As a child of veterinarians, I had an unusual relationship with animals. It was not atypical for us to stop the car and help a turtle cross the road, or for some bird to be nursed back to health from the confines a shoebox in the bathroom. I remember taking a juvenile red-tailed hawk to a wildlife rehabilitator with my father as a teenager. Once, my mom had me stop oncoming traffic while she wrapped a wounded groundhog trying to cross the road in a towel. But, I think my favorite animal rescue memory is George.
We were at a bustling, hectic outlet mall. There was a large pond with an arching walkway over it where people would feed the ducks, where we were walking through with giant mesh reusable bags, even before those were trendy.
My mom spotted a bedraggled duck under a bush, with his feathers pecked away, showing puckered skin, and scabby crusted eyes. She told me to watch for anyone passing by while she quickly emptied a bag, scooped the unresisting duck up, and tucked him away in a grocery bag. We bolted out of there, with my mom telling me not to look back and to calm down so I wouldn’t give us away.
I’m not sure when he became dubbed George, but we took him out to the barn shortly after his arrival. My mom fed him bagels soaked in Ensure and conjured other medical miracles to get him on the mend. He would come waddling up excitedly to see us, and would shake his beak and splatter Ensure everywhere while he ate.
At some point, we repurposed our old plastic turtle sandbox for his swimming pool. I loved seeing George dabbling and flapping and dunking himself underwater in his swimming pool. He was a beautiful mallard with the metallic green head and rich brown coloration. We tried to gradually move the pool out to the pond as he got stronger, but he would always come at a duck-sprint up to the barn whenever any of us ventured out, gabbing happily. He eventually found a few misfit duck friends on the pond and ventured up less and less, but could always be seen swimming and diving just under the surface, webbed feet sticking up out of the water.
George lived on our pond for five or so years, but one day didn’t make his regular sojourn to us. My mother found some feathers in the field bordering the pond, so it seems our resident fox finally got the best of George.
I think my strange, thrilling childhood taught me to keep an eye out for the miraculous animals all around, even in a city or the suburbs.
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