By Kendall De Menech. I would guess that 95% of my animal clients are canine. Maybe slightly less, I have not done the count. But this summer a male mallard duck has crossed the threshold of K9H2O and it has been a wondrous experience. [Click On Image For Full Story]
All critters who come here have to have a nice, complimentary name so I named him after one of my favorite TV characters from NCIS: “Ducky”. I thought the name aptly fit and it was far less pretentious than “Dr Mallard”. Ducky had flown into a big glass window at one of the local prisons and was rushed to my friend Elizabeth’s wildlife rescue center. The mallard had severe brain damage that affected his balance. His left wing was damaged and I believe he also injured his right hip. He would try to walk, would fall and flip to his back. With orange feet kicking in the air he would helplessly lay there until someone came and turned him upright. Moments later he would again be stuck on his back. He did not have the ability to push with his wings and roll himself over and his legs were too weak to hold him up. But he had a great appetite and was wild enough to peck and bite at your hand if you got too close.
So, I said I would take him. Why do I do these things? He arrived in a little portable dog crate. It would be his night time condo. Birds with webbed feet should recover in water, I thought, so I tried him in the pool. He flopped on his back. (Secretly, I wondered to myself if it would be considered animal exploitation to video him on his back in the pool and send the video to Youtube with the title: “Lady with indoor pool teaches duck to do back floats!” Too unscrupulous, I decided.)
I thought water walking might be good therapy thus helping him to strengthen muscles and relearn a proper gait. It worked really well but symptoms of brain damage showed in that he could only walk or swim in clockwise circles.
To encourage him to go left, not always right, I filled the pool with balls, a big yellow plastic duck I call Bill and a piece of blue foam noodle and two bricks and a stick. Sometimes I would float his food dish in there too (drive through at McDuckald’s) and he seemed pretty happy. He spent a lot of time trying to step up on to the bricks.
He would lose his balance, fall back and then try again. If a ball got in front of him he would stare it down, then poke it out of the way. After a few weeks he started turning counter clock wise and would sit every so proudly on top of his brick perches.
Phase three in physio was putting Ducky out on the grass under a big wire cage. He loved the sun (what little we have had!) and would preen for hours. And he began practicing walking. Often I would find him kicking at the sky but once turned over he would try walking forward in his tottering way. To maintain his balance, he learned to push his tail feathers or the tip of one wing through the wires. Having the grass underneath seemed to give him texture and grip and slowly but surely I find he is staying upright longer and even turning himself over from his back to an upright position!
I have spent hours sitting beside him and watching him. He is so gorgeous with his blue-teal-purple-green hued head, white collar around his neck and brown and cream belly feathers. He has indigo flashes on his wings and confident eyes. I wondered why this bird came my way. Yes, I asked to take care of him but I wondered why he was here. Then I began to explore what I can learn from this bird. Here this wild creature who has suffered a brain injury swims not five feet away from me and I have the gift of time and of observation.
The World According To Ducky
So, I keep a pen and paper handy and here are a few tips from Ducky that might help me or others who are faced with sudden changes to their daily life.
- Never give up. No matter what the diagnosis or what people expect for you, don’t listen to their negatives. Decide for yourself that things will turn out just fine.
- Keep your sense of humour and play!
- Try to get up to eye level with everyone. Stand on the brick and be proud.
- Enjoy eating and drink lots of water.
- Try, fall, try, fall, try, fall, try, fall. Soon you will walk.
- More of your body is normal compared the smaller portion of your body that is damaged. Keep focusing on the healthy parts of your body and the rest will soon follow.
- If your body is weak on one side, make more use of the opposite side of your body. If your left leg is damaged remember to use your right arm.
- Time! Give it time. Trust that improvement will come if you give it enough time. Be patient. That is something humans do not do well but ducks appear to be very good at.
- Frustration is ok but anger and resentment are wasted emotions. Don’t burn calories on negative feelings. Expect and accept help. Biting the caregiver is ok.
- Preen a lot and take care of yourself. No matter how lousy you feel, take out the old feathers so new ones can come in and strive to look beautiful. Wash, comb, trim and coif.
- Its ok to rest. And when you rest, enjoy it because it is a gift.
- Don’t listen when people say: “Oh you poor thing!” Stay feisty and remember that no matter how injured you are, it could have been worse. It is better to fly into a prison window because it is certainly harder to try to fly out of one!
- By all means, get into the water and swim. Its fun, painfree and good for all creatures.
- Never let them see the whites of your eyes (actually, ducks don’t have them).
Ducky will be with me for another month and I am hopeful he will show marked recovery. Between the kiddie pool, his bedtime crate, the backyard pen and occasionally the big pool, he leads a busy life. He is calmer around people but still wild and the little round bruises from peck-bites on both my hands and forearms are proof of that. I think he will enlighten me more with his wisdoms. I think he has a lot more to do in the next few weeks. I look forward to quiet afternoons sitting beside him as he swims, with my pen pressed to the paper and coffee in the mug.
K9 H2O:Kendall De Menech owns and operates K9 H2O which hosts an indoor canine aquatic facility with diverse and multifunctional programming.
Secluded in a casual working environment, the facility offers an 80,000 liter, warm water indoor swimming pool, retrofitted and sanitized to accommodate dogs.
All swims are by appointment only. Please call or fax to: 604-864-2284.