When we were kids growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, we delighted in our cat’s hilariously conditioned response to the electric can opener. This cat could be anywhere in the house (admittedly, not all that far in an 18’ Airlite row home) but if anyone pressed the lever for any reason, she would come running as fast as her calico legs could carry her. My brother, I think, first figured out that it was not necessary to actually be opening a can of cat food in order to trigger this reaction. (You can fill in the blanks re: that boyish pastime.) And, yes, we occasionally opened cans of other kinds of edibles not normally on the feline menu, like, say, cannellini beans. Nevertheless, on the off-chance that it just might be dinner (or second breakfast) our cat invariably rushed to the kitchen to make sure she got her kitty dibs in.
We got rid of the electric can opener years ago (next to a trash compactor, is there any more vestigial appliance?!) but Pavlov’s lessons live on. With our ducks, it’s not just food-related, it’s Pamela-related. They’ve apparently decided that she’s their Big Sister and whatever she’s doing, it’s a lot more fun than what they’re doing and they want her to come out and play (or feed them) RIGHT NOW. One way they know she’s around, of course, is to hear her through an open window.* Or, if the girls catch a glimpse of us when it’s just about mealtime, Peep starts the chant and the others join on the refrain: Quack, Quack, Quack, Quack, QUAAAAACK. To make it worse, the now-ironically named Peep has developed this raucous QUACK that sounds like a drunk at someone else’s party.** I recently asked one of our neighbors if Pamela’s quack-triggering antics with the puppyish ducks ever bothers her. She said not at all and then added, that one with the really loud voice is so cute. (Urgh, sure hope that cute doesn’t get tired….)
If there’s one thing, however, that triggers an automatic quackfest it has to be the garden gate. Our babies have been conditioned to connect that special squeak of the latch combined with the kind of cedar board slam only a 4th grader can achieve as “hello, ducks, I’m home—wanna play?” Problem is, everyone has to use this gate and sometimes, poor things, it’s me not PJ coming around the house. Like our old cat and the burrrrr of the can opener, when the girls hear the squeak, they start quacking and, in five-duck formation, waddle up for food and/or fun. Often I have to console them when they realize it’s grumpy old Mama Duck not Sis but they usually accept the offered bath or water bowl fill-up with laudable flexibility.
Meanwhile, we’ve been letting the flock roam at-will in our large yard but, surprisingly, getting them to pen-up at night has been fairly effortless. (Try that with a cat!) Since we’ll eventually leave town on vacation and will need to show the pet sitter the ropes, this is a real bonus. We already know they’re more likely to go inside if duck kibble is on offer but how to find them if they’re avoiding the heat in some hidden area? That’s right, it’s easy. Just slam the garden gate like you’re a 10 ½-year-old. That should do the trick.***
* I, myself, have taken to keeping my voice down sometimes, which feels oddly as if I’m being duck-stalked in my own home.
** Her original, pre-arrival name was Quack inspired by the famous children’s story by Robert McCloskey. We changed it to Peep because that’s all she said as a duckling. Joke was on us, as usual. (And Gladys was supposed to be Ouack. Ouch.)
***If that fails, we can always try to find the old can opener.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes
Shades of Farmer Duck! QUAAAAAAK!
Probably their favorite reading material!