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By Jack J. Woehr
Although this true duck tale starts with a conversation with a conservative (88% rating) United States senator, it's not really a political screed. But it's duckumentary evidence of the quality of life available even to the fowl in our free economy.
Allow yourself to be conduckted back to the Saturday evening of the Jefferson County Lincoln Day dinner described in my previous article. My daughter Jelena, an aspiring animal behaviorist, was discussing her career choice with Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo), himself a veterinarian.
"You should become a veterinarian first," urged the good senator. "It's a firm basis for any career in animal psychology."
"I considered that," replied Jelena, "but I don't ever want to be asked to put an animal down."
"That's true," mused Sen. Allard. "There are many interesting procedures for saving an animal's life which are known to a veterinarian, but so often you are told, 'Too expensive, just put it to sleep.'"
The next morning, Sunday, I was awakened very early by a ruckus in the back yard. Within minutes, I was able to make the deducktion that Graham, the male of our couple of Pekin White ducks (Mr. & Mrs. Graham and Triscuit Quacker) had once again challenged the purebred Akita dogs in the next yard, this time making the tactical error of thrusting his long neck through the board fence to enhance the effect of his hiss. The female Akita had wrung his neck.
Graham, lucky duck that he is, was still alive, but his neck feathers were entirely gone and his neck flesh was hanging in strips. He was conscious but dazed and was drenched in his own blood. Triscuit fussed around him helplessly.
We didn't duck our responsibilities. We spend the next hour on the telephone, trying to find a vet, not only a vet who would respond in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, but an avian vet at that. These are as rare as duck's teeth.
Yet we found one. Far away from our Fairmount home, in the sumptuously wealthy suburb of Denver called Greenwood Village, there is a 7-day-by-18-hour animal hospital complete with avian veterinarian. We gently ducked Graham into a cardboard box, Triscuit protesting vociferously. I'm sure she thought Graham was off to the barbecue.
Instead, Graham was off for an hour drive with my wife and me to the finest animal health care available. Honestly, I had never even considered the administration of oxygen to a duck, but I got induckted into the mysteries of that procedure that Sunday morning. (The trick is to slip a plastic truncated cone over the bird's bill, in case you were wondering.) I found myself wondering what a Somalian peasant would think of all this.
The doctor came out to us in the waiting room with an estimate sheet.
"If I peroxide him and send him home, he'll be dead within a few days. To keep him alive I would have to operate and sew the flesh back. Even so, it's about a 50-50 chance for his survival. The operation will take about two hours, I will need two assistants, and it will be expensive. Otherwise, I had better put Graham to sleep or he will die a very painful death."
After a pause, I asked, "Given the chances you have described to us, Doctor, would you do it if it were your animal?"
"For a barnyard animal, no. But Graham is a pet, so I would probably operate," he replied. "Of course, it would cost me less than it will cost you. But there is that 50-50 chance that he will recover without the skin becoming necrotic."
"Could you give us a few moments to discuss this privately?" I asked. The doctor left us alone and returned to the care of Graham.
My wife, Sumi, is a stoic intellectual, bound by her rigid sense of duty, and otherwise is nearly as unemotional as Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek television series. It was Sumi who had obtained the ducks so that Triscuit, an excellent layer, would provide our growing daughter Jelena with delicious eggs for breakfast. Graham and Triscuit had also delighted us with their duckiness, their rich and humorous body language that made them amusing to watch for hours as they puttered around the yard, chasing away starlings, burrowing in the compost heap for worms, arguing with each other, and making lovey-duck. They had quickly joined our horse, our rat, our pair of hedgehogs and our pair of turtles as part of our extended animal family.
It was Sumi who now was overcome with remorse for not having penned the ducks, a remorse in conflict with her concept of household management, a conflict which caused her to rebel against the sum of money we were being asked to spend.
"That's ridiculous," she said, reading the estimate. "There's no way we can spend that kind of money on a duck." A tear rolled down her cheek.
I had a thought, not a thought exactly, more like a perspective welling up inside me. It struggled to find expression. Finally, the words came.
"Here we are in the dawn of the 21st century," I began, "We are privileged citizens of the mightiest, richest and most technologically advanced empire in the history of mankind. If we do this thing, if we try to save this pet duck, our children will still have a roof over their heads and enough to eat, our charitable contributions on behalf of our fellow man will continue unabated, our taxes will still get paid on schedule, our responsibilities to our community will still be met.
"So, if we can save the life of this living thing so close within our reach, and we want to, why shouldn't we?"
In short, we decided to pay the duck bill.
Graham returned home that evening. It was snowing outside, so he came to inhabit the basement bathroom. He slowly recovered, perked up, took his medicine, began to eat and drink, and allowed us to handle him and treat him without protest.
Triscuit, disconsolate and unaware of Graham's return from the brink, lay outside in a ducklivity in the snow, soaking wet, hardly moving, staring through the fence at the dogs with undisguised hatred, apparently plotting her revenge. When we called to her or offered her food, she would not come.
Within 48 hours, Graham seemed stronger but Triscuit was unchanged. I made a decision.
I went outside with a towel, grabbed Triscuit and began to carry her back to the house. She wrestled with unaccustomed vigor, quacking fiercely, saying unmistakably, "You b*****! You killed Graham now you're going to kill me!"
I managed somehow to get her down the stairs without breaking a wing. With one foot I pushed open the door of the bathroom. Triscuit fell silent and still for about three seconds as she stared at Graham.
"Quack?" she said softly.
"Quack." Graham replied.
"Quack quack?" said Triscuit.
"Quack quack quack!" said Graham, thrusting out his breast and flapping his wings.
"QUACK!" said Triscuit and struggled free from my arms. The two began strutting and bobbing their necks at each other as they babbled simultaneously.
My eyes moistened, and I nearly quacked up.
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