An hour or so later, Bob and I walked into a 24-hour animal hospital toting a duck in a bag.
On arrival, the vet staff asked if we were dropping off injured wildlife. There are rules about these things, of course. Unfortunately, once we turned him over, they couldn’t give us updates on rescued wildlife. Wink, wink. Hint taken. I looked at Bob before answering: “No,” I said, “this duck is our pet.”
Alone in the exam room, I assured Bob we would just make sure the duck was cared for. We used the wait time to christen him for their records. What should we call the little troublemaker? I thought of “Q,” the mischievous character from Star Trek. It seemed fitting. (You’d be forgiven for thinking “Q” was short for “Quack,” but as I found out, Muscovies are quackless ducks.)
The emergency vet on duty joined us. He told us he was not an avian/exotics specialist, so he couldn’t be sure what was ailing the little guy. It could be poisoning, infection, something congenital, neurological, broken bones… almost anything, really. Euthanization, apparently, was the standard option for this type of case. That seemed odd. Wouldn’t it make sense to find out what was wrong first? Q was not in distress and was alert. He was hydrated now and had even eaten a good amount of dried corn with wheat and milo for dinner. It seemed like he just couldn’t get up. Luckily, an avian expert could see him the next day if we were willing to come back.
We had only just given Q a name. I looked at my husband and we nodded together.
The next day it was time for x-rays and blood work. Q was still in good spirits, though probably feeling a bit like he’d been abducted by aliens. After the tests, we finally found what was ailing him: the duck equivalent of a major car accident – two pelvic fractures and a cracked vertebra. Amazingly, he was not paralyzed. His digestive tract was fully functioning, too (his medical records noted “good vent tone,” which I learned was not something musical). His broken bones were caused by blunt trauma, they said. Maybe a car hit him, or a bicycle ran over him. While a human would probably need surgery and extensive therapy for injuries like that, Q, they told us, could likely recover with cage rest and some anti-inflammatories. Tough little duck.
It was growing clear, however, that Q would need to recover away from the retention ponds of his youth. Somewhere flat, even, and perhaps with a yard and a water feature to remind him of home. I was considering our rehab options when the vet dropped a bombshell.
You don’t need a permit to keep a Muscovy duck in Florida. Of course, we never intended to permanently keep a duck. Bob and I live in a townhome, the least duck-friendly “home” of all. But here’s the twist: The vet told us that, even if Q made a full recovery, he could never be released back into the wild. Muscovies are considered an invasive species in our state. Once removed from their natural environment, Florida Fish and Wildlife regulations do not allow you to return them. I can’t say I agree with the law, but it is the law.
Now I understood why the vet often had little choice but to euthanize these ducks. There is usually nowhere for them to go. Usually.
My husband was at work while Q and I were at this second vet visit. He still thought we would rehab Q for a few weeks and return him to the park where he came from. Later that evening, I broke the news.
“Q is going to be with us for a while.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“Q will need to be a permanent family member.” Then, without skipping a beat, I added the one thing I knew could sweeten the pot: “I know you’ve always wanted a dog. Now is the time to get one!”