suggested she knew something was terribly wrong. Her behavior this morning confirmed that understanding.

Junebug's morning priority is kibble. It's the first, most important thing she wants, and every morning, she lets me know this, as though I'd somehow forgotten overnight. But she lingered next to me on the bed, purring as though to reassure me that things weren't as bad as they'd been the night before. Still in a dark frame of mind, I dragged myself to the kitchen and plunked some kibble in her dish. Instead of eating, though, she chose to join me in the bathroom. This was unprecedented. Junebug never passes up a chance to eat fresh kibble! But to my surprise, she jumped up on my lap and purred some more.

It's unlikely that she felt bad about the mouse - that had probably fallen off the radar the minute I put the little guy in the box. But what DID seem likely was that she picked up on my listless tone, and my heavy heart. And those things clearly bothered her. She even went so far as to jump up on the bed when I climbed back in, purring and head-butting in a clear attempt to raise my spirits. So far, she's been unsuccessful. I'm not sure why.

It's not as if I WANT to feel crappy. In fact, I was surprised to have awakened today in the same low frame of mind I was in last night; I assumed I'd sleep it off. But something about that small victim has stayed with me. I genuinely like field mice. They're cute, and they possess a certain assured audacity, attempting to live among us as though it's not a conflict of interest. As a walk down any pest-control aisle in any store will attest, though, most folks are not like me. Which makes me admire their ability to survive in spite of us all the more. I had no more problem sharing my cats' kibble with a mouse than I did sharing the trunk of my car. Call me strange, but that's what makes me the Critter Lady! And therein lay the problem.

I didn't start out in life as a Critter Lady. When I was a child, I never said, "When I grow up, I want to have cats and ducks, and let mice live in my house!" I actually came to critters rather late in the game. I had spent an intense year caring for a sickly, dying cat. The vet had privately given him three months to live - and that had been optimistic. But I poured heart and soul into his care. I did midnight sub-cutaneous saline treatments. I cooked rice in tuna water, just to tempt him to eat something that might firm up his constant diarrhea. I endlessly combed his coat when he became too sick to care for it himself. I did whatever it took, and then some. And my reward was that he chose to keep on going for over a year, exceeding the vet's prediction by ten months. It was the finest thing I've ever done.

When that cat died, I had a lot of pent-up critter-caring energy with no outlet. Slowly, over time, I acquired one cat, then two, then three, four, and five. I found the ducks, who charmed me into a level of involvement I never could have imagined at the time. I met a therapist, who led me to horse therapy, which led me to my now-long-standing association with that wonderful horse rescue facility, The Healing Barn. My life, my house, my heart, and my photo albums, are filled with the animals I've come to love so much. You would think that that would make being the Critter Lady a good and satisfying thing, and for the most part, it does. But caring for so many animals - and being on alert for problems 24/7, can be exhausting. Especially when you lose one.

Fiance John heard my tone on the phone last night, and offered to come stay with me because of it. I told him I'd like that, but he was absolutely NOT allowed to laugh when I told him why I was upset. To his credit, he didn't laugh. In fact, he reassured me that my caring about whether a field mouse lives or dies is one of the things he loves best about me. I'm very lucky to have found a man who gets me, who understands that ALL critters are a priority for me, no matter how small.

So it's been a rocky start to my forty-seventh year. I hope things improve from here! John and I will be going to our favorite Japanese restaurant tonight, where I plan to drink a big glass of plum wine and try to put this recent loss behind me. After all, there are still lots of critter who need my attention!

That's all for now, folks. I want to wish a Happy Birthday to all my fellow Scorpios - may all your birthdays be great ones! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Friday, November 13, 2009

A New Home For Puddleduck

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! Judging from the low temperatures at night here in Northwest Ohio, I guess summer's gone for good this year. Rats! I wasn't quite done yet!

I know that I've mentioned white Pekin Puddleduck in previous blog entries, but I don't recall saying much beyond the fact that he'd taken over caring for Girlfriend Duck after Pretty Boy passed away. In fact, Puddleduck was dumped at McKinnon's Pond a few years ago. He was full-grown at the time, and not too fond of humans. I'm thinking that either he wasn't handled much, growing up, or he'd had bad experiences with humans. Whatever the cause, Puddleduck made sure he never got too close to me.

The handy thing about Alpha ducks like Pretty Boy is that they set the tone for the other domestics: because Pretty Boy wasn't afraid to get close to me (even after repeated pickings-up by me when he needed to go to the vet), the other ducks would follow his lead. They may have been nervous, but they clearly came to some understanding, by watching Pretty Boy's example, that I was relatively harmless.

With Pretty Boy gone, the other ducks have backed off to a certain degree. There still seems to be, though, in the recesses of those little duck brains, a semblance of memory of times past - times when the big hulking human could be trusted, because every now and again, they still come within reach. It's not something that can be relied upon to happen at every feed, but it happens often enough.

For the past month or so, I've noticed a problem with Puddleduck's left leg. Puddleduck always walked with a degree of what looked like bow-leggedness, but lately, he's been favoring that left leg. It looked noticeably weaker, and he invariably ended up using his right wing as a ballast at the feeds. And, increasingly, he's been isolating himself from the crowd. Many times, I'd be surrounded by a horde of ducks - wild mallards and domestics alike - with no sign of Puddleduck at all. If I wandered around to the side of the pond over by the highway, I would usually find Puddleduck off by himself, huddled on the grass.

He swam much better than he walked; on dry land, he was the proverbial sitting duck. I worried about him, and fretted over what to do. The times I decided to catch him and take him to the vet, he proved surprisingly agile and managed to evade capture. After discussing my concerns with Pat Mitchell - who, since the untimely death of Chicken, a month or so ago, has been on the look-out for a new companion for Ducky - we agreed that Puddleduck was a suitable candidate to fill Chicken's shoes at the Mitchell's home. Successfully catching him, though, was another matter entirely.

I sent Pat an email earlier this week, telling her that I would be trying to catch Puddleduck on Friday. She responded with a voice mail on my machine, letting me know what time she would be home to receive him. "She's a lot more optimistic than I am," I thought wryly on Thursday night. From past experience, I can tell you that things rarely go as planned where the ducks are concerned. Even when Pretty Boy was still alive, there were always those days when - for whatever reason - he remained out of reach during the entire feed. Puddleduck, I was sure, would be no different.

My skepticism was coupled with a healthy dose of laziness: lets face it, anything outside your usual routine is a hassle, and the ducks are no exception. Sometimes, I just want things to be easy, and wrestling with an unwilling duck is never easy. My brain overcame my lethargy, though, when it reminded me, "There's no way he can survive on the pond this winter! Catch him now while you still can!" Sighing deeply as I drove to the pond, I resigned myself to the task.

It didn't help that I had an appointment with the eye doctor first. It was my annual visit, complete with the pupil-dilating drops that made being anywhere near a light source quite painful for several hours after the exam. And the pond, reflecting the bright sunshine of a beautiful late-fall day, was one hell of a light source! Squinting as I walked along the side of the pond, I could make out the faint shapes of Mama, Freckle Duck, and Old Fellow as they ran to greet me. Puddleduck was nowhere to be seen.

Because the feeds are also frequented by hordes of migrating wild mallards, the domestics tend to get elbowed out of their own meals. I go through a lot more cracked corn during the fall and winter months than in the spring and summer, and I usually have to pour out the corn, squat and wait until my guys are displaced, duck-walk backwards, pour some more, and repeat the process several times to ensure that the domestics all get fed. I was in the middle of that process when I looked up to see Puddleduck walking toward me, moving considerably faster than I'd seen him walk in recent weeks.

For a brief, lazy minute, I discarded the idea of catching him before reluctantly giving in to yet another reminder from that pesky brain of mine. To my amazement, Puddleduck bellied up to the bar a mere foot and a half away from me. When he stuck his right wing out to balance himself, I knew I had him: he was too close, and too clumsy with that wing out, for me to pass up such an easy opportunity. I bided my time for a few seconds, saw my chance, leaned in quickly and grabbed him up. All the other ducks scattered in fear, quacking their disapproval as they fled en masse to the pond. Puddleduck managed to flap his strong wings a few times, but my grip was firm. I returned to the car and put him in the waiting critter carrier.

I cell-phoned the Mitchell's as I pulled out of the parking lot, letting them know the mission had been successful and that I was on my way to their house. My usual feeling of triumph was subdued, though. Grabbing up Pretty Boy always brought a measure of satisfaction in the knowledge that I was doing right by him. Even if the same was true with Puddleduck, I had no close bond with him to savor. I might as well have been transporting a complete stranger.

Regardless of my personal feelings, I nonetheless favored Puddleduck with a running monologue about what lay in store for him. "It's a nice place with a small yard, your own little pond to swim in, a pal to keep you company...Puddleduck, what are you doing? Digging to China?" While my eyes were on the road, I'd heard a taptaptap coming from inside the cage. I'd glanced over to see what looked like Puddleduck trying to dig his way out by pecking his bill repeatedly on the hard plastic underneath him. I remained mystified for another ten minutes, until I pulled him from the carrier and discovered a pile of dry cat kibble scattered about. He hadn't been digging to China at all, he'd been chowing down on cat food!

When I got to the Mitchell's house, it was agreed that Puddleduck should spend some time alone in the garage, getting his bearings. Ducky would be brought in for the night in a few hours, at which time the two ducks would presumably catch up on the good old days spent together at the pond before Ducky's move to his new home. In a couple weeks, I'll take Puddleduck to the vet to try to discover the reason for his leg issue.

Whatever the problem may be, Puddleduck now has a wonderful forever-home with people who will cater to his whims, and spoil him rotten with not one but four ponds from which he can safely bathe, swim, and watch the antics of an impossibly-fat resident squirrel, whom I've privately named Fat Squirrel, as he eats his way into the record books by being the Fattest Known Squirrel In Existence. It's a life most ducks would envy, and I've no doubt that once he gets past the transition phase, Puddleduck will be one happy duck. Ducky sure is.

My visits with Ducky have gotten fewer and farther between, during the last several months. It's not because I don't care, but because life gets in the way, and I have to accomodate not just my own schedule, but Pat Mitchell's, as well. The last couple of times I'd been there, Ducky seemed preoccupied with the minutiae of duck life, and I figured that I was probably disappearing from his memory. He rarely came up close, anymore, or stuck around as long as he used to. I understood the distance, and reluctantly accepted it. What choice did I have, anyway?

But a terrific thing happened today: while a discussion ensued about Puddleduck's immediate future, I called my usual greeting over my shoulder, "Ducky! Hi, pal! How ya doin'?!" To my surprise and pleasure, Ducky climbed out of the pond he'd been swimming in, preened a few feathers so that he'd look presentable, and hurriedly waddled in my direction. I felt bad that I'd forgotten to bring snacks with me.

Indeed, I'd been so fixated on the prospect of those stupid pupil-dilating drops that I forgot everything I usually arm myself with: snacks for Ducky, and, equally important, my camera, for documenting the action. Dammit! I lamented out loud my lack of snacks before joining Pat in the garage. She shut the door so that Puddleduck wouldn't be able to run out into the yard, then I pulled him from the carrier and plonked him on the cement floor. He immediately disappeared under the 1960 Studebaker Lark that would also be spending the winter in the garage. We let him be, and rejoined Pete out in the driveway. To my great gratitude, Pete had ducked inside the house while we were about our task, and returned with a package of saltine crackers, that I might give Ducky a treat after all. Thanks, Pete!

I walked back across the yard, calling to Ducky, and feeling certain that my charmed moments with him earlier were all I was going to get, this visit. He surprised me yet again by waddling back over to me and snacking on the crackers while Fat Squirrel perched in the crotch of a nearby tree, waiting for his own opportunity with the saltines.

The visit at the Mitchell's turned out to be enormously satisfying for several reasons. Discovering that some primal recess of Ducky's brain still contained an apparent recognition of me was deeply pleasing. Ducky and I had never shared a rapport on a level with myself and Pretty Boy, but I had had to take him to the vet once, several years ago, when he'd swallowed a fish hook. He survived the surgery and returned to the pond with an aplomb I didn't know he possessed, and he never seemed to hold the incident against me.

Finally getting Puddleduck's future seen to was equally satisfying. There's no doubt in my mind that if he'd had to suffer another winter on the pond, slipping and sliding on the ice would have done permanent damage to his leg. It would very probably have left him completely helpless out on the ice, as well. That would've required a dangerous rescue attempt, or, in lieu of that, a slow starvation death out there beyond reach. A forever-home with the Mitchells is the best prospect, and a better outcome than most abandoned ducks get.

While this particular story has a happy ending, don't make the mistake of thinking that it's all beer and skittles for the McKinnon's Pond ducks: the remainder of them are still homeless, and trying to make the best of a bad situation out there on the pond. A painful reminder of just how treacherous their existence is can be found in the deaths of Pretty Lady, white Pekin Peepers, and Pretty Boy - all lost in the short span of this past spring. Any of those left could go at any time. Indeed, a predator could be catching one of them right now as you read these words. So, please, THINK TWICE before bringing home a duckling for your children or grandkids: ducks can live over twenty years. Don't get them if you're not prepared to care for them for their entire lifetime.

That's all for now, folks. I want to give a quick shout out to the Gods, who clearly considered and granted the plea I flung at them earlier today to please let me catch Puddleduck! No matter who your god is, I think there's something to be said for the power of prayer. Until next time, keep warm and please be kind to all the critters!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Difference of Opinion

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're enjoying some nice fall weather, just like the ducks and I are here in Whoville. A curious thing happened the other day, and I've been doing a lot of thinking about how to tell you about it. I guess the best way is just to jump right in, so here goes.

I was talking with fiance John recently, teasing him about one of his idiosyncracies. I can't recall which one because he has too many to keep track of! It probably had to do with his propensity for really bad puns. I keep telling him that they're not all meant to come out of his mouth, but that never stops him! Anyway, the subject was endearing quirks, and I made the mistake of asking what he thought mine were. Between you and me, I didn't realize I had any quirks - or at least any that John was aware of! Turns out he had a list of them, and at the top of the list was this: that I talk to my cats, and believe that they talk back.

Considering that John has five indoor cats that he dearly loves, this comment came as quite a surprise. Given that John and I both have high IQ's, I just assumed that we were on the same animal-communication wavelength. I mean, of COURSE they talk: they meow, hiss, growl, and purr, just to name a few. I pointed this out to John, but it didn't seem to register.

"Well," I said, "other cats understand what they're saying, right?"

"Yeah...," he answered cautiously.

"So the cats ARE talking, right?"

"Yeah...," he still wasn't convinced.

"Just because YOU don't understand them doesn't mean they're not talking, does it?"

At which point he gave me that indulgent look that I really hate getting from people. It's the same look you give your child when they do something dumb but funny.

I suppose that now is as good a time as any to explain about the critters talking. My cats talk the most (more so, say, than the ducks). That's natural: I live with them, we interact all day long, and they have things on their minds that they want me to know about. Junebug is the most talkative, and her thoughts usually center around asking me to refresh her bowl of kibble, or give her snack treats. We don't spend all day talking to one another; it's simply a matter of Junebug trying to make a point, and me translating that point into my own language of human English.

One of my favorite things that Junebug says is this: when I give her a catnip toy, she'll lie on the floor and lick the thing soggy. And she'll say, "I'll lick all the smell off, Kelly!" Which is, of course, exactly what she's doing when she licks the thing soggy. Makes sense to Junebug. Makes sense to me.

My six-year old orange tabby, Spanky, who is so emotionally stunted that he thinks he's still a small kitten, often walks around the house wailing unhappily. What I hear him saying is, "Me!," though I have no idea what, exactly, he's talking about. I just know that he's unhappy and he wants me to know about it.

The problem with this whole subject of animals talking is that I worry about being mistaken for one of those eccentric cat ladies whose animals all speak in flowery prose, which is not the case at all! I've never once claimed that any animal spoke the English language to me, nor do their mouths move to form words. The easiest way to describe what I experience is that it's like standing in the middle of a stream and letting the critter-waters flow around me. I get the essence of communication, not an actual thought or word.

My thinking is that if you spend enough time interacting with your pets, you're bound to become a pet whisperer to some degree, if for no other reason than you love your pet and enjoy your bond with it. That's basically how it is for me: I spend such a large amount of time with my cats and ducks that I seem to have an inside track on what they're thinking about.

Meanwhile, I've learned the hard way that my high IQ fiance is a lot more narrow-minded than I realized. How disappointing! And as a fellow Trekkie, he should know better!

The subject of animal communication put me in mind of some really priceless movie dialog, and in the interest of accurate reporting, I sat down this afternoon and popped the video in the VCR so that I could get the phrasing just right. The things I do for the sake of my blog! In any case, it goes like this:

The crew of the Enterprise (Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home) become aware of a powerful space probe that's rendering star ships inoperable. No one knows where the probe came from or how to communicate with it. Dr. McCoy makes a sarcastic remark about the probe's intention of saying "'hi, there,' to the people of the earth." Mr. Spock gives him a pained look and says, "There are other forms of intelligence on earth, Doctor. Only human arrogance would assume the message MUST be meant for man."

Let me repeat that in all caps for the benefit of my myopic fiance:


There's no doubt that animals do, in fact, communicate - and make themselves clearly understood - with each other. Even John doesn't dispute that. Why he disputes the idea of one specie trying to connect with another, though, is unclear to me. Maybe he's got scary things going on in his head that he doesn't want anyone else knowing about. Maybe he's worried that his cats would rat him out! Who can say?

As for all of you critter-lovers out there, I know that you understand exactly what I'm talking about: there are all kinds of different species living among each other on this planet - birds and mammals, fins and feathers, and tail-less homo sapiens, and it's only natural that we're going to try to talk to each other. I'm starting to see, though, that talking might not really be the issue after all; perhaps LISTENING is.

Do you ever get the feeling that we're not doing enough of it?

Here's a challenge for you: the next time you're at your local park, walk around with your ears open and really listen to the natural world. Can you hear the birds? The ducks? The chipmunks? I dare you to take a walk around your neighborhood and leave your ear buds at home! I dare you to say hi to the people that you pass. I double-dare you to smile at them! Lie down on the floor with your dog or cat and relate to them on their level. Brake for squirrels! You never know - in the next life, you might BE a squirrel!

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, I'm going to be working on expanding John's mind. As always, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Too Close For Comfort

Hi Folks!

Welcome back! I sure hope it's not raining where you are because that's all we've been getting lately here in Whoville! It's so dismal and dreary out there that boyfriend John coined his own word: "drismal," which perfectly describes the weather outside and the feeling inside! I'll sure be glad when the sun comes out again!

I had a thing happen the other day that really threw me off kilter. I was out at the pond feeding my guys as usual, when I noticed that new favorite duck Ethel was nowhere to be found. Neither was Big Boyfriend Duck. I called and called, and stuck around longer than usual, but never saw hide nor hair of them. Heck, every wild mallard within a ten-mile radius showed up, but not Ethel. This was very unusual: as I've said before, Ethel is one greedy duck! She stays at the feeds the longest, and eats the most, and her presence is such a given that on the rare occasion that she doesn't make an appearance, it's all the more noticeable.

She hadn't shown up for the previous feed, either. Now I was worried. My concern was compounded by the sudden discovery of a duck carcass. The poor corpse had been picked over so well that there was literally nothing left but bones and feathers. The head was gone - rendering identification impossible because the way I tell Ethel apart from other Rouen females is by the black stripes across her face - and so was just about everything else. No innards, no skin, no nothing. I found one lone webbed foot lying a few feet away. There wasn't even enough duck left to be grossed out about.

Having no idea whose corpse it was, I was forced to conclude from the missing Ethel that the body must be hers. Now I was really bummed. So bummed that I went right from concerned to numb. This was just too much: first Pretty Boy and his sister, Pretty Lady, then Peepers, and never mind the human losses John and I have incurred this year, or the death of his beloved cat, Picasso. This has been the suckiest year on record for sheer number of loved ones lost. I just couldn't handle the idea of losing Ethel, too.

So I tried not to think about it. I did make a return trip to the pond the very next day to recover what was left of that poor duck. John and I will give the remains a proper burial sometime soon. I talked to Pat Mitchell - who suffered her own loss recently with the untimely death of Ducky's companion, Chicken. Between you and I, it's no great loss - he was one mean bird! Even so, Pat was deeply upset about it, and was no less so when I told her about Ethel. She tried to convince me that she'd seen Ethel earlier that day, but I remained skeptical, mainly because I don't think she has a clear idea of what Ethel looks like.

The few times I let myself think about things, what I thought about most was that I don't have a close relationship with any of the remaining domestics at the pond. I entertained the idea of quitting - giving up feeding the rest and letting someone else take over the job. Hell, I put in sixty miles a week, driving to and from the pond; I could surely save a little wear and tear on the old Honda by not making the drive anymore. And I could surely save a little gas in the tank, as well. But my sense of obligation to those abandoned creatures was stronger than my brief desire to quit, so back to the pond I went yesterday for our regularly scheduled feed.

You can imagine the surprise and joy I felt, then, when good old Ethel - trailed, as usual, by Big Boyfriend Duck - crested the hill and joined the crowed. "Ethel!" I called out delightedly, "where ya been, you silly girl?!" She made no reply, but simply tucked into the corn as usual. Life was good again!

I was so relieved that I actually tried to send a text message to John as I drove away. This was, of course, courting disaster, and I strongly recommend that every person on the planet put away their cell phone/blackberry/whatever once they take a seat behind the wheel. As for me, I pulled off the road and then let John know that all was well at the pond.

While I'm glad to have things back to normal, this experience has served as yet another painful reminder of the fragility of life. I've been spoiled for so many years by a false sense of security at the pond: the longer those ducks live, the longer I expect them to live. Losing so much as one of them really throws off my plans for duck immortality. Pretty Boy was never supposed to die, nor Peeps, or any of the others. We were all simply going to live on indefinitely. Naive, I know, but cheating death does that to you, it makes you think you can go on doing it forever. But then one day, reality smacks you in the face and the loss is that much harder to live with.

So yet again, I urge you all to spend extra quality time with your loved ones - humans and otherwise. You just never know when you'll run out of time, and once they're gone, they're gone forever. That's all for now, folks. Thanks again for stopping by. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Critter Thoughts

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you all had a great summer!

Golly, but it's been a while since I blogged last! From all that silence, you'd think that nothing noteworthy has happened, but that's not really the case. Mostly, I've been trying to figure out how to tell you the things I've been thinking about, and sometimes, it takes longer than others to make sense of the jumble in my head.

One of the main things on my mind has been Pretty Boy Duck. You may remember that I told you, when he died back in March, that one fine spring day, I would scatter his ashes at the pond he had spent his life on. Well, I haven't done it. I thought about it a few times, but just couldn't bear to part with any of the ashes. They remain in the decorative tin the crematorium put them in, and the tin remains on my kitchen table, where it's sat for all these months since. I'm over the worst of my grief, but there are still many days when I have painful twinges of sorrow at his loss.

Nothing reminds me of that loss more than my thrice-weekly visits to McKinnon's Pond to feed the other ducks. What a huge presence Pretty Boy took with him when he died! There don't seem to be any other domestic ducks down there who want his old job. I've watched all summer, and haven't yet detected so much as one duck taking a leadership position within the flock. It's damned disappointing.

My friend Bob Tarte - author of "Enslaved by Ducks" - thinks it's possible that there is, in fact, a new leader at the pond who is perhaps more subtle than Pretty Boy was. I suppose it could happen; Pretty Boy was anything but subtle, after all! What I keep looking for, and not seeing, is a strong personality that isn't afraid of getting close to me, one that the entire flock recognizes and responds to: in Pretty Boy's day, all the domestics gathered for the feeds and everyone seemed to know their place. Now, the flock is fragmented into three or four separate cliques who rarely share the same space at the pond, let alone the food. In other words, there is no longer a unifying duck presence.

One of the hard truths I've learned from loving and losing critter friends is that they - like we humans - are all unique individuals with unique personalities. The problem grieving humans run into when they lose an animal friend is when they adopt another and find that the new one is in no way like the old one. I've run up against this myself - even though I knew better! - and had to swallow that bitter pill of disappointment and find the patience required to let a new personality shine in its' own light. Eventually, the joy of the new personality helps soften the blow of losing the old one, but in the case of the McKinnon's Pond ducks, I'm still waiting.

It's entirely possible that my new special duck will be a girl. I find now that at all the feeds, Ethel is the duck I most look forward to seeing. Why? Because she's such a cheerful and trusting soul, always happy to see me, and never seems to mind when I touch her. She hangs around the longest, eats the most, and her enthusiasm for a good bag of corn never seems to dim! Every single time I go to the pond, I can expect to sit down on the ground and visit with her while she eats. None of the other domestics stick around long enough for that. They eat quickly, then return to the pond and get on with their day.

I'll keep watching to see if any alpha ducks turn up at the pond. In the meantime, I'll treasure my friendship with Ethel. Not everyone is lucky enough to know such a wonderful character as her, so I consider myself very fortunate indeed. Those three visits are a highlight of my week, and I always make sure that I have enough time to stay as long as I want to.

For those of you who think ducks are boring, I say this: you have no idea what you're missing! While wild mallards can be dull creatures (and why not? They're not meant to interact with humans), domestic ducks are just the opposite: gregarious and outgoing, intelligent and funny, they'll make you laugh while they're alive, and they'll break your heart when they die. Was knowing Pretty Boy worth the pain of losing him? You betcha! And I'm looking forward to seeing him again in the next life.

In the meantime, I've been searching for a way to honor his life. I know I mentioned previously that to honor some great cats I've known and lost, I had my favorite jeweler create small gold baubles to hold a pinch of their ashes and to wear on a chain around my neck. I originally planned to do this with Pretty Boy, but the price of gold has gone through the roof, rendering my idea unaffordable. I did, however, find a good Plan B: I met an animal-loving artist on Facebook who creates beautiful fused-glass pendants. What this is is powdered glass, in a wide variety of colors. The artist arranges the colored powders just so, then fires the piece in a kiln. The heat melts the glass powders and fuses them permanently into place.

It should be noted that the artist, Heidi Mason, does all this with one eye. I can't tell you why that is because I don't know what happened to her other eye. Perhaps I'll ask her and get back to you. In any case, you can see and purchase her stunningly beautiful creations at Tell her Kelly Meister sent you. When she's finished mine - sometime in early November, I should think, when she returns from her road trip - I'll be sure to post a picture of it so that you can see how great her work is.

That's all for now, folks. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters, and be sure to cherish the ones you share your life with: you never know how short your time with them will be!

Author's note: I've since learned that fused glass artist Heidi Mason suffered originally from what she described as a "macular pucker"- which surgeons were able to fix - but then the retina in that same eye detached. Four surgeries later, the retina refuses to remain attached, and Heidi tells me that she now sees only light and dark shapes with that eye. And still she manages to create beautiful one-of-a-kind pins and pendants! Way to overcome, Heidi!

For those of you interested in learning more about fused glass art, here's Heidi in her own words, describing the process by which she creates her beautiful pieces:

In short: All glass will melt at the right temperature in a kiln. COE 90 glass (and there is COE 96) all melts at the same temp. So you can fuse (melt) different colors of glass together, without cracking. Slumping is melting glass in a kiln, but melted in a mold. So basically what I am doing is cutting a shape out of the glass. Painting a design with glass paint. I then fuse, or melt the paint into the glass, and fuse (melt) different pieces of glass in my kiln. Cold fusing (a special glue) is to glue two pieces of glass together before it's put in the kiln. The special glue melts away in the heat. At 800 degrees I put in a plug to restrict the air going in the kiln. Red paints like to have oxygen and are brighter if I let it have oxygen up to 800 degrees). I program my kiln to the time and temperature and how long I want the temperature to hold at different stages. The kiln slowly rises in temperature (say to 1,480 degrees). I determine how long I want it at that temp. then the kiln will slowly cool down. Glass Frit is crushed glass, that is sifted into powder. Fine, medium or coarse. I like to use glass frit, which I make myself. However it can be bought. Cathedral glass is glass that you can see through. Opal glass is glass that is solid. Glass also can be bought in very thin sheets, which works well for jewelry. I hope this answers your question...It would take pages to go into all the kinds of glass paint, and kinds of glass. But this is the basic way I make my pendants.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Hi Folks!

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

As you may have noticed, I misspelled the word "chipmunks" in the title. I did that on purpose. My orange tabby, Spanky, calls them "chipmuks." It doesn't matter to me what he calls them, and I don't think Spanky's much of a speller anyway. I just know that he and I both like the little critters.

Before I moved into my current house, I rented one on an old estate. I loved that place! It had quirky features to it, and the sort of character that new houses just don't have. The whole south-facing side of the house had huge windows, with these big wide sills that seemed to have no purpose whatsoever other than to provide my cats with a comfortable spot for bird-watching.

There was a side door on the house that led nowhere, other than the vast expanse of the estate itself. It's not like you'd use that door to take out the garbage, or go to your car - those things were on the opposite side of the house. That side door also had a brick walk that led nowhere. The bricks had been there so long that many of them had sunk into the ground, causing the entire walk to look warped. It all added to the charm of the place.

To the right of the side door was a long row of old overgrown yew shrubs that ran the length of the house and hid who-knows-how-many woodland creatures. To the left side of the door was a bed of ivy that had not only climbed the outside wall of the house, but was well up onto the roof, too. A few feet away stood an old box elder tree which was home to numerous birds and squirrels. It was all very enchanting.

There was a proper all-weather door on that side of the house, but no screen door. When I realized the entertainment possibilities for the cats, I had an old-style screen door installed, the kind that's more screen than door. The cats would gather around it and watch the critters outside come and go. Eventually, I took to putting out sunflower seeds and ears of corn to attract even more critters.

It was the chipmunks who made that brick walk a daily feature of their routines. Squirrels, mice, and the occasional bird would stop by, but the chipmunks really took over. No one was more enthused about that than Spanky. He loved their quick movements, and the way their tails twitched. He could sit, mesmerized, for hours! Chipmuks were by far his favorite animals.

When I moved to the house I'm in now, it took me a while to notice that there weren't any chipmunks. At all. This puzzles me because there's a wooded property adjacent to my own, with a field of tall grass between us. Maybe the chipmunks don't feel the need to wander past their woods, I don't know. I just know that there are none on my property.

I gave some thought to putting out something tempting to attract the little rodents, but quickly nixed the idea because I don't want to attract raccoons, as well. One of my first nights in this house, I heard a noise, looked out the front window and saw a large raccoon sitting on top of one of my garbage cans, trying to get the lid off the other. Don't get me wrong - I like raccoons. I just don't want to encourage them to hang around.

So Spanky and I are both a little depressed about the lack of chipmuks. I really miss having them around. I love how cheerful and carefree they are, and they're cute as buttons besides. If I could figure out a way to have a whole family of them living on the property, I would.

It's hard trying to explain their absence to Spanky, who doesn't understand why they want to stay in the woods when they could come over and "play" with him. I've tried to distract him by pointing out visiting rabbits and squirrels, but he's just not interested. I can't blame him; it's not the same at all.

I don't have a happy ending for this story, just some cautionary advice to enjoy what you have while you have it. I spent four years smiling over those chipmunks. Hell, I spent time staring at them through the screen door, too! I'd hunker down on the floor, surrounded by cats, and grin over their antics. It's surprising, now, how large a presence they were in our lives: there's definitely a quiet place where chipmuks used to be. Dang it!

That's all for now, folks. I hope you're able to take a few minutes out of your day and enjoy your four-legged neighbors. They can be such fun to watch! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Case of the Injured Goose

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope your summer is being a good one.

Well, if you've got a Canada goose in trouble, who ya gonna call? That's right, the Critter Lady, which is what Nancy from the Healing Barn did the other night. I was just settling in for an evening of mediocre t.v. when I heard someone leaving a voicemail. I picked up and Nancy told me that her sister and step-mother had come across an injured goose during their walk near a local pond (not McKinnon's Pond).

The women had been able to get pretty close to the goose, they just didn't know what to do with it once they caught it. They called Nancy, and Nancy called me. I said, "Of course I'll help," and hopped into the car without bothering to change out of my sweats. I found Nancy's family easily enough, and they pointed to a goose who was off in a patch of grass eating, not too far away.

Apparently, fishing line had almost cut his foot off, and indeed, when I glanced in his direction, I could see the foot dangling by a shred of skin. It was a sad and gruesome sight. Sighing, I asked which one of the assembled women wanted to try to catch the goose. Nancy hadn't arrived yet, so her sister volunteered. I don't know why I bothered asking though, because it's always me that ends up doing the work!

In all fairness, it should be noted that the sister was perfectly willing (and no doubt able) to make the attempt. I usually end up doing the work because I'm the most experienced, and the most confident. In this instance, I asked for a volunteer because in my view, this was their rescue, and I didn't want it to seem like I was taking over. I see now, though, that someone needs to be in charge of things, if the mission is to be accomplished, and being a Scorpio, I'm pretty good at being in charge.

So I had everyone (Nancy had joined us at this point) range around the goose in a semi-circle, being careful not to move too quickly. I didn't want him so scared that he'd fly away. But I needn't have worried: he didn't seem to know that he was supposed to be afraid of us. I managed to get within a few feet of the goose, and every now and then, he'd look up at me with a sort of calm curiosity.

As I inched closer, I'd quietly reassure him that he was a Very Good Goose indeed. When I was close enough to grab him, I asked Nancy's sister for the blanket she was going to throw over him, she handed it to me, and I tossed it over him. He let out a squawk, put up what seemed like a perfunctory amount of fight, and then was still.

His head was covered by the blanket, which had been intentional: I've heard that geese can be very aggressive fighters, and I didn't want to be wounded in the line of duty! The women lifted up the back of the blanket, though, and took a good look at the foot. It was hanging by a thread, and it was dead and useless. It would have to be removed.

I knew that Nancy was accustomed to doing gross things with horses (cleaning pus-filled wounds in hooves comes to mind), so I figured she'd have no problem manning the scissors. "I have a pair between the front seats of my car," I told her. Which is exactly where she looked.

It's funny, how you mean something one way, and a person hears it another. What I meant to say - and probably should have said - was, "The scissors are in that box between my front seats. Just lift the lid." What Nancy heard was, "Somewhere between my two front seats is a pair of scissors that you'll have to look all over for." Funny, huh?! So I corrected myself, she found the scissors, and with one snip, the foot was off.

As I write this, the foot is in a Zip-Loc bag in my fridge. I brought it home so that I could take pictures of it - to go with the pictures of the one-footed goose that I took that night. You never know when you'll need the gory evidence! Boyfriend John (now Fiance John) has agreed to give the foot a respectful burial out back in his pet cemetary this weekend.

In any case, we stood for some time debating what to do with the goose. As I held him, he voiced his opinion about the proceedings the same way my ducks do: he pooped all over. Unfortunately, my right leg was in the line of fire! By the time I headed home, I had goose poop trailing all the way down the back of my right leg! Well, me and my sweats are washable, so what do I care?!

We made a couple of phone calls to various wildlife rehab services, but they're always too busy to answer their phones, and this night was no exception. There was some discussion about who would take the goose home for the night (and feed and water him, and deal with loads of goose poop), before taking him to a vet the next day, but we couldn't really settle ourselves to any one thing.

It was turning into the sort of hassle that no one needed, and even Officer Jeff wasn't answering his phone! I couldn't blame him: as I listened to the incessant ringing on the line, I glanced at the clock in my car and saw that it was 9:15 p.m. It was time to put this situation to bed.

It was Nancy who finally suggested that we simply release the goose. And why not? The worst was over, and apart from a dose of antibiotics, there was little anyone could do for him at that point. There seemed little reason to hang on to him. Besides, wild birds get notoriously stressed out when forced to deal with humans. Nancy's suggestion made sense.

We set the critter carrier down near the pond (after being pooped on, I transferred the goose from the blanket to my carrier), opened the door, and watched him get all tangled up and turned around, attempting to get out. He gave up trying fairly quickly and just plopped down where he was, half in and half out of the carrier. I walked up, then, took hold of him and gently pulled him out. I turned him right-way-round, let go, and watched him hobble off. He stood at water's edge considering the pond for a moment, then hopped in and swam away. Our work was done. I put the now-stinky-with-goose-poop carrier in my car and headed home.

It should be noted that this was not my first experience with fishing line injuries. I've seen this sort of thing before with the wild ducks at McKinnon's Pond. There was also an instance a few years back with one of my domestics, who had gotten caught on some line, dragged it back to her nest, and ended up tied to a branch, unable to move. Thank God I knew about her nest and was able to free her before she lost a foot to the line, or her life to an animal. It was a lucky break. Not all critters get so lucky.

I've been collecting fishing tackle for some time, now. Not at garage sales or stores, but at the pond. Every time I find more junk, I bring it home and put it in a bag, and put that bag with all the other bags on a shelf in my office. If you scroll around on this page, you'll see a picture of not only the one-footed goose, but also a pile of fishing lures, fish hooks, fishing line - any or all of which can do permanent damange to anything it comes in contact with, whether it's a wild animal, your pet, or your child. It doesn't take much to change a life for the worse forever.

I don't know whether or not it goes without saying that we shoud all be teaching our children to be very careful with their fishing gear, and that we should all be setting a good example as adults. I see far more grown men fishing at McKinnon's Pond than children, so I'm going to go out on a limb and accuse those careless slackers of making everyone look bad. Let's change that! Let's all be mindful that we're the stewards of this planet and that God (whichever one you pray to) is watching all of us, seeing what we're doing with His planet and His creatures. So far, we've not done a great job taking care of things.

That's all for now, folks. I'm going to close with a quote by Margaret Mead that I really like: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." Right on, Margaret!
Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hangin' with the Ducklings!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by!

As I write this, my cat, Gracie Ellen Tripod - she of the three legs - insists on lying on my lap. I don't mind the company, but she sure can work up a lot of drool when she's in the mood! About the only time Gracie ever asks for attention is when I'm sitting at the computer, though, so I'm happy to oblige her.

I followed through on my plan to change out Freckle Duck's eggs yesterday. When I approached that fork in the tree she's nesting in, I saw four or five slices of bread - whole slices, not even broken up into duck-sized pieces - ranged around the perimeter of her nest. I know that the people who left them there meant well, but come on! No duck eats whole slices of bread. You have to break them up into small pieces. And even then, no mama wants food around her nest: it will lead predators right to it, for heaven's sake!

In any case, when I went to remove the bread, Freckle bit hell out of my hand. Repeatedly. Hard! Every single one of those bites hurt, too, and one of them scraped across my skin and drew some blood! I can certainly understand her desire to defend her nest, but things were getting painful in a hurry!

So I went 'round to the other side of the tree, reached into the fork and grabbed her from behind. I set her on the ground and poured out some cracked corn for her but she spent the time bitching loudly about the felon who was disturbing her nest. I ignored her squawking and set to work changing out the twelve eggs she's laid for the dozen I'd bought at the grocery store.

My friend, "Enslaved by Ducks" author Bob Tarte, has commented on duck bites in past conversations. He seemed to think that they could do some damage - an idea I dismissed at the time because Pretty Boy's bites were always fairly harmless. In retrospect, I'm beginning to wonder whether my favorite duck pulled his punches, so to speak, because Pretty Boy's bites never hurt like Freckle's did yesterday! I was quite surprised by the hostility in her attack. Then again, that's what mamas are supposed to do, isn't it? When I finished my task and walked away, Freckle climbed back onto her nest, none the wiser about the chicken eggs.

It was supposed to rain today, but when I got to the McKinnon's Pond, there was only the odd sprinkle. So I lingered for a time, sitting quietly on the ground as the other Freckle Duck and her ten offspring tucked into the pile of corn I'd set out for them off to my left, while black duck Baby Fuzz nibbled at the pile of corn I'd set out for her off to my right. Baby still has three ducklings, who are all cute as buttons and not nearly as nervous about me as Freckle's offspring. One of Baby's young has black legs and orange feet, which looks endearingly ridiculous, like day-glo orange shoes. I remember that when Pretty Boy was a duckling, he had similarly silly-looking feet.

Because I'm at the pond several times a week, I have the opportunity to see every stage of the ducklings' growth, as they go from tiny little fuzzballs, to awkward, gangly ducklings, to individuals with their own unique personalities. It's fun to be a part of, even if I'm just a spectator. And while Baby's young are fairly brave about being near me, Freckle's young are brave about everything but me!

Take today for instance: when I first spotted Freckle on the far side of the pond, she only had three ducklings with her. "Aw, jeez," I thought, "she lost seven young overnight?" Boy, was I wrong! Turns out the other seven were just off by themselves, looking into things. For ducklings who are barely two weeks old, that's pretty brave! But the minute they see me - that terrifying, hulking human - they all start peeping for mama! They have selective bravery, I guess!

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed today's interlude at the pond. The longer I sit there quietly, being harmless, the more Freckle Duck relaxes her vigilance. Baby Fuzz already seems to know that I'm only interested in taking pictures, and I've gotten some great ones of her and the kids. By the time they're grown, I'll have filled at least one photo album with pictures of them! Meanwhile, I hope you'll all join me in saying a prayer to the Gods that at least some of those little cuties will make it to adulthood.

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

Monday, June 8, 2009

We've Got Ducklings!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by!

I don't know about you, but I was on pins and needles the entire month of May, waiting to see if any ducklings would hatch. Animal Control Officer Jeff and I had scoured the pond area in early May, looking for domestic duck nests, but found nothing. That in itself was unusual because those domestic ducks usually pick easily find-able nesting spots. We walked all the way around the pond, poked into all the shrubs surrounding the nearby apartment buildings, then threw up our hands in despair. Where had those sneaky ducks gone?!

There was one nest that I knew about from the start. Baby Fuzz - the last remaining black duck at the pond - used the same site she had chosen last year, a well-hidden spot under a very sharp and pokey evergreen shrub. Late in April, I replaced all but a few of her eggs, figuring, what's the harm in letting her raise a few; pedators will end up getting most of them anyway. Sure enough, last week Baby showed up at a feed with three ducklings.

All three are cute little nippers, with varying splotches of color on their tiny fuzzball bodies. Since Baby knows me well, she's approached me quite closely at feeds, letting her offspring know in the process that the big hulking human with the bag of food is relatively safe to be around. I hesitate to get attached to her young, though, because I've learned from years of experience that they won't all survive to adulthood. In fact, I've been surprised so far that Baby's managed to hang on to all three ducklings for over a week.

Another domestic duck at the pond had ducklings, as well. Because Freckle Duck is white, I felt sure that I'd be able to spot her nest, but I never did find it. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I showed up at the pond one day to find her with fifteen ducklings! How cute they are, each with their own distinct markings and personalities, peeping and paddling around and poking into things. There's just nothing more entertaining than a batch of enthusiastic ducklings!

As I write this, though, Freckle is now down to ten ducklings and counting, which confirms what I've written previously about all the predators at the pond. And, as sad as I am to see the numbers decrease, I'm also very relieved that over-population won't be an issue this year. I don't want to give the city of Whoville any reason to feel that they have to interfere with the goings-on at the pond. Better to keep the numbers low so as not to raise any questions, I think.

As I was hiding behind a tree today, angling for a better picture of Freckle Duck and her offspring, I heard a familiar huffing sound. I turned my head toward the fork of the tree, only to find the other Freckle Duck (hey - you try thinking up interesting names for every single duck at the pond!) sitting on a nest of her own, huffing at me in warning as she gave me that look which says, "Go away before I bite you to death!" Golly!

Well, there's nothing like hiding in plain sight, is there?! I can't tell you how many times wild mallards have used that same tree fork for their own nests - only to have the nest destroyed by neighborhood children who have nothing better to do with their time than be cruel to animals. Who knew that flightless Freckle could even get up that high off the ground to begin with???

"Rats," I thought, "I'm gonna have to get some more chicken eggs and change 'em out, here." I hope Freckle's eggs aren't too far along, but the deed must be done: it's my job to keep the numbers down, and I take the job seriously. It's not that I dislike ducklings (far from it), it's that I don't want the city of Whoville thinking they need to remove the entire gang from the pond. I've no doubt that they'd end up euthanizing every last one of them, and that would be heartbreaking.

So, it's a mixed bag for me this spring. I'm pleased as punch with all the new little ducklings, but nervous, as well, that the new lives might compromise the safety of the other pond residents. In addition, Pretty Lady has yet to turn up, which leads me to believe that a predator got her, too.

You may recall that Pretty Lady was Pretty Boy's sister. It's sad for me to lose that special generation of ducks, one of the first generations to be born to abandoned duck Missy Miss, all those years ago. Pretty Lady and Pretty Boy were practically fearless about approaching me at feeds, something they certainly never learned from Missy, who remained distrustful during her entire time at the pond.

Meanwhile, I confess that I'm secretly hoping for a duckling to take up where Pretty Boy left off. Not a replacement, of course, but maybe an alpha duck in his own right, trusting and open and ready to make me laugh. Wouldn't that be great!

Well, as with anything else in life, time will tell. I'll keep you posted as the ducklings grow, and, as always, I take loads of pictures of everything. Check out the "view my pics" area of my myspace page, it's where I post the majority of my critter photos.

That's all for now, folks! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters! And please, teach your kids to be kind to critters, too!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Hello Old Friend

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope that spring is in full swing where you are!

I came across an interesting quote recently. It might've been said by Dr. Suess himself, Theodor Geilsel, but I can't be certain of that. In any case, it goes like this: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." As with anything else in life, that's easier said than done.

I was at my local Meijer store the other week, where I found a 'Best Of Eric Clapton' CD. I'm a huge Clapton fan, and the CD had a number of songs on it that I love. One of those is a tune that gets virtually no air play whatsoever; I came across it years ago tucked away on another album. But this 'Best Of' included that song, "Hello Old Friend."

"Hello Old Friend" is about running into people you haven't seen in a long while, and how agreeable it is to see them again. It's an upbeat song whose chorus goes, "Hello, old friend, it's really good to see you once again." It never occurred to me that that song would make me think of Pretty Boy Duck, but when I popped the recently-purchased CD in the player, and listened to the song I hadn't heard in years, Pretty Boy sprang immediately to mind. The tears followed soon after.

It's easy to become complacent when things run smoothly. And the longer things run smoothly, the more complacent one can become. After years of looking after the ducks without incident, I guess I just assumed that incident-free was the norm, rather than the exception. How foolish I was! After all, I know firsthand how many predators lurk in the area: the hawks and snapping turtles who always make such quick work of the ducklings in spring; the raccoons that keep Animal Control Officer Jeff so busy; the dogs that people bring to the pond and allow to run free - in spite of Whoville's leash law. In retropspect, there were many painful possibilities that I turned a blind eye to.

I suppose we all second-guess ourselves after some preventable tragedy takes place. How easy it is to beat yourself up over things that can't be changed! I've tried very hard not to do that, but the sadness remains nonetheless, so that every time I hear certain songs that remind me of Pretty Boy, the tears welled up in my eyes. I wonder if he ever knew how loved he was.

While I find the aforementioned quote by Dr. Suess interesting, I think that it's much more suited to optimists. For someone like me - for whom loss has been a recurring theme (loss of innocence, loss of childhood, loss of trust), it's hard to smile about the fact of Pretty Boy's life, and my experiences with him, when the loss of him is so devastating. An optimist would say, "But Pretty Boy made your life special!" while I say, "But Pretty Boy is gone!"

So I listen to "Hello Old Friend" and think about all those days/months/years that I took feeding the ducks for granted. Without fail, Pretty Boy - simply by being his alpha duck self - would brighten my mood, often made me laugh, and always made me smile. Who knew a duck could do all that? Who knew it would come to a screeching halt, out of nowhere, without warning?

This, I think, is the lesson to be learned: that it's important to appreciate the great things in your life as an on-going effort, rather than only on special occasions, and not assume that they will still be in your life for years to come. Change can happen in the blink of an eye, and when it does, there's often no time for I-love-you's, or good-bye's. Such was the case with Pretty Boy.

If I seem melancholy, it's because I am. Pretty Boy was a strong presence in my life. He helped define my identity. He was the reason newspapers wrote stories about me. It's hard to know who to be, without him. Of all the remaining ducks at the pond, not one can hold a candle to Pretty Boy; their personalities seem barely formed by comparison. I will, of course, continue to care for those remaining ducks. But there is a painful void, a screaming quiet, where Pretty Boy used to be. That glaring absence is the reason why I cannot "smile because it happened." The loss is simply too great.

There will no doubt be another strong presence at the pond one day, just as there are now special cats in my life where there used to be other special cats before them. The new special cats in no way take the place of the old ones; they merely add more great memories to the collection. But make no mistake: those previous special cats all took pieces of my heart with them when they left, and there is no replacing those missing pieces.

Time is the only cure for a grieving heart, and even time is no guarantee. Every now and then, I still cry over an amazing cat I knew who died ten years ago. Phil Collins' "You'll Be In My Heart" is the song that goes with those special cat memories, and when the local radio station plays it, I take the time to miss Macavity, and grieve anew. I bet you have certain songs that get to you, too.

I've known people who were so devastated by the loss of their pet that they vowed never to get another. I don't agree with that thinking. Just imagine all the wonderful critter characters you'd miss out on if you closed your heart to anything new! As painful as the loss of Pretty Boy - and Macavity before him - is, my heart will go on (another song that makes me cry for a lost critter!) and savor the next phase of life. But right now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go shed a few more tears.

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

p.s. There's another old friend I want to give a nod to: Tammy Shealey! You know who you are! It's been a long time, my friend. Please shoot me an email, let me know how your life is going.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Meet the Critter Lady

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you're enjoying sunny spring weather and lots of blooming flowers.

It finally occurred to me - over a year after I began to blog - to tell you a little about myself. I've been so keen to tell you about my critter adventures that I forgot to tell you about the Critter Lady! So here goes, and if you have any questions, please feel free to put them in a comment at the end of this blog.

I'm forty-six years old. Slender build with hazel eyes. My hair is brown, but it comes from a bottle, nowadays! Wrinkles are starting to take hold - road maps, I think, to a life that wasn't always easy or pleasant. I'm a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I spent a number of years being an alcoholic, making bad choices and getting involved with the worst possible men. It was a deeply miserable existence.

After almost twenty years of therapy, I'm finally getting myself together. It's been a long, hard road. Sanity can be elusive, I've learned, unless you're really dedicated to finding and hanging on to it. In spite of all the therapy, I don't generally play well with others. I turned the ringer of my phone off several years ago, now. I screen my calls: there just aren't that many people I feel like talking to, and I resent the intrusion of an incessantly ringing phone. I like my quiet. I'm happiest tending the landscaping in my yard, volunteering at the horse barn, or visiting with the ducks at McKinnon's Pond.

It was precisely because of the abuse in my childhood that I became involved with animals. Critters, I find, are easy on the psyche, and on the soul. If you treat them well, they will love you unconditionally - which is more than I can say for some members of my family. When I was a child, love was predicated on keeping secrets. Maintaining the status quo was far more important than telling the truth, and certainly more important than rescuing me from the hell that was created by the sick bastard who robbed me of my childhood. In more ways than I can articulate, animals have helped me heal every bit as much as conventional therapy.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I grieve far more deeply for animals I've lost than for people. I've spent much more time missing Pretty Boy Duck than I have any of my grandparents. I've been thrown into protracted depressive episodes when beloved cats died. I've gone to great lengths to honor their memories - from having necklace charms made that held some of their ashes, to smuggling one cat's ashes into Great Britain and scattering them at a Royal park. To me, animals are family, while humans are hurtful and not to be trusted.

Because of my trust issues and loner tendencies, it was an enormous stroke of luck that I met boyfriend John. Unflagging in his patience, he gives me room to work at who I want to be in our relationship. His terrific sense of humor makes hard times easier, and his IQ is a match for my own. In many ways, he is the yin to my yang, and his laid-back personality helps to calm the ever-present noise in my head. It's a huge bonus that he's an animal-lover, too!

What do I do for a living? Critters! I spend my days looking after the ducks at McKinnon's Pond, fussing over my own five cats, rescuing injured animals as they come along, and writing about all of it. I came into some money a while back, which buys me time to work on my sanity - as well as take care of critters - without the hassle of a day job. I used to work, but as I said at the beginning of this blog, I don't generally play well with others.

So that's me in a nutshell. I live alone on a beautifully-landscaped half acre of property. That will change one day when I move in with John. He's got room for a duck pond and a horse barn, and he's already been warned that there will be livestock in his future! For now, I continue to work on me. Sanity, sobriety, integrity, compassion, decency - these things, I've found, are the best revenge.

To others who have suffered as I have, I say this: don't just exist. Live fully! Savor each day that you're able to get out of bed and stand on your own two feet. Take time to smell the lilacs when they bloom. Throw snowballs. Laugh out loud. Learn to trust yourself. Give yourself the gift of unconditional love, be it cat, rabbit, mouse, bird, horse, dog or duck. Stop waiting for the mythical "someday" and live your life now, in the present tense. It's not easy, but it is do-able. I can tell you from personal experience that a life well-lived is much better medicine than Prozac. Go for it!

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

Monday, April 20, 2009

In Your Face!

Hi Folks!

Thanks for stopping by. I hope that spring has finally sprung in your neck of the woods.

I took a road trip recently with a couple of girlfriends. We went to a British tea shop up in Michigan, and hit some antique stores along the way. There was one store in a building that looked like an old log ranch house, and I seem to recall that the name of the place was rather horsey-sounding: Old Stables Antiques, or some such. While the merchandise inside was interesting, it paled in signifigance to what was out back.

Out back, behind the parking lot, was a sizeable pasture. It was a beautiful spring day, and I could see horses grazing in the distance. There was also a fenced-in area just next to the parking lot, and to my considerable surprise, the animal contained within this pen was not a horse, but a llama. Cool!

Naturally, my excitement over the antiques quicky dissipated as my critter enthusiasm kicked into high gear. "Good morning, Llama!" I called as I made my way across the lot. I find that it's a good idea to announce yourself in advance of an approach - some animals are initially quite shy, so it's best to give them a little warning that you're coming to say hello. In this case, the llama perked up and walked over the the fence to greet me.

I've only met a few horses in my time who were brave and/or interested enough to stand nose-to-nose with me. Most horses will give you a quick, curious sniff, and then go back to whatever they were doing before you interrupted them. I've been told that, being prey animals, they want to know what you've been eating lately (like meat, for instance, in which case they're going to worry that you're there for a horse meat snack), which explains why the first thing they usually want to smell is your breath.

It's probably a little careless on my part to let any animal that big get that close to my face. Because their whole head is made up mainly of bones, any sudden movement on their part could cost you your skull: all those hard horse bones smacking into your head could break just about every bone you have. Even so, I doubt that there's a horseman/woman out there who would pass up the opportunity to give their favorite horse a kiss on the nose. We do it, but we do it mindful of what the danger is.

In any event, the antique store llama, being considerably smaller than the average horse, didn't seem to present an immediate threat to my cranial well-being. It did surprise the hell out of me, though, when he plastered his nose against my own, and stood there for some minutes in that position. At first, I experienced my usual moment of "Uh-oh. Is this a good idea?" Then, deciding to get into the spirit of the thing, I simply stood my ground, looked him in the eye and spoke quietly to him.

"How ya doin', Llama?" I inquired. In lieu of a name - he wasn't wearing any identification - I generally address an animal by his species. The llama said nothing in reply, he merely continued to look at me softly through gentle brown eyes as though he'd never seen a human up close before. We remained like this for several minutes. He finally broke the spell by pulling away, and I wandered back to the antiques inside the store. And while I fully enjoyed the outing with my friends, you already know that my visit with the llama was the high point of the trip for me!

Apart from the road trip, I slept in for several weekends. I wanted to put a little distance between me and old Mikey's death before I went back to the barn. I should've known, though, that the Gods would try to balance out the karma by throwing some positive critter experiences my way. They do it all the time, but I'm not always open to it. This past Saturday, I was.

It's not unusual for Cricket the donkey to do a little braying when she first sees me. It's entirely motivated by the fact that she knows I've got treats on me, and I can usually get her started by giving a few of those treats to someone other than her. Even so, I don't know how long it's been since she actually hee-hawed at me. Usually, it's more of a "snuff-snuff-haw!" This time, though, she threw the whole thing my way!

I had walked into the barn, grabbed a pitchfork and started scooping poop without any of the usual preamble. Ordinarily, I would wander around a bit first, greet those critters who're in stalls, and chat with my fellow barn cleaners. That day, Cricket was aware of my presence well before I'd even given her a thought. As I walked into that end stall, though - and into her line of sight - I heard, "Snuff-snuff-snuff-heeeee-haawwww!" I whirled around in surprise. There she was, two stalls away, looking at me through the bars.

"Cricket!" I hollered, "my favoritest donkey in the whole world!" The barn crew laughed along with me.

"It's nice to be loved," I remarked, while Kaye observed, "She's missed you!" I frankly didn't think Cricket liked me enough to miss me.

I went back to poop scooping, then, thinking that sometimes, the Gods really go out of their way to make you feel like your efforts amount to something. It's enough to know that my once-a-week volunteering makes a difference in the lives of the barn critters; anything else - like Cricket's braying, or the occasional ride on Ruckus - is gravy. But it's really good gravy: every once in a while, one animal or another will let me know that they enjoy my company, and that's a reward all its' own.

There was more, later that same day. Nancy's boarding a new horse these days, one that may (hopefully) or may not end up being a permanent resident. His name is Jem, and I met him for the first time a few weeks ago. He had charmed me enough at that first meeting that I was looking forward to seeing him again this time. Once we'd finished cleaning all the stalls, I went looking for him.

I stood in front of his stall talking quietly to him. He pushed his nose up against mine in greeting - just as the llama had done, and we stood like that for some minutes. I was enchanted as much by his gentleness as by his friendliness, and I began to wonder what it would take to make him mine.

Mind you, I'm not a wealthy woman. To be honest, I really don't have much of nuthin'. But when boyfriend John and I first began emailing (we met online), and he sent me pictures of the farm he lives on, my first set of questions - even though we hadn't actually met in person yet - went like this:

What kind of crops do you grow?

Where would the horses live?

Does farming thirty acres pay the bills?

Where would the horses live?

What do you do when there's a drought year?

Where would the horses live?

To his credit, John resisted the urge to change his email address. Instead, he gamely talked about where a horse barn could feasibly be located someday. Between you and I, he has no idea how rapidly "someday" is approaching! Once he meets Jem, I think he'll understand.

So while part of my heart is torn and aching from the loss of Pretty Boy, Peepers, and old Mikey, there's still plenty of room left for whatever comes next. Could be a new duckling at the pond, could be a cool horse named Jem. When I know, you'll be the first people I tell!

Thanks again for stopping by! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

All Things Must Pass

Hi Folks.

Thanks for stopping by.

It was Mr. Spock, in 'The Undiscovered Country,' who said, "Nature abhors a vacuum." I'm finding lately that he was right. While my own world, in dealing with the grief of losing Pretty Boy, ground to a painful halt, life at the pond carried on. Within days of Pretty Boy's death, white Pekin Puddle Duck somehow figured out that Girlfriend Duck was in need of a companion. How he knew that, living on the other side of the pond as he was, I have no clue. But he's been by her side ever since.

While Puddle Duck doesn't possess any of the attitude that made Pretty Boy so charming, he's willing to do whatever is necessary to look after his new friend: several times, I've seen him shooing away wild mallard drakes so that Girlfriend Duck could eat her corn in peace. Every time I approach the pond now, I find the two Pekins in close proximity to each other. It's an arrangement that suits them both.

Another life that carries on is that of Pretty Boy's wing man, Ducky. While it's unlikely that Ducky knows that his friend has died, a curious thing has happened since he went to live with the Mitchell's: he's come out of his shell and into his own. It's an unexpected turn of events.

Ducky had been dumped at the pond as an adult, and he never really settled comfortably into the new living arrangement. As a result, he was content to walk in Pretty Boy's shadow, and he no doubt felt safe with the alpha duck looking out for him. When he first arrived at the Mitchell's, Ducky looked to Chicken for the same sort of security, but as time passed, some inexplicable change took root. Now, I'm told, Ducky chases squirrels off the property, as well as birds, rabbits, chipmunks and any other interlopers he feels brave enough to face down. He's clearly more confident, now, and more sure of his surroundings.

One of the main reasons I've kept the ducks at McKinnon's Pond - instead of pushing boyfriend John to hurry up and dig that duck pond - is because the place is so damned big. The pond is easily the size of a football field, with grass and shade trees along the banks, and it's located on a quiet street in a quiet subdivision. To my mind, it's the perfect place for a duck to live - if you can overlook, that is, the fact that any number of predators also call the area home. To ducks like Pretty Boy, who're born there, it must seem like paradise. To ducks like Ducky, who were dumped there having first known a more secure life somewhere else, it must've been a nightmare.

So while Pat Mitchell continues to express surprise at the changes in Ducky - the new-found assertiveness, the obvious pleasure he takes in patrolling his territory - they don't surprise me much at all. It makes sense that in that more contained environment, Ducky would thrive and blossom. And it's a joy to see. The last time I stopped in for a visit, Ducky ran all the way across the yard to greet me, quacking happily as he inspected me for treats. His new passion, I was told ahead of time, is saltine crackers. I came prepared.

As I drove home from that visit, it occurred to me that I hadn't been greeted so heartily by a duck since Pretty Boy died. Ducky will never take Pretty Boy's place, of course, but how satisfying it was to stand in the Mitchell's driveway, calling Ducky's name, just like I used to call Pretty Boy, and watching Ducky race toward me as fast as his webbed feet would carry him. Nature does, indeed, abhor a vacuum. There will never be another Pretty Boy, but there will be other ducks, and other critter friendships, that will be satisfying in their own right. I just have to be open to them as they come along.

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

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Notes in the Midst of Grief

Hi Folks. Thanks for stopping by.

As I've struggled to come to terms with the death of Pretty Boy Duck, I've stuggled, too, with my memories of him, and my inability to articulate the sights and sounds that made him so special to me. There are no words to describe the noises he made while in my care: the snuffling, honking sounds that were his warning to me to stop touching him; the throaty, glottal noises that actually sounded more like a croaking frog than anything else, as he chomped repeatedly on that offending hand of mine. The closest I can come is to borrow from Bob Tarte's description of his own ducks, muttering something along the lines of, "duck, duck, duck." I miss those noises.

There's another noise I miss just as much: the sound of my own voice hollering, "GOOD MORNING, PRETTY BOY!!! HOW YA DOIN', HANDSOME BUBBY?" It was the same thing I yelled every morning. He'd come running from wherever he was, intent on being the first to get to the corn I'd dumped out on the ground. Even if he was the last duck to arrive, he'd still shoulder his way to the head of the hand-out line, coming to a stop right in the middle of the pile of corn. He was usually no more than a foot away from me, and I often reached out to stroke his feathers while he ate.

There was an incident which took place in my bathroom that I think I'll cherish the most among all my memories of that goofy duck. I had asked boyfriend John to come over and take pictures of Pretty Boy and I during one of his stays last summer. I like to document my critter adventures so that I can show you - not just tell you - what I was up to. So I stood in my bathroom holding Pretty Boy as John snapped away with the camera. Things were going well enough until I felt a strange presence against my neck. Pretty Boy was up to something, but I couldn't tell what. "What's he doing?" I asked John.

"Nothing," he replied. Like hell!

Calmly, I pressed the issue, "Are you sure he's not going for my jugular?"

"I'm sure," said John. Hmmmmm. It sure FELT like he was going for my jugular!

It wasn't until I got the film developed that I saw exactly what Pretty Boy had been doing. Look for yourself - scroll up the photos on the right side of this page until you get to one with a caption underneath that reads, "Apparently, I've been forgiven!" John was right: Pretty Boy hadn't been going for a vein at all; instead, he appeared to be snuggling up against me. It's something he never did before or after that day. It was a wonderful moment, and I'm thrilled that it was recorded on film.

In the weeks immediately following Pretty Boy's death, I had to endure two other losses. First came old Mikey out at the horse barn. I'd been away from the barn for a few months, and just assumed that when I returned, I'd find everything the way I'd left it. Boy, was I wrong. I walked in one Saturday in late March to find Mikey pacing frantically up and down the aisles. When I asked Nancy about it, she told me that he was dying. I don't know about you, but my mind doesn't easily wrap itself around something as frank as, "He's dying." But when I pressed her further, it started making sense. Old Mikey was thirty-two years old. He'd been decrepit for years. And now, his organs were shutting down.

Nancy had put a call in to the equine vet, who came out and euthanized Mikey a couple hours later. We'd finished cleaning the stalls by then, and Mandy, feeling a bit overwhelmed, I think, by the prospect of watching a horse die, decided to head home. I stuck around, hoping that by being a part of the end of Mikey's life, death would somehow become easier to bear. I turned out to be wrong about that, too. Death - or, more specifically, loss - hurts like hell. And you can't cheat your way out of that fact no matter how hard you try. As the drugs coursed through Mikey's veins, I sobbed quietly, as much for the loss of Pretty Boy as for that old horse. Mikey'd had a good long life, all right, but I hadn't been ready to say good-bye.

A few days after Mikey passed, I was at McKinnon's Pond feeding the ducks when I noticed that white Pekin Peepers was missing. Being fairly certain that Peeps was male, I felt sure that he wasn't sitting on a nest of eggs somewhere. And no matter how big that pond is, it's very hard to miss a big white duck. I made a mental note of his absence and continued with my day.

I got home to find a voice mail from Pat Mitchell. There was something in the sound of her voice that told me bad news was in the offing, and I said as much as I left a message for her. When we finally connected, she said, "It is bad news but probably not who you think." She thought I'd be worried about Ducky, but I already knew better. "No," I replied, "it's a white Pekin, isn't it?" She answered in the affirmative; Peepers had died.

She and Pete had found him acting strangely at the pond that morning. Unable to balance himself, he appeared as though drunk or drugged. Pat managed to catch him - and normally, those domestics can run pretty fast - which told me that he was really badly sick or injured. She brought him back to the house and put him in a quiet place, where he died later the same day. Now Pat was asking whether I wanted the body. When she offered to bury him on her property, I thanked her and agreed that that would be best.

Like Pretty Boy before him, I'd known Peepers since he was an egg. He'd been one of the last ducklings hatched before I'd instituted the Planned Duckhood project. Because Pretty Lady had popped out a few more eggs after he arrived, Peeps spent a lot of time on his own, following the other Pekins around and learning from them how to be a duck. He was an intrepid little soul, and braver than most ducklings: he approached me at feeds much earlier than usual with young ducks, which charmed me no end.

Peepers and I were never close in the way I was with Pretty Boy. But he learned his name, and was among the handful who trusted me enough to get close at the feeds without worrying about the hulking human sitting among them. I would have been sorry to see him go under the best of circumstances, but these were not, as we already know, any kind of good circumstances to begin with. The loss of Peeps was yet another straw on the camel's back.

So it's been a difficult time, lately. I still go feed the ducks three times a week, but it's with a heavy heart, and lacks the enthusiasm I enjoyed all those years I'd stand watching that big goofy duck racing toward me, Girlfriend Duck in tow, flapping his bill in anticipation of food and a visit. I just don't have the same relationship with any of the remaining ducks, so my joy is muted.

I'll continue to feed the ducks, though, and make my rounds during egg-laying season. I'll continue to holler things like, "GOOD MORNING, DUCKS! EVERYBODY COME HAVE CORN!" I'll continue to be a little embarassed when humans overhear me talking to them. And I'll continue to miss that funny, enigmatic, big, black, bossy duck, Pretty Boy.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In Memory of Pretty Boy Duck

Hi, Folks.

Thanks for stopping by.

I've put off writing this particular blog because - as you can see from the title - it's not going to be a happy one. It is with great sadness that I must tell you that Pretty Boy Duck has died.

I got the phone call on Tuesday morning. Pete Mitchell had been out at the pond, and he noticed Pretty Boy's body lying at water's edge. No one knows what caused his death, and in spite of the fact that an acquaintance of mine is an animal communicator who could probably tell me how he died, I'd just as soon not know. I wouldn't be able to handle any information involving fear, pain, or suffering.

It's worth noting that Pete understood the situation well enough to wrap Pretty Boy's body in a plastic bag and bring it back to his garage for safe-keeping until I could get there. Most folks wouldn't bother. I'm grateful that he did. When Pat Mitchell called to tell me the news, I held out a tiny hope that she was wrong, that it wasn't Pretty Boy after all, but the other black duck at the pond, Baby Fuzz. But deep down, I knew that she knew exactly who that duck in the bag was.

If you go back in the archives here, you'll find a blog in which I discovered that Pretty Boy was a fan of George Harrison's song "My Sweet Lord." I played it in the car once when I was transporting him to one of his vets. It was a 'Best Of' CD, and the minute the opening notes of the song began, Pretty Boy stopped scrabbling around on the hard plastic of the critter carrier, settled down on his stomach, and listened quietly. It was the first time he'd ever shut up while in my car!

I tried to turn him on to some other George Harrison tunes - most notably, "Here Comes The Sun," but he was having none of it. He rose to his feet again and resumed his escape attempt in earnest. "But Pretty Boy," I argued, "it's 'Here Comes The Sun'! That's a classic! Everyone loves it!" He conveyed his distaste by ignoring me completely.

Autistic author Temple Grandin, in her fascinating book "Animals in Translation," mentions a number of research studies that suggest that animals communicate through music. Dogs, it's noted, will change the pitch and tone of their barks, depending on what the situation warrants.

There are theories that humans didn't invent music after all, but copied what they heard various birds singing. Grandin sites an example where Motzart himself was influenced by a pet starling who re-wrote one of Motzart's concertos by changing the sharp notes to flat ones. Evidently, Amadeus preferred the bird's version of the song.

So it seemed only fitting for me to play "My Sweet Lord" in the car as I drove first to the Mitchell's to collect the body (crying all the way there), then as I headed to McKinnon's Pond (crying all the way there) for one last I-don't-know-what. It just seemed the thing to do, take the body to the pond one last time. Then I drove him to his original vet's (crying all the way there) to drop him off for cremation. Dr. Chrys - the vet who amputated his cancerous wing - has been out of the country for some time, now, but she was still quite shocked about Pretty Boy's death when I emailed her later in the day. The staff at the animal hospital were equally subdued.

Feeling numb for most of Wednesday helped take the edge off my raw nerves. I spent the day wishing it had all been a nightmare, and knowing that it hadn't been. By the time I got in the car that evening and headed north for the half-hour drive to John-the-boyfriend's house, I guess it was time for the the floodgates to reopen. I sobbed for thirty minutes straight.

I wasn't even listening to "My Sweet Lord" anymore. I'd skipped ahead to the slightly-more-cheery song, "What is Life." I should've known that that one would do me in, as well:

What I feel, I can't say
but my love is there for you
any time of day.
If it's not love
that you need,
then I'll try my best
to make everything succeed.
Tell me, what is my life
without your love?
Tell me, who am I
without you by my side?

Who am I, indeed. In those numb hours after Pretty Boy's death, I thought, to paraphrase my friend Bob Tarte, "I'm just some crazy lady without her duck." Who was I, now that my cause celebre - the world-famous one-winged duck, my pal, the only duck who had ever made me laugh, the one I'd gladly shared my bathroom with - was gone? There were still twelve ducks at the pond who needed me. But the only one I'd developed a deep, trusting bond with was Pretty Boy.

Because the Gods prefer balance in the universe, a thing happened Wednesday afternoon that offered a much-needed reminder that life does go on, and that other critters do need me. I was driving through Whoville when I passed Animal Control Officer Jeff standing half-way down a ditch. Owing to the rain we had recently, there was a fair amount of water running through it. I passed on by thinking that whatever he was up to, I probably didn't want to know about it. It was most likely some horribly mangled dead critter and I just didn't want to see it.

So I kept driving. And kept telling myself to go back and help him out. I managed to get about a mile down the road before I impulsively turned into a driveway, backed up, and returned the way I'd come. I pulled off the road, crossed the street and hollered, "Need a hand?" The noise of passing traffic whittled his sentence down to "dog" and "blind."

The dog - a yellow lab - seemed to be walking with some purpose in the water. When he headed for a culvert, I saw my opportunity and jogged to the other end, making my way down to water's edge as he reappeared. He turned his head to me when I called him, and it was then that I saw what Officer Jeff was talking about: two milky white orbs stared sightlessly in my direction.

I began calling loudly, then, and clapping my hands. The dog walked right up to me, and I held him fast with one hand while I gave him some rubs with the other. "Good boy," I told him, "what a good boy you are!" Jeff walked up then and handed me a leash. I looped it over the dog's head and handed the dog off to him. As we headed back to our respective vehicles, speculating on why a blind dog was out roaming around all alone, Jeff announced, "People are really dumb!" Yes, Jeff, they sure are.

As I drove off down the road, it hit me how ironic that rescue had been: there was the perfectly able and experienced Animal Control Officer, having trouble catching a dog. And then the Critter Lady happens on the scene and snags the dog on the first try. Sometimes, life just happens like that, and the folks around me remark, "Wow! How 'bout that?!" And I usually say the obvious in response, "Well, I am the critter lady..."

If you folks think that birds are boring, I can tell you with heartfelt certainty that they are not. Each has its own individual personality, and if you trouble yourself to find it, you will enjoy untold hours/days/years of rich friendship with that critter. What I loved best about Pretty Boy was his alpha-duck-ness, a striking assertiveness that I've seen in no other duck on the pond. He trusted me enough to let me pick him up, and then he asserted himself - every time - and let me know that he had better things to do than to go with me.

There will be more tears in the coming days, before I settle into the grim knowledge that Pretty Boy's gone forever. I always end up quoting Cleveland Amory ("The Cat Who" trilogy) on this subject because his words are so succinct that I can do no better myself. He was referring to the death of his beloved cat, Polar Bear, 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, what will my life be without you in it, my friend? Less rich, surely. Less colorful. Less satisfying. Such was the power of one duck's personality.

That's all for now, folks. Thank you for stopping in. I appreciate it. May all of you be blessed with great animals like Pretty Boy! Until next time, please be kind to all the critters.