I seem to write a lot about animals. I guess when you have a lot of them in your life, you have a lot of stories.
One story ended yesterday.
My mother was choking back tears when she called to tell my dad and me that the duck was dying. She was home with him all afternoon, cradling him in her lap. I think she just wanted to tell us. To reach out a little.
The duck, who we always called Ducky or Duck Duck, came into my mother’s home about 10 years ago when no one wanted him. Certainly not the woman who handed him over to her one day when my mother was doing surveys for the Department of Agriculture. This woman had gotten some baby ducks for her children and as they grew, it was soon apparent this white duck, with pigeon-toed feet that kept stepping over each other when he tried to walk, was just not fitting in.
“You want him? He’s yours,” she told my mother.
My mother, who's done wildlife rehab over the years, has a kind of open-door policy when it comes to unwanted animals. She didn't hesitate to take him home with her.
He was really quite beautiful. Just handicapped. His home was a large wire cage in a heated breezeway. It was lined it with newspaper and shredded paper. He always had water and duck food from the local pet store.
In the warmer months, we’d fill a tub with water from the hose and he’d swim around like the most normal looking duck you’d ever seen, quacking and paddling away.
Then we’d take him out and set him on a grassy area under a tree where he was within view from a kitchen window. He’d groom himself as he bathed in the sun and when he got hot, he’d waddle as best he could to the shade. He could get around but not well. It was hardly a normal life for a duck. But my mother gave him life anyway.
In the colder months, she’d bring him inside the house and place him in the laundry room tub, which she'd fill with warm water. It was a funny sight to peek into the laundry room, past the washer and dryer, to see this white duck’s head sticking up and paddling around as he quacked.
Often at night, my mother brought him inside to just hang out. She’d cover a few feet square with newspapers and set him down in the expansive kitchen area next to a sofa where she likes to sit. We didn’t pay too much attention to him, we just let him be. I suppose he enjoyed being inside. Life must have been pretty boring for him stuck in a cage and not able to wander around all day.
For that reason, my mother often wondered if she should have found him a home with other ducks. But who knows? Other ducks might have attacked him or simply rejected him, as animals sometimes do to the weak among them.
No, I think he had a pretty good life.
Last night my mother, who always feels guilty when an animal of hers dies, wondered again if she did the right thing, this time about not getting him to vet to be euthanized. She told me she'd been thinking of taking him there after realizing how bad he was — that he’d been acting funny for a day or so but it was clear something was very wrong yesterday. And then he died. He was in her arms.
I told her maybe it was for the best that way. That a trip to the vet might have been even more stressful, even traumatizing.
"It never gets easier,” she said. Her face filled with pain and she looked like she wanted to cry again. “People like me shouldn’t have animals. It’s too hard.”
“No mom,” I said, “For the animals’ sake, people like you should have pets."
I don’t know that Ducky had the best life. But I know he had a good life. And he was loved.