On Monday, February 13, 2017, Joey goose passed away at the veterinarian’s office. His passing was quite a surprise and definitely caught us off guard.
On Thursday he seemed his usual self. He had fun breaking in my new rain boots by testing their nibble tolerance.
On Friday he seemed fine as well, but he didn’t eat all his dinner, so I made a point to watch him closely on Saturday. (Ignore the mating dorks in the foreground).
On Saturday, Joey got up normally with his posse of ducks and ran out of the aviary, honking as he usually does. He swam and played and nibbled at the grass, but he didn’t eat much. I brought him romaine lettuces, which he usually loves, and he just mouthed at them. So I called the vet and made an appointment for Monday morning, just in case he didn’t bounce back on his own. Then I went and bought him some of his favorite no-salt top saltine crackers. When he wouldn’t eat a saltine, I knew something was definitely wrong. He was calm and talkative, and he let me bring him into the house and set him in a playpen for the night. All day Sunday he continued to decline. I was in a panic trying to figure out what was happening. Did he eat something bad? Does he have something stuck in his crop? Is it an infection? Is his digestive system blocked? When the vet’s office opened on Monday we rushed him in. I carried him into the back office area and we set him up in a bank cage/pen on some towels so they could prep an IV. He passed away before they even got a chance to evaluate him.
It was such a SHOCK to see him decline and pass that quickly. But birds are experts at hiding their symptoms. I requested an autopsy which took place this morning, Tuesday, February 14th. While it wasn’t conclusive, it did rule out many things. Joey didn’t have a blockage of any kind. He hadn’t eaten any foreign material or metal. Joey didn’t have inflammation or signs of cancer. He didn’t show signs of a contagious disease that might affect the rest of the flock. The only clue was that his liver was small and hardened. That implies that he might have had long-term liver disease, which is unfortunately very common in domestic birds and very difficult to notice early. It’s also not very treatable, since it isn’t usually noticed early on. It just happens. Joey did spend several years at area parks before his rescue, where he was fed mostly bread. That diet could have contributed to liver problems, even though he had a good diet in his last two years. We also don’t know how old he is, but have heard he spent “many years” at an area park.
Back in October, I rushed him to the vet when he was stumbling a bit. I felt like he was really “off” then, but his blood work and exam didn’t show anything obvious, and he recovered on his own. In retrospect, it’s possible those symptoms were also liver disease. We won’t ever know for certain, but it seemed to be a natural death process over several days for him, and we ruled out an acute event like a blocked digestive tract or a wound or such.
So he’s just… gone. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. If I know a flock member is going to pass naturally, as Petunia did of old age, it is often quite peaceful. But when a kid like Joey, who I have no reason to suspect is ill, is suddenly declining, it makes me frantic. On the plus side, Joey seemed at peace and comfortable. I just didn’t know what was going on, and didn’t expect it, so it was pretty traumatic. Late Sunday night to Monday morning, I started to feel it was too late to save him. I got up at 1am and drove around, trying to rack my brain and figure out what was happening to him. It breaks my heart to see him go when I thought he’d be around for years to come. But that’s just how it goes sometimes. It’s almost 2-years to the DAY of his rescue, so we’ll try to pull it together and share his wonderful life now, instead of dwelling on his death. I’m still in shock and miss him terribly, but he deserves a proper farewell.
This is the story of Joey goose.
We first met Joey in February 2015. He had been shot along with dozens of other wild and domestic birds at a family rescue pond in Orem where he lived. Here’s a video of Joey with his buddy Lumpy after he was caught and held for rescue:
He was bonded with a Chinese goose and many people believed them to be a couple. They were known as Romeo and Juliet, or Lumpy and Penny. For years, many people thought Joey was a girl (Juliet/Penny). He was dumped at Wheeler farm years previously and Lumpy the Chinese goose became his buddy. They were mistaken for a couple because Joey LOVED to help raise other birds’ ducklings and goslings each spring. We heard conflicting reports that Joey was originally dumped at Decker Lake before being moved to Wheeler Farm. Eventually he was moved to Clegg Pond where he and so many others were shot. Here’s a news story from that time: http://www.ksl.com/?sid=33419364&nid=148
Joey had been shot six times with lead pellets. He had pellet fragments in his face, tongue, wing, chest, tail and leg.
He looked terrible when he arrived, but a few days after surgery to clean up his face and tongue and remove the pellet from his leg, he stabilized and started to improve.
The pellet removed from Joey’s leg damaged his tendon, and he had a previous broken toe injury that made it hard for him to walk.
He sat through twice-daily physical therapy for four months until he could finally walk well.
He wasn’t too friendly when he arrived, but after 240 physical therapy sessions, he couldn’t help but start to like me a bit.
I think he even started to enjoy physical therapy.
Once Joey’s leg had recovered enough for him to get around well, he quickly rose to head of the flock.
He then appointed himself as Chief Security Officer, or “Mall Cop.”
It was a job he took very seriously. His responsibilities included making sure he knew where everyone was at all times. Making sure no one went anywhere he didn’t approve of, and sometimes beak punching ducks or chickens if they misbehaved.
It was a lot of responsibility, but Joey was a natural leader.
Mall Cop ran a tight ship, and everybody knew better than to cross him.
Sometimes even the people needed a beak punch to keep her in line.
Okay, a lot of times.
But I knew Joey loved me.
Eventually he would sit with me on the hammock and let me pet his neck ruffles.
And eventually he didn’t have to beak punch me anymore to keep me in line. Maybe just a little tap now and then.
Joey would listen closely as I told him what a brave and wonderful goose he was, what a responsible and capable mall cop. I would lean in and whisper to him “I love you, big goose.”
As mentioned before, Joey loved to raise ducklings. He would protect them from the rest of the flock and keep them safe. Sometimes he even tried to keep them safe from ME, and he would get VERY ANGRY if I would take them away to put them to bed in the house pen. Joey would HONK OUT LOUDLY IN DISAPPROVAL! “THE PEOPLE HAS TAKEN MY DUCKLINGS THAT ARE RIGHTFULLY MINE AND NOT HERS!” When the next morning came and he saw his ducklings again, all would be forgiven.
In just the past year, Joey goose helped raise JJ the mallard, Steve & Eydie, Charlie girl and Libby ducks.
The only thing Joey liked as much as raising ducklings was crackers.
Lettuces are great and part of a balanced goose diet.
But the rare treat of a single cracker really made him smile.
Joey goose was not a rescue we were expecting, but he was a wonderful surprise.
Through the years, many people have loved him by many names, from Penny and Juliet to Pumpkin and now Joey.
He touched a lot of hearts with his big personality, and I know a lot of people will miss him.
He was a beautiful, sweet, bossy, silly soul and I just hate to see him go.
While it’s difficult to say goodbye, I’m also grateful to have had to chance to know Joey and care for him over the past two years.
His big personality will be so missed here at Ducks and Clucks.
Rest in peace, my boy Joey. I love you, kid.
NOTE: This is a long post, so grab a cup of tea or a martini and get comfy. Also, this post includes one or more graphic images. So read at your own risk.
A few days ago, our lovely Petunia passed away naturally and peacefully of old age. She had been living on a heating pad most days for the past year since she couldn’t regulate her body temperature well. She also had pretty bad arthritis. She couldn’t get in and out of a pool on her own, and she needed extra protection from most of the flock. Right up until her last two days though, she was chipper and active. Though we were sorry to see her go, she had a long life, well lived. So we can’t complain.
When I shared news about her death online, some people seemed shocked. This surprised me, as she was pretty much touch and go for the entire last year of her life. So I thought I’d better share a post about the next two rescues that I guessed might be most likely to have issues in the future, just so no one would be surprised if they passed on.
I shared this post about Teddy and Demetra. Both of them are pretty severely handicapped. In the post I noted that if, in the future, they became distressed and their distress outweighed the joy they had, it would be time to say goodbye. I talked a little bit about quality of life, blah blah blah and that was it.
One lady, whose profile said she was from Romania, saw the post and asked me to please consider giving sweet Teddy a lower food dish because his dish was obviously too high for him and it was important to care for him properly. I responded to her, noting that if you look closely, you can actually see a lower food dish to the very left of the photo. Teddy likes the higher food dish, but he can choose between a lower one and a higher one. She wrote back saying she can’t see well because she’s 60% blind and was just trying to help.
These are my least favorite kinds of comments: The people who view 1/30th of a second in the life of one of our rescues and decide that they alone are the sole champion and defender of what’s best for our bird. They are the magical savior who has seen 1/30th of a second out of the 84,000 seconds in a day, and they know what’s best! I MUST LISTEN TO THEM! THEY ARE ALL KNOWING! And then they start arguing and advocating for the rescue strongly. The idea that someone online, who has never met my rescues, is not an avian-certified veterinarian and who is looking at a photo I took, which represents 1/30th of a second of time… the idea that they know best is absurd. It’s actually offensive to me. And yet I am expected to respond respectfully and explain myself, explain every detail of my care of the rescue, often rehash that rescue’s entire history, until they are satisfied that I have provided appropriate care. Because they saw a photo. And they have some unsolicited advice for me.
Meanwhile, another lady on Instagram mis-read or misinterpreted the post about Teddy and Demetra, and made a bunch of assumptions that I was going to kill Demetra immediately. She posted 4 comments on the Instagram version of my post, including one that said “I have half a mind to drive cross-country and take Demetra.”
I had started answering her other comments and then I came across that one. I felt threatened by it and decided to just block her completely. She seemed unhinged. Her comments were way out of the norm and not a single other person responded to my Teddy and Demetra post in that way. Not one.
After she was blocked, she ratcheted up the crazy even more by posting this note on some closed Facebook chicken groups.
UHHHGGG! I didn’t know she had posted that note. I just started receiving odd comments on my posts. The first one I saw was one that said something like “Why don’t you give Demetra to someone who lives in a house?” I think my response was “What the f*ck do you think I live in? A shoe?”
I got a few other posts from people begging me to give Demetra to them. Or to turn her over to someone who wouldn’t kill her. This was so confusing to me in the middle of the rest of my busy day, because I had never said I would kill Demetra, and anyone who knows me knows I would never do that. I WOULD, however, humanely euthanize a bird when their level of distress outweighs their joy in life, which is what my post stated. I don’t ever make this decision lightly, in fact I’ve done more research on the topic than most people, and wrote a blog post about it which you can find here: http://ducksandclucks.com/blog/2015/07/26/euthanasia-guidelines-for-handicapped-ducks-and-quality-of-life-issues/
Any time I have ever euthanized a bird, it has been under the care of an experienced avian veterinarian. Sometimes when a severely-handicapped bird seems in decline, I take them to the vet for a quality of life evaluation, and we determine a few options to try before ever deciding to euthanize. Medications, slings, special bedding, supplements, daily physical therapy… there are a lot of options to try. The idea that I would kill Demetra because she needed some simple enrichment in her day is so stupid it’s insulting. No sh*t, ding dongs. Demetra has a lot of enrichment. I’m always trying new things with her. Lately we go for a walk around the block together. She loves looking at all the birds and we talk about the pink flamingos and plastic duck lawn ornaments we see along the way. I’ve been doing this bird rescue thing for over 13-years now. Domestic ducks, chickens, turkeys, wild mallards, pigeons… and I was a baby-bird nursery caretaker before that with a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Just because the ONE post you read didn’t completely answer your every question, doesn’t mean you can assume the worst.
It also doesn’t mean that I OWE YOU any explanation, for anything I do.
But this lady posted her false garbage on the chicken groups and all the sheeple started commenting.
This one comment really pissed me off. “She doesn’t have any chicken friends either.” That asshole knows I just had to euthanize Laverne on Monday for a sinus tumor. Thanks so much for the compassion, fellow human being.
Here are a few more of the sheeple, commenting with no first-hand knowledge, on something they know nothing about.
There are more comments just like those, but who cares, honestly? I would like to highlight this one lady though. The only one on the string of comments I could find who didn’t automatically assume I’m a Demetra-killing illiterate, inexperienced monster. Maybe the rest of the sheeple above could learn something from her. She asked questions. She wondered if she had all the information. What a concept!
Wherever you are, Lindsay. Thanks.
In the end, the blocked unhinged lady apologized, starting with “I really hate rude rescues!” Now I’m no poet, but in the future, I’d suggest you start an apology with “I am sorry.” My response was something like “Go fuck yourselves, all of you.” Her friends started harassing me, calling me a “butt-hurt snowflake” if I remember correctly. I told that guy to die in a fire. And she kept pushing her lying narrative that Demetra is somehow in imminent danger of being murdered by me, deciding that I am a sad person and she feels sorry for me.
So… that ended well.
Here’s what many people don’t know. I block an average of 3-5 people a day. The first thing I do when I wake up is almost always block someone. This is what one apparent human being sent me recently in a direct Instagram message, along with a note that said “for every duck you rescue, I kill two.”
That was the first thing I saw when I woke up. Not every day is that bad, but after I was sent that note, I hated to check those Instagram direct messages from strangers.
When I have direct Instagram messages from strangers, I don’t get any notifications. So every once in awhile I check it, just to see what’s there, hoping it isn’t some redneck sending me pictures of dead ducks. This week I found two messages that were a couple of days old. Both were people with duck questions. One of them asked a question. Then asked again. Then said something like “Since you obviously don’t care about animals, I’ll go ask someone who does!” I never received a notification that she had sent a message, but she made sure to assume I was just ignoring her and that I’m an uncaring person. I responded nicely to her and noted that I don’t get notifications, but I never heard back.
This is what social media is like for me, all day long. People expect my immediate attention because I run a rescue. I OWE them my time. For free. All day long. Immediately. What on earth could be taking me so long to respond?! Is it like I’m RUNNING A RESCUE OR SOMETHING MAYBE!?
Meanwhile – and this isn’t meant to offend any one specific person, so please don’t take it personally – but meanwhile, I get sent the same memes and duck videos and chicken photos over and over and over again. And I have to look at each one because in the messages and direct messages and texts and notes between them, there might be someone with a bird who needs help. By the way, that photo above is a goose. Not a duck.
In case it isn’t obvious, I’m going to be severely limiting my social media time for the rescue. But before you get it twisted, don’t assume I am overwhelmed. I am quite happy. I get up each morning and sing to my rescued birdies. I often take Demetra through the drive-thru latte stand with me where she gets oats and I get a soy latte. I hold Danny girl and feed her, talk to whatever other goobers are in the house and head out to the aviary. I say “Good morning, you handsome boy!” to Miles, and give a hearty hello to everyone who cares, and even those who don’t. I open the winter pen and let Joey and crew out, and rush to get them their breakfast while they run around in anticipation. Teddy lunges into my arms as I position him in front of the food and water dish, while Little Quack paces about, waiting for his turn. I laugh at their goofy antics, we chat and I make sure they’re dry and warm and fed and watered and happy. And every few hours I do it all again, until I tuck them in at night.
They bring me a lot of joy. Sharing their joy and their stories with others used to be fun too. But it’s not anymore. The world is different. And honestly, my purpose is not to run an endless stream of duck and chicken photos that brighten up your day. My purpose is to improve the lives of these birds, and to get others to view them as individuals and stop exploiting them. So to that end, here are some ways you can help:
1. Stop eating animals and animal products.
2. Don’t support the use of animals for fashion, research or entertainment.
3. Don’t breed, buy or hatch animals. Rescue them.
4. Educate people that bread is bad for ducks.
5. Educate people that for every backyard hen, a rooster died.
The birdies will thank you for it.
We’ll still be around a little bit, to help any birds that may need it, as our space and time allow. But we are done sharing our rescues with the world. We thank you for the 13+ years of sharing in their lives, and hope that you’ll use the few minutes we’ve freed up in your day to pay it forward, for the birdies.
Love and quacks,
Tiff and the rescued flock
When we moved to Utah in June 2014, we had the flock in a temporary aviary for several weeks while we closed on our house and designed the permanent aviary.
Once the house was ours, we drew up plans for a 12’x52′ (624 sq ft) chain-link aviary to be built.
The first step was setting the posts in concrete.
The aviary covering is constructed of black vinyl-coated chain link on all sides and top.
To keep critters from digging under or reaching through, hardware wire cloth lines the entire perimeter of the aviary, and extends out 18″-24″ before being buried. By extending the hardware cloth out, critters try to dig at the base of the fence, and don’t understand they’d have to back up a foot or two to dig under the buried wire.
The back of the aviary has privacy slats as well as a privacy shade cloth, which blocks wind as well.
Center posts in the aviary provide a good framework for different sections and also keep the chain link top secure.
Cinder blocks at the doorway prevent digging as well as buried hardware cloth. During the colder months, the top of the aviary is open to let in sunshine as well as snow. But in warmer months, the top is covered by several shade cloths to keep the ducks cool.
Half of the aviary is a long walk way from the front door to the back pens and winter pen.
The other half of the aviary is divided into many different compartments for different needs. Some areas house difficult personalities, others have special-needs ducks that need extra protection.
The entire aviary is about 50′ from the house, which is a zoning rule for poultry in our city.
But when we’re home, the flock gets supervised yard time outside of the aviary to roam around and doodle for bugs.
Once the main aviary was built and the flock was safely moved in, we began work on the winter pen.
The winter pen is inside our garage and takes up about 8’x14′ of area. It was built to provide extra warmth and comfort during the winter months for our special-needs ducks.
We also used it last summer to house new rescued babies who needed extra protection from the big ducks.
The winter pen connects to the inside of the aviary, so ducks can come and go in safety.
The aviary was built with a little connector area so we could connect it to the winter pen later, while keeping everything predator-proof.
The only problem with the connector between the aviary and winter pen is sometimes it gets blocked by goobers.
Each of our sections of ducks has a shelter to protect them from rain, snow and wind. Many sections have these A-frame nests, made from pre-built saw horses purchased from Home Depot. Ducks really love to have both an entrance and an exit to their nesting areas, so they can sneak out the back if something comes in the front. These nests work great for that.
We also have several dog house nests that some of the girls prefer for laying eggs.
And some cat carrier nests for smaller ducks.
Or larger nests for big kids.
Each section of ducks has nests, a baby pool and food/water dishes.
The main aviary often also has a larger, deeper pool.
But our favorite pool is the tree trunk pool. This one was a sand box made by Little Tikes. Unfortunately they don’t make them anymore.
We feed most of our flock Mazuri Waterfowl maintenance food. It is a floating food which is a great, natural way for ducks to eat. Floating the food also helps prevent it from attracting rodents.
We use rubber food dishes which are great in winter time when everything freezes. The rubber makes it easy to get the ice out and refill the bowls.
So far the aviary and winter pen have worked out really well, and have proven to be very safe and secure for the flock. We learned a lot after having separate night pens and a day aviary in Seattle, and made adjustments here to improve the design and simplify daily chores.
That’s it for now from all of us at Ducks and Clucks.
Thanks and quacks,
Tiff and the flock
Carol came to us from the Seattle Animal Shelter in April 2011. We went to pick up Fabio, a sick silkie rooster. But when we arrived at the shelter Carol was there as well, so we took her too.
At home, Carol immediately let everyone know she was a fierce wild child. A bad-ass honey badger. Carol was one of the most feral animals I’ve ever rescued. Skittish and on guard and independent.
The story was she was found wandering in North Seattle as a stray. I wouldn’t be surprised if she got kicked out of her first home though. Carol took care of #1 and beat down anyone who got in her way. She treated every meal, plant, treat or shelter as if it were a war she had to fight and win.
She fought her way to the front of every line and took over the entire chicken coop, refusing to share the expansive 5-hen perch with anyone. Honestly, she caused a lot of chaos in the flock. But it’s often the most high-maintenance pets that wiggle their way deep into our hearts. And that was certainly true of Carol.
Carol nesting dinosaur noises with Janet:
As fierce as Carol was, she eventually settled in. Her “fight all the things for survival” instinct turned into a tolerable bossy nature. Everyone learned to stay out of her way and that suited her just fine.
In the summer of 2013 I took time off of work. During that time off, I spent a lot of time with the flock. Almost every day I’d take an afternoon nap with them, and when I’d wake up, Carol and the other hens were usually perched on me. It was a very special time and the flock really learned to trust me and consider me one of their own. Spending hours each day with Carol revealed just how smart she was. She was extremely talkative and interactive.
Wake up call:
Losing Carol hen has been difficult. She was such a special, sweet girl and we became very close over the years. I was sad to lose Si, and really disappointed that after all she’d been through she didn’t get a few more years of the good life. Olivia was a sweet old hen and easier to say goodbye to because she was over 13-years-old. Olly Astro was difficult because she was fine, then I noticed she had trouble pooping and then we had to say goodbye. It happened so fast.
And that leaves Carol. Since I had tried with vets to drain the belly fluid from Si and that only bought her a few extra months (4 months I think), I decided to try spaying Carol in hopes she’d gain more years. She didn’t. She lived 9 weeks after spay surgery, which means she had pretty advanced cancer when she was spayed, but it was not easily visible at the time. Even two weeks before she passed I had her back at the vet, concerned, and they couldn’t tell anything was wrong from the outside. But I knew.
When Carol was at the vet for the final time, people kept asking me what the vet was doing. Is she getting an implant? Why a shot of Lupron and not a Deslorelin implant? Who spayed her? When did that happen? What’s happening now? NOW HOW IS SHE?! HOW IS CAROL!?!!?!?!?!? It was frankly overwhelming. I know everyone means well but it just was too much. Imagine your child is having an asthma attack and you’re in the ER and it’s not looking good and your kid is turning blue and you start getting urgent messages and posts and people you sort of know who want to hear “how’s your daughter’s breathing tube? Did they intubate her? Is she crying? At least she’s breathing. Why haven’t they tried steroids!? Have you tried tea tree oil? WHAT IS HAPPENING!? WE HAVE NEVER MET HER BUT WE’VE SEEN PHOTOS!!!”
Too. Much. Stress.
Our Facebook page is a great place 99.9% of the time. But it is not good when there’s a crisis. In the future I likely won’t share in real-time when a crisis is happening. It’s too much to deal with that has no bearing on the crisis. It’s a huge distraction that makes me want to shut everything down and never share again. And no one should take that personally. It’s just the nature of social media. I’ve learned my lesson.
That said, I sure appreciate everyone’s notes so much now that Carol is gone. Over 400 comments of condolences about my rescued chicken on Facebook and other social media. Four hundred. How amazing is that? I’m pretty certain that when I die I won’t get 400 people leaving comments. Carol was just that special.
In retrospect, and now having had quite a few chickens over the years, I asked the vet “what should I do differently with any future theoretical chickens?” He said – and by the way Carol’s specialized vet is sort of renowned for his work spaying hens and ducks – he said he has seen some success in reducing cancers by changing a hen’s diet to include 10% flax seeds. So there you go. Research shows flaxseeds help. So far just in chickens. No research on how it could help ducks yet. For anyone who has hens, add some flax seed to their diet. He also said he has seen cancers in hens even 2-years-old, so spaying Carol at 5+ years was probably too late. Olly Astro was spayed at a few years old when she had 21 stuck yolks in her system by our Seattle vets. And that was successful and bought her a few extra years. But she still only lived to be 5-6 years old. That’s unfortunately a pretty typical life span for an egg-laying breed of hen.
When our vet called back after Carol was euthanized and he was able to look more closely at her, that’s when he told me she was full of cancer. There was nothing to be done. That was both a relief to hear and also very sad for me. I had her spayed. I knew that she might not have much time. I took her to the vet two weeks before she passed. But I was somehow still in denial. I went from “hmm I should make her an appointment” on Friday to “Oh shit! She’s uncomfortable!” on Saturday to “F#$K!” right after that. And then she was gone. One day she went with me for coffee. Then we said goodbye. I just wasn’t ready.
But then, how I could never be ready to say goodbye to that sweet face?
Pet my face discovery:
For as fierce as Carol was when she first arrived, there was a vulnerable, needy sweetheart underneath all that attitude.
She was the most lovable, loving, interactive hen I’ve ever known. She was as affectionate – or more affectionate – than any cat or dog I’ve ever known.
She was a clear communicator just waiting for a human who could understand what she was saying. She was a loyal friend. A lovable kid. A trusting family member.
She was a very special personality who just happened to be in a chicken package. And I’m so very lucky to have known her.
I know many people shared in her antics, but I hold her very close to my heart, even though she’s gone. I held her in my hands every day. She wasn’t an online phenomenon to me. She was my special care bear, and there will never be another one like her. Oh little red hen, I miss you. I love you.
Rest in peace.
Note: This post deals with rescued ducks, and mostly with domesticated handicapped ducks.
In the past week, we took in a rescued wild mallard duck from another local rescue group as a “last chance” for this duck. We don’t know his whole story, but we think the public turned him over to the group about 8-weeks-ago after they suspected a car hit him. The rescue group was preparing to euthanize him this week when a caring volunteer felt he deserved another chance and contacted us.
This little duck already had the public, the rescue group and a volunteer caring about him. They all had their hearts in the right place and did their best to do right by this duck. They were planning to euthanize him but gave him one last chance with me. In my opinion, as soon as I laid hands on the duck, I sadly thought he should be euthanized too. I made him a “quality of life” vet appointment as soon as I could, and kept him comfortable until then. The vet would help make the final determination, which as you may know, was to euthanize him.
So how do we make life and death decisions and what are the guidelines? How would someone know when to decide to let a duck live and when to help him die? How do we keep objectivity and perspective when we work so closely to help rescue and rehabilitate animals? This Little Man duck really made me want to find out the answers to those questions.
Strangely there is not a lot of good information online about when to euthanize and why it might be the right time to make that decision. For licensed wildlife rehabilitators, there are good clear guidelines about how to euthanize and how long to give wildlife a chance to recover and be returned to the wild. These guidelines can be helpful but they don’t directly address the question of when to euthanize. These are called “minimum standards” and you can read more about them here: http://www.nwrawildlife.org/content/minimum-standards
Let’s talk briefly about Little Man, the rescued handicapped wild mallard. Why was it important to euthanize him rather than keep him alive? He was injured in a possible car hit that left him unable to use his legs. We also think he suffered a foot injury at that time. As a wild mallard, Little Man was wild. He was skittish and very afraid of people. He did not like to be handled or even approached. In fact, when I’d approach him, he’d flail and fling himself against the sides of his pack-and-play to try and get away. That’s one key sign that it was time to say goodbye. A duck that flails in terror of being handled is not living a quality life. If a duck has a handicap that requires handling and a duck is so fearful of handling that they fling and flail around to avoid care, it’s time to say goodbye.
That guideline alone was a key one for Little Man. Unfortunately, he also had several problems that were probably caused by his skittishness that made his life quality even worse. Little Man had a keel sore that was nearly the entire length of his keel, about 5” long. The keel is the extension of the breastbone in between the middle of the chest muscles that runs down the center of the chest in ducks. Handicapped ducks that spend all their time sitting down are prone to keel sores. Keel sores are very painful.
So for Little Man, there were many reasons to euthanize him and set him free from his broken body. He was a wild duck. He was permanently paralyzed. He could not walk. He couldn’t fly. He had a chronic keel sore. He was terrified of being handled. He used his wings to “wing-walk” but could not get around well enough to feed himself or get in and out of water or shelter. Wing-walking hurt his wing edges. He was emaciated. He had an infected foot wound that ate away the bone. All of that unfortunately adds up to a poor quality of life. While it is never easy to say goodbye, and it is very sad, it is paramount that we prevent suffering at all costs. NOTE: With wild animals, sometimes fear or terror is misinterpreted as a strong will to live, or a fight to survive. The fight or flight response is not the same as a quality life or a joy for living. Joy for living is what you need to look for, not “fight.”
Life is terminal. It may seem obvious but it isn’t talked about enough. We’re all going to die. But we don’t all have to suffer. Suffering in animal rescue must be prevented at all costs. This is the key guideline to follow. The guideline is not “preserve life at all costs” but “prevent suffering at all costs.” Obviously that doesn’t mean euthanize everyone with an injury or handicap, so let’s talk more about quality of life.
The best guidelines I’ve found for euthanizing a cat or dog are to write a list of their 5-10 favorite things to do and then note if they can still do any of them. For a dog that might be eat, go for walks, ride in the car, run off-leash, play fetch and get up on the couch. When a pet can no longer walk or play, we may be able to help them for the short term. When they can no longer eat, that’s a poor quality of life. Pay close attention to the emotion of joy in your pets. Do they take joy in their day? Do they have moments of joy that you can see? Are they engaged with the world around them?
Each handicapped duck has different needs, but here are a few “must haves” for their quality of life.
FEAR. A special-needs duck must not live in fear or terror of being handled. Because they may need help getting around or eating or swimming, they must tolerate or enjoy human interaction. You need to be able to feed, clean, move and interact with your special-needs duck without causing them undue stress or fear. Growling, panting and flailing are all signs of stress and fear. This is one of the key reasons why wildlife rescue almost always means an animal that cannot be released must be euthanized. That’s a difficult reality for some people to accept, but when you see fear and terror in a wild animal, you understand why this is the ethical standard.
BODY CONDITION. A handicapped duck must keep good body condition. Handicapped ducks can have difficulty preening, so they don’t often look as neat and tidy as healthy ducks. But they need to maintain a reasonable weight and not get too thin. They need to have clear eyes and clean nares (nose holes), even if that means you help them. If their nares are chronically clogged or their eyes are constantly draining or runny, they need more help or you need to say goodbye.
KEEL SORES. Handicapped ducks cannot have keel sores. This is critical. Keel sores are very painful. This requires weekly monitoring. A very soft substrate is required to keep duck keels healthy on special-needs ducks. Here we use wood shavings for Danny girl’s nest, about 4-6” of them, packed tightly. When a new rescue is in quarantine, we use pack-and-plays with fleece blankets and towels. If your duck develops a keel sore, treat it and fix it within days, and fix their environment to prevent it from happening again. If the keel sore cannot be resolved in days, it is time to euthanize.
WASTE. Handicapped ducks cannot sit in their own waste. A handicapped duck needs to be able to move well-enough to get themselves out of their own waste. Alternatively, they need enough help from caregivers to prevent urine burns and loss of butt feathers from urine/feces burns. A duck that has missing feathers and raw, red skin from urine or feces burns that cannot be fixed within days needs to be euthanized.
ANKLE/FOOT HEALTH. Special-needs ducks that sit a lot may get ankle/leg/foot sores. This can happen, just like a sore keel. But it needs to be fixed and their environment changed to prevent it from happening again within days.
PAIN. Pain is a tough one. A new rescue in pain should receive vet-prescribed metacam and/or pain medication until they are comfortable. Watch for fluffed feathers, sick-looking eyes and/or shaking. Those are all bad signs of pain. Chronic pain from arthritis is pretty common in older ducks. I have some gimpy rescued ducks with bad joints who limp. My advice is to consider how much joy they have in their lives. If they limp but quack, play, swim, eat, have good body condition and have joy, they’re probably fine. If they can walk but choose not to, they may be in too much pain to have a good quality of life. Soft substrate and easy access to a pool deep enough to hang their legs and float can really help. Warm housing in the winter cold can also help.
YOU. How much time do you have to devote to a handicapped duck? It is a daily commitment, day in and day out. Be realistic with yourself and your limits. Be careful not to take on too much that might result in suffering for animals. A good rule is the 80/20 capacity rule. Take on 80% of what you can handle. Leave 20% room for the unexpected. If you take on 80%, the other 20% often just shows up in emergencies, an illness, unexpected travel, money issues, etc. If you’re maxed out at 100% all the time, you’re headed for burnout. Self-care is critical to animal rescue work. So take care of yourself and know your limits.
There will come a time when you will need to euthanize your handicapped duck. With dogs and cats, I’ve heard people say “you’ll know when it’s time.” I disagree. You may not know when it’s time. It’s difficult to stay objective when you’re so close to the day-to-day life of an animal. When I find myself unsure of a duck’s quality of life, I take them to the vet for a “quality of life evaluation.” A few months ago we euthanized Lester Leroy our rescued handicapped crested Cayuga duck. In his case, I think I waited a little too long. I learned some great tips to prevent this from happening again. Even with a quality of life evaluation, many veterinarians will be hesitant to recommend euthanasia. They want to be agreeable and supportive of their clients. The trick is to call a few days after your appointment is done and ask for your written records. A vet will often put down in writing what they were reluctant to tell you in person. One of the chief complaints of veterinarians is that their clients don’t understand suffering and don’t take action to stop it. Yet they’re often bad at being clear and straightforward about discussing death themselves. Ask questions. Make them be honest. Get your records after the fact. They know suffering when they see it. Find out if they see suffering in your pet or rescue.
Do your best. I have had to euthanize quite a few rescues in my 11+ years of rescue work. Most of the time, thankfully, it has felt right and it has been as easy as a difficult situation can be. Once in a while I feel like I’ve waited too long. Once in a while I feel like I did it a few days too soon. I have been yelled at by strangers who’ve never met my rescues and I’ve been called “the Angel of Death” for my decision to euthanize a rescue. But I wholeheartedly believe that every rescue I have cared for knows that I did my very best.
These guidelines were researched by asking fellow rehabilitators and rescuers how they make these kinds of tough decisions. This blog post will probably evolve over the next week or two as other rescuers or veterinarians weigh in with their experience and expertise. I invite those with direct experience rescuing and making euthanasia decisions to contact me with additions or corrections. We’ll try to keep this post up to date because we haven’t seen anything similar to it online, and we think it’s an important topic to consider. If you’re interested in knowing what the euthanasia process is like, write me a Facebook comment or an email and we’ll cover that in a future blog post.
As rescuers, we do our best. We’ll never be perfect. Accidents happen. Sores develop. Ducks decline or get ill or injured. But we can learn and prevent the same issues from happening again. Our little feathered friends are counting on us to do our best.
Thanks and quacks,
Tiff and the flock
As of June 27, 2015, our current cast of characters includes a motley crew of misfit rescued ducks and one special-needs goose. All of them came to us from different circumstances. Here are their rescue stories.
Frankie was one of two ducklings bought by college students in a feed store. After a day, the kids realized they couldn’t care for ducks, so they planned to release them to a park, which would have been a death sentence. Frankie is a buff orpington duck and his estimated hatch date is March 1, 2015.
Lionel Ernest is a little saxony bantam-like duck who came to us from PAWS in Lynnwood, WA with a severely infected foot. He was dumped at Country Village in Bothel, WA where he was injured after flying into a glass window. We’ve had him since May 2012 and he was fully-grown then, so he’s probably at least 5-years-old. He has a permanent limp from his foot injury.
Ruby Tuesday is a rescued magpie duck. She was found abandoned on the side of the road in Carnation, WA and brought to us in Seattle in December 2012. She was fully grown but likely young, so we estimate she was born in the spring of 2012 and is probably about 3-years-old.
Lulu and Beaker were bought at a feed store and placed in a box on a girl’s porch as a gimmick to ask her to a school dance. After the dance, no one wanted the ducklings or all the work of caring for them and keeping them safe for their long lives. So they came here in spring 2015. Their estimated hatch date is March 19, 2015. Lulu is a rouen duck and Beaker is a pekin duck.
We adopted Petunia Peach from another rescue group in January 2006. She was fully-grown so we estimate her hatch date to be in spring of 2004. That makes her over 11-years-old now. She is a muscovy duck. She was adopted with her friend Phoebe Kay who passed away in fall 2008 of egg yolk peritonitis, an all too common ailment of ducks bred to lay too many eggs.
Benny Greenjeans was dumped at Daybreak, UT where he developed an infected foot injury. He was captured and surrendered to a local veterinarian for treatment. He is a cayuga duck. We adopted him from the veterinarian’s office in January 2015. He has a slight limp from his foot injury.
Penny Pumpkin, aka Juliet, is a rescued embden goose. She was originally dumped at Decker Lake in Salt Lake City, UT then moved to Wheeler Farm park. Overpopulation there forced her to be moved to a sanctuary pond in Orem, UT in 2013. There she was shot in February 2015 by an unknown shooter six times, in an attack that killed over a dozen ducks, geese and coots. Juliet is permanently handicapped from her pellet gun wounds and requires extra protection and care for the rest of her life.
Chester Sugarmont was dumped at Sugarhouse Park in Salt Lake City, UT in the summer of 2014 with at least 6 other domestic ducks. By fall, he was starving. As a dumped domestic pekin duck, Chester couldn’t fly to find good food, and bread handouts from people left him suffering from malnutrition. Starving and covered in louse, he was unable to stand or walk. We simply reached down and picked him and brought him home. With a vet visit, good food and delousing, he recovered in a matter of weeks.
Teddy Crispin was surrendered to our Seattle veterinarian in early 2014. He had a severe leg infection that was left untreated and went systemic, leaving him severely septic. His white blood count was the highest we’ve ever seen in a living duck at 115 (a normal WBC is between 8-13). He was too weak to stand on his own and his infected leg was quite painful. We originally took in Teddy as a foster, but after 4 months of antibiotics to clear up his infection, we decided he should stay. He needed another round of antibiotics when his infection returned, but since then he has been healthy. He’ll always have a limp from the damage done to his untreated leg.
Wheeler and Hopper were dumped as 3-4 week old rouen ducklings at Wheeler Farm park in Salt Lake City, UT. We estimate their hatch date to be April 23, 2015. They would not have survived the night as they were alone, had not yet grown any feathers and were following people and dogs. Raising and releasing domestic ducks at parks or in the wild is both illegal and cruel. Domestic ducks have none of the instincts of wild ducks and are too fat to fly. They cannot avoid predators or find suitable food and water like wild ducks can. Never raise and release domestic ducks.
Little Quack came to us in June 2015 after being found with only one foot at a pond in Herriman, UT. He is a call duck mix. He was being looked after by a family, but they noticed he was having increasing difficulty competing for food and avoiding conflicts with only one foot. We don’t have snapping turtles here, so it’s likely he lost his foot through some other trauma like a fishing line injury.
Lenora Bea came to us from the Seattle Animal Shelter in November 2012. She is a muscovy duck. She was found as a stray and surrendered to the animal shelter. She was fully grown when found, so we estimate her hatch date to be spring of 2011 or earlier. That makes her at least 4-years-old.
Miles is a rescued rouen duck who was treated by South Sound Critter Care in Washington before coming to stay with us in January 2012. He was a dumped duck who developed a severe leg infection before his rescue. After several months of antibiotics his infection was gone, but he is left with a very severe limp from his leg bone being eaten away by infection. He was fully grown when rescued so we estimate his hatch date to be spring 2011 or earlier. That makes him at least 4-years-old.
Danny girl came to us from PAWS in Lynnwood, WA in December 2011. She had eaten a large slug of metal and was dying of lead poisoning and infection. She is an indian runner duck with a hatch date of spring 2011 or earlier. That makes her at least 4-years-old. She is permanently handicapped from her metal poisoning but gets along okay with special care and feeding.
O’Malley Jr. is a rescued mallard duck who was found in an alley as a days-old baby duckling. She came into our care at the same time as Wheeler and Hopper and has bonded with those buddies as well as the other Lulu. When her hormones kicked in after she grew up, she “wilded up” and released herself back to the wild. We will miss her but we’re happy she gets to live the life she was meant to live, in the wild.
Zoe is the companion duck to Frankie. She was one of two ducklings bought by college students in a feed store. After a day, the kids realized they couldn’t care for ducks, so they planned to release them to a park, which would have been a death sentence. Zoe is a super pekin duck and her estimated hatch date is March 1, 2015.
Little Lester Leroy came to us from our veterinarian in Seattle in December 2010. He was fully grown and didn’t seem too young, so my guess is he was maybe born in Spring of 2009.
He was a very scared, sick, handicapped but fierce little guy when he arrived.
He didn’t much care for people, including me. But luckily he liked Flapper. Flapper was in his last few months of life and spent much of his time in the house in a playpen by then, as he was old and had heart failure and arthritis. It limited his activities but he was still a happy guy. And they both liked having a buddy around for company.
When Lester first arrived, his damaged, infected leg was stuck in an odd position, making it difficult for him to sit normally, and impossible to stand. The story we heard was that he was dumped a park, attacked by a dog and kept untreated by a family for a week. When they realized he was dying, they dropped him at the Seattle Animal Shelter. The shelter took him to our vet to be euthanized, but our vet tech thought he might be able to be rehabbed, so they called me.
We did daily physical therapy on his leg, stretching and bending it again and again.
Eventually, it did improve enough that he could stand and hobble around quite a bit.
After Flapper passed away, Lester spent a lot of time near the other ducks, but not with them, for his own protection. He was never able to get in and out of a pool on his own, and could never be left unattended with other ducks. When Danny girl came along, he finally had a companion and a girl to love.
And he sure did love her. He loved to protect her from the other boys and be her bodyguard. He loved to talk with her and listen to all of her chatter.
He loved to play in the pool with her too, even if that did require some help from me. They were a wonderful couple and good companions to each other.
Lester’s quality of life was pretty good most of the time, but now and then he’d have a tough time, and we considered euthanizing him several times over the years.
For me, a handicapped duck needs to be able to get themselves around well enough to get food, water and shelter. Even if getting around isn’t easy, and even if we provide a lot of help and simple set up, they need to be able to move a bit to stay comfortable.
They also need to be kept happy, safe, clean and not develop any pressure sores or other problems. And they need to maintain their weight. All of that is mostly my job, but it’s not always easy.
This January, we took Lessie to the vet for a “quality of life” evaluation. He was making a repetitive stress movement that really left him in an unhappy state, and nothing seemed to help. This was a last chance for him. If we couldn’t get him happy, we wouldn’t want to keep him in a stressed out state for very long.
Thankfully, Lessie improved with medication and a change to his pen, and did well for a few more months. But his ability to move and hobble around was declining more and more. By April, he was unable to move himself to food or shelter on his own. We would set up shelter wherever he was, and move the shelter and food around for him if we found him in a new spot. Unfortunately, in his last days and weeks he could only move backwards, and it frustrated him and left him in tough spots when we weren’t around. He wasn’t happy anymore.
It’s never an easy decision to euthanize a duck, even one as handicapped as Lessie. But in the end his passing was very peaceful and felt “right.” He didn’t struggle at all, he wasn’t stressed and he seemed to understand. He doesn’t much care for car rides, but I kept my hand on him during the last ride to the vet and he was calm and relaxed the whole way.
I figure I spent about 20 minutes every day caring for Lester, for nearly every day in the past 4+ years. That’s about 500 hours spent directly caring for Lester, with many more hours watching him with the rest of the flock. Overall I think he had a good quality of life a great deal of the time, in spite of his handicaps.
Lester was a duck’s duck. A very good and faithful gentleman to his Danny girl. A sweet and independent little guy who didn’t take any gruff. We’re so sorry to see him go, but thankful that we had as much time with him as we did, and that we were able to help him peacefully go when it was time. Much love, little Lester. And safe travels. XOXO
Olly Astro, our rescued australorp hen, came to us in 2010 after being surrendered to our veterinarian in Seattle. She had pneumonia that wasn’t getting better, and her owners were tired of trying. So the vet kept her and treated her for 8 weeks to clear up her infection. Once she was finally feeling better, she came home with us.
When we went to pick Olly up, we found out she made a friend while she was in the vet hospital. Chickens are well known for their good networking skills. So Olly Astro came home along with her friend Janet.
Our only hen at the time was Olivia, who just passed away this past December. Olivia was none too keen on having new lady hens around, and she spent her every waking moment making sure they knew she did not approve of their antics. It was good for her to have a new distraction and hobby, even if her hobby was taunting Olly and Janet.
In time, all three hens became good friends, and Olly actually took top spot in the flock for a while. She got along well with most everyone. While she liked people and their treats, she was never much for being held or petted.
Her favorite thing to do was hunt for bugs while keeping a perfect triangle shape as she dug in the dirt. She was a great, great triangle.
Every chicken has their own sound, and Olly’s sound was “hoppah.” Janet made a “gu gu gu gaaaaah” sound which reminded me of the song “I gotta be meeeee!” And Si Si made a sing-song sound like “Gaboooo” which reminded me of “helloooo.” Olly’s “hoppah” was very matter of fact, kind of quiet and a little serious. There was no sing song to her talk. She was all business.
Olly had a sweet, kind and laid back personality. A little bit quiet but she did make sure she got her share of treats. Over the years she had her share of health problems. In addition to recurring respiratory infections and breathing issues, she got the last egg of the season stuck inside her once, and laid 21 internal yolks the following spring.
She had partial spay surgery in hopes to reduce her reproductive issues, as well as having all the yolks removed. She continued to have issues each spring, but never as bad thankfully.
Our records show she was likely born in July of 2009. That made her 5 years and 7-8 months old. For an egg-laying hen, that’s pretty average or even on the old side a bit. I wish she could have lived to be as old as our bantam Olivia lived, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Last week I noticed she was straining a bit to poop, so I took a good look at her. Her belly felt okay, so I gave her some extra water and watery treats. She continued to have trouble, so we got her into the vet’s office. Unfortunately, her abdomen was so full of reproductive tumors that they were pushing her other systems out of the way, making it difficult to expel waste.
Sometimes with old hens, the vet will let me bring them home and let them pass naturally. But in this case, the vet was very clear to say she recommended euthanasia because waste backup would be very uncomfortable for Olly. We agreed and asked to be with Olly when she was euthanized.
I brought some fresh corn treats for Olly and sat with her in the lobby of the vet clinic while they prepared for her. She was in good spirits and loved her corn treats. She perched on my crossed leg and let me tell her what a wonderful, sweet hen she was… my little hoppah.
Then it was time to give her a sedative and let her go to sleep. She needed two sedatives, but she let me hold her in my arms until she was fast asleep and limp. At that time the vet administered the euthanasia drugs and Olly flapped her wings and was gone.
Olly Astro, in spite of her recurring health troubles, was never any trouble. She was always a sweet, wonderful and beautiful hen. A good kid who enjoyed life and loved to hunt for bugs. She made many friends in her life, and I know they will all miss her.
Rest in peace, my little hoppah triangle. I love you.
Some time around February 6th, an unknown monster began illegally shooting rescued ducks, geese, coots and other shore birds at the community pond where we placed the rescued Sugarhouse Park ducks. The pond was also home to domestic geese relocated from Wheeler Farm as well as a whole group of rescued pekins and more. Residents who feed and care for the rescued flock were devastated to find their beloved rescues dead and injured. Both Orem Police and the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources are working to find the criminal(s) responsible for this senseless, disgusting tragedy.
As we learned of the tragedy, we went down to the pond to see how we could help. Birds that weren’t killed instantly by airgun pellets have now started to succumb to their injuries. We were able to catch a pekin named Sherman, and pick up a goose named Juliet-Pumpkin. These two are very seriously ill and now in our temporary care.
Sherman duck and Juliet-Pumpkin goose have already racked up $239 in emergency veterinary bills, and tomorrow I expect it could cost another $500+ as Juliet-Pumpkin has surgery to remove SIX pellets from her face, wing, body and knee… and Sherman returns to the vet for a scope to see why he’s not eating.
If you can help support Sherman and Juliet-Pumpkin through their recoveries, we would all be very grateful. We are coordinating their care and recovery, so you can donate via PayPal through us. But please note, we are not a non-profit, so your donation is not tax deductible. Your deduction will go directly to their vet bills though, in its entirety.
You can also donate directly to their veterinarians on Tuesday, February 16th only, from 9am-1pm by calling 1-801-943-3367 and saying you’d like to donate to “Tiffany Young’s care of the duck and goose from the Orem shootings. Dr. Laurel Harris and Dr. Lindsey Woods of Wasatch Exotic Pet Care are treating Sherman duck and Juliet-Pumpkin goose at a great discount. They aren’t billing for their time, just for the cost of supplies, diagnostics and medications. This is a great help to us and we’re so thankful for their generosity.
Thank you for helping us do all we can to help these two surviving individual birds, whose lives matter to so many community members.
This spring, we’ll be handing out packets of healthy duck treats to anyone feeding bread to ducks in the local parks.
The packets will contain cracked corn along with a pamphlet with lots of fun duck info on it, including information on wild v. domestic ducks and suggestions for being good wildlife stewards in public parks.
There’s even a duck diagram and some interesting factoids about ducks.
You can help ducks by making your own packets to distribute in local parks as well. Here’s a .pdf file of the pamphlet to download:
Quacks and clucks,
Tiff and the flock