“Someone brought me this duckling one time,” she remembers. “It was, ‘Oh, you have a duck! Hey, we found this duckling, can you help?’ And that was how it started.”
Soon came more questions, more ducklings and injured ducks. While Susie had learned a lot rescuing Daffy and did her best with the influx, she was far from an expert. She turned to a local bird rescue group.
“The director is incredible. She taught me so much,” she says. “So anytime they would have a duck come in, I would help with the ducks – it was hit by a car, chest ripped open, more car accidents – and it just grew from there, organically.”
Susie and her boyfriend eventually settled in a place with a bit of land and an old Orchid hothouse that would become a sanctuary.
“It was one of my dream visions. When we moved in it was a 16-foot-by-16-foot cement block space. That’s all it was. But it was a solid, stable base, and I was like, ‘Ooh! I bet we can build a pen in here.’”
With the help of fellow volunteers from her local Lions Club, Susie’s vision came to life. Well, sort of.
“My club donated their time to help build it as a service project, which is amazing,” she explains. However, one of the helpers made a small miscalculation. “He made [the pens] really tall. I didn’t realize it until it was too late… I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how am I going to get these ducks, some of which were disabled – into their pens?’”
Serendipity might be Susie’s middle name. They were able to build a wide ramp to accommodate all the birds, including the most disabled, and today, the pen’s height is very popular. Muscovy Prince Eric, who came with his partner Ariel after a dog attack, is particularly fond. “He’s a big dude and he just chills up there. He’s like, ‘I can see the world from up here!’”
Finding a Home
“The sanctuary is officially a 501(c)3 as of September . And it just became a necessity,” Susie explains. “It legitimized what we were doing. I was not just a ‘crazy duck lady’ anymore. I’m a crazy duck lady who has a nonprofit.”
While Susie, with her characteristic optimism and can-do attitude, seems to take things in her stride, running the island’s only waterfowl sanctuary is far from easy.
“If you don’t, no one else will,” Susie says she came to realize. “My nature is to care for things and to help, and so I think that took over.”
Hundreds and hundreds of O’ahu waterfowl can be grateful, including the 80-plus the sanctuary currently cares for. But that’s twice the amount Susie would like to maintain; resources and foster families are often scarce, and the rescues just keep coming.
“Our motto is ‘Rescue, Rehab, and Rehome,’” she explains. “We’ll release the mallards – any of the wild ones like those, we’ll release them if they’re healthy, but everything else we need to find homes for.”
Finding those homes can sometimes take a winding path.
“We got a call from a police officer [with the] Department of Land and Natural Resources here,” she recalls. “Two ducks had been dumped at a homeless camp when they were evacuating it and so he asked if we could help rescue them. So, we went and helped with these ducks and he’s like, ‘I’ve always wanted ducks, but my wife won’t let me.’ And I said, ‘Maybe she’d let you foster for a few weeks while we looked for homes for them?’ He’s like, ‘That would be amazing.’” Susie laughs when she says, “He still has those ducks. And he’s adopted more since.”
Despite some favorable publicity – remember Joey and Chandler’s pet chicken and duck? – it’s true that most people don’t think of keeping waterfowl as pets. According to Susie – and countless other happy duck homes – that’s a mistake.
“They’re loyal and they’re fun and they’re feathery and they’re cuddly,” Susie says, her passion for these unique animals evident in her voice. “They adapt, they learn, and I think that’s why they’re really cool pets. The more attention you give them, the more they’re going to respond to you. You can read them if you just listen. You can communicate with them. They are funny, and they have crazy, independent personalities.”
If that doesn’t at least pique your interest, Susie gives you one more thing to consider:
“They’re big bug eaters. If you have a cockroach, you can just chuck it at them.” She laughs. “They’re guardians! They protect you from evil cockroaches.”