“Did you say ‘duck’?” the nice man at the pet-sitting agency asked politely.
“Yes, ducks, plural, we have five,” I think I replied. He didn’t hang up. I breathed a sigh of relief.
As it turns out, mine was not the only call for “exotic” pet care that day. Apparently, some lady in Manhattan acquired a potbelly pig and beat me to the Weird Call of the Day Award. So when I anxiously dialed the 800 number, the fellow who answered didn’t miss a beat when I told him we had a bunch of backyard ducks that needed sitting. Well, not sitting exactly. They could handle that part on their own. More like feeding, watering and hosing down their pen. Hmm, ducks. Where are you exactly?
We’re in lovely, leafy suburban Westchester County, New York, where you’re more likely to find dachshunds than ducks, poodles than Pekins but like all clichés, this one is not as true as you’d think. In fact, we’re close to exurban areas of both Connecticut and New York and there are plenty of poultry aficionados nearby–the pet supply stores carry lots of chicken feed so they must be feeding someone’s birds!*
When we first ordered the ducks back in January, my husband murmured something about “what are you going to do when you go out of town?” but I pooh-poohed the problem. To be absolutely honest, I was a tad uneasy but having so much else to think about—from fencing to feeding—I filed it under “future issue.” And now the future is here, or, a couple of weeks ago, it was. That was when I realized that staying home and keeping the girls company all summer (as amusing as that might be!) wouldn’t fly with the rest of my family. They/we had existing commitments, reservations, graduations, mosquito-avoidance schemes, frequent flyer miles to spend…in short, we had vacation plans. I love my ducks but there are limits.** And the limits did not include giving them unlimited free-range day and night. We needed a reliable, capable, flexible human but where would I find such a friend of fowl?
In the beginning, I had airy notions of bonding with other fans of the feathered, swapping bird-sitting duties or trading eggs for care, that sort of thing. I told people I could check out 4-H, Meetups, even crash an Audubon Society shindig or two. But once we got going and I realized how much of a commitment this would be—getting the girls in/out of the pen at certain times of the day, keeping their areas clean, possibly even pushing that coop/pen structure around—I realized this was more than I could ask from a friend or neighbor. (That is, if I still wanted them to be friends and friendly neighbors!)
My next laudable scheme involved calling our fabulous animal hospital and floating the idea by them. They had a kennel service but it didn’t (normally) extend to farm animals, especially not a whole flock of teenaged waterfowl. (And most of their patients didn’t provide breakfast daily—hmm, that might be a selling point…) So when that didn’t pan out, I got back on-line and perused the various Craigslist-style options but worried about the casual structure and the almost guaranteed non-poultry experience aspects of the arrangement. Plus, at this point–the ducks were just about 2 months old–I had no idea what to expect. Or even what to ask for. They were still in my garage when I started the research so I wasn’t entirely sure what their ultimate needs would be when they actually lived outside 24/7. I had one (webbed) foot still in their starter pen and one in the backyard coop. Awkward, to say the least.
Then, my search engine actually coughed up something useful. A company in Texas offers locally-managed, reliable, bonded, insured professionals with email/voicemail/on-line billing, in short, 21st century technology for All Your Pet Sitting Needs. Sounds like my kind of peeps.
On the appointed orientation day (yes, they scheduled a session to go over everything one-on-one, very reassuring), Chuck (not his real name) rolled up in a big, black pickup truck, on time and at the right place. (He saw the big yellow “Duck Xing” sign on the mailbox and figured it out!) Since he had never sat ducks, I had never hired someone to sit ducks and the ducks had never been sitted (help, grammar check!), there was a lot of “start with two scoops and see what they eat,” “hose it down as needed could be once, could be twice a day,” “check for predator activity—if they leave a business card, let me know” — that sort of thing. I felt soothed by his capable, laid-back manner and felt as calm as a new duck mom could feel knowing she had to leave her babies under a stranger’s care for 3 ½ days, a scant week after letting them sleep outside for the first time.
Of course, this didn’t stop me from giving the sitter a detailed print-out of all the things I thought I forgot plus all our contact info and a cheery thanks from everyone, with the ducks’ names individually listed (as if that would be useful in an actual poultry emergency….)
And then, at last, departure day arrived. I packed up the car, checked the stove, locked the doors, locked the windows, checked the stove again, set the alarm and drove off, the eerie robot voice of the GPS overlaying the backup whine of my SUV.
Luckily, the girls were in the backyard and didn’t see me leave. Someone surely would have cried and I don’t think it would’ve been Peep.***
Stay tuned for the next thrilling episode when Mama Actually Makes It Down the Driveway Without Turning Back!!!
*Pamela and I met some locals sorting through poultry fencing options at our nearby Home Depot. Been there, bought that!
**I guess I love my vegetables slightly less; they did much worse without me. *Sigh*
***Or Gladys or Puff or Bonnie or Fannie.
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes