Even through a fire door, a cat can hear things. Especially things that go peep. When I surprised our tortoiseshell Lulu hovering by that food-free area, I knew the hatchlings had made it through the night. I had been totally prepared to act like a new mom, getting up periodically to check on the babies. Then I surprised myself by sleeping straight through. Guess I was more confident in my brooding area prep than I thought or maybe I was plain old fried.
Tugging open the door, I smiled in relief as the first duckling to come into view proved to be the hapless Gladys. She staggered around under the brooder lamp but she was moving, in fact, they were all moving, the rest venturing easily between feeder and waterer– still upright with some water in its base. As I watched, the others retreated back to the hot spot under the lamp and then Gladys on her own ambled over to the waterer and drank by herself. She didn’t take any crumble but I was happy to see her still managing to hydrate on her own. My sleep-refreshed eyes, however, saw that her poor head looked even worse this morning. I braced myself for the upcoming vet visit.
“Make way for duckling!” I announce, shamelessly, as I sauntered into the lobby with Gladys in a plastic cat carrier. The joke fell rather flat, I have to admit, as no one could actually see the purported duckling plus the others had their own animal woes with which to contend. I slunk over to the sunniest spot I could find and tried to keep the hatchling as quiet and warm as possible. Mentally berating myself for neglecting to grab a towel to cover the cage (no way it was 95 degrees in here), I decided I would have to be her substitute brooder, pro-tem. This meant sticking my fingers through the cage and when that didn’t work, opening the top and letting her lean against the palm of my hand, instead of the fluffy flanks of her peers. Periodically she would run around like a crazy duck, emitting her distinctive whistle-peep distress call. But, alas, none of the other ducklings came running….
Throughout the wait, I kept up what I hoped was a suitably soothing commentary (“hang in there, little one, you’re going to be fine”) and the like. Have no idea whether that helped or irritated her; it certainly helped me! The mostly dog owners present asked reasonable questions to bide the time. Did you find her in the park? Does she have a broken wing? Did you rescue her? And so I quickly sketched the We Bought Six—No Five—Ducks on the Internet story. As dachshunds, not ducks, are the lower Westchester norm, it’s fair to say that Gladys drew a certain amount of attention.
One of the receptionists came over to take down my answers on the registration form so I could continue to calm the frantic duckling rather than wield a pen. It was in this moment, of course, that Gladys truly became Gladys. Up to this point, even though I had dubbed her that, we had put off officially naming any of hatchlings because of the confusion over how many birds and what kinds we eventually would have. It was a kind of naming limbo and this was our first step out of that uncertainty. I can’t remember the actual order and substance of the questions but it went something like this:
“What is she?” A Welsh Harlequin duck. (whistle)
“How old is she?” Three days. She hatched on Monday. (peep peep)
“What’s her name?” Gladys. Her name is Gladys. (whistle PEEP!)
And that was that.*
The Duck Expert’s colleague, call her Dr. X, confirmed some of what I suspected and gave me a best case/worst case scenario. A. Gladys could just be developing slowly and she may get better on her own. Or B., she may seem to get better and then you find her dead. Aieeeeeee. The opening in her scalp did not appear to be oozing brain fluid (nice) but I would need to apply antiseptic gel there twice a day to help improve healing. (OK, I can do that.) The doctor agreed that the erratic motor skills might indicate some kind of neurological issue but there was a possibility she might “grow out of it.” It was too early to tell. She may also never be a completely normal duck.
As Dr. X and I watched, the assisting technician made a nest out of his hands and Gladys finally settled down, totally tuckered out. I tried to take in all the instructions as I considered the impact on Pamela of a duckling sudden death, how to manage a sick duck if we had to go out of town and other new responsibilities. (Keep her separate from the others if they bother her. Weigh her every day. Weigh the others. Let us know how she does, either way. Good luck.)
Or she might grow out of it.
In the lobby, everyone couldn’t be nicer. Everyone was rooting for her. Everyone wished us well. All you have to do in this world is speak nicely and carry a cute duckling.
Please grow out of it, Gladys.
* To further seal the deal, Gladys got her first email from on April 21st, 2012. A Happy Birthday animated cartoon from the vet. Really.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes