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.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The First Whiff Of Spring

Hi Folks!

Welcome back! Thanks for stopping by!

Those of you beleaguered souls who got slammed recently by that huge winter storm that hit the eastern seaboard may find this hard to believe, but spring is finally in the air. I know this because when I fed the ducks on Friday, they were already in the process of pairing off for the spring mating season. Pretty Boy and Girlfriend Duck were paddling around together. Freckle Duck turned up with the same four optimists who followed her everywhere last year. Ethel was off on the far side of the pond with Big Boyfriend Duck. No one's started laying eggs, yet, but they will, soon.

Don't get me wrong - it's not that I believe spring is actually here. I grew up in Northwest Ohio, so I already know that no matter how many mild days we have in the next few weeks, the Gods will absolutely throw at least one more storm at us in which we'll be inundated with multiple inches of snow, roads will be impassable, and spirits will be crushed by the wind chills that we had foolishly hoped were a thing of the past. It happens every year.

The animals know when the seasons are changing, though. For instance, at some point every fall, the horses out at the barn will start growing woolly winter coats. The thickness of the coat, and the timing of the growth, are actually much better indicators of the severity of the coming winter than anything the weather guy on t.v. can predict. Sometimes, a horse will get very woolly very early in the fall, and everyone at the barn thinks, "Uh-oh, it's gonna be a long winter!" And, inevitably, it does indeed end up being a long, hard winter.

The ducks at McKinnon's Pond don't seem to acquire any extra feathers to get them through hard winters, but you can always tell when spring is coming by the way they act: they start pairing off; they begin choosing territory for their mates, and start fighting the other ducks over it; the girls turn up at the feeds with feathers missing from their necks. That last occurs because the drakes tend to pull out the girls' neck feathers as they're mating with them. All of these are classic signs that, if you pay attention to them, will tell you that change is in the air.

So, while there may still be ice on the pond, and winter-cold temperatures, there also seems to be some internal clock that tells the ducks that these are temporary issues that will soon be replaced by sunshine and warmth. I sure hope the ducks are right because I've had enough of winter to last me quite some time!

That's all for now, folks. I sure hope that all of you are getting excited about the end of winter, and starting to make plans for springtime. I'm already mentally purchasing bags of mulch for the flower beds in my back yard! Until next time, take care and please be kind to all the critters!