Doctor Duck

On a recent Friday evening, there was an aloof goose standing smack dab in the middle of a nearby busy crossroads, having about as much impact on things as the armless traffic cop it seemed to be.

This wasn’t one of those too-lazy-to-migrate Canadian geese making itself comfortable around here. It was a large, light gray domestic goose, clean and fat. Obviously, somebody had an interest in seeing this bird back where it belonged.

A motorist stopped, chased the goose all around the intersection, lunging and grabbing as drivers watched, until finally catching the critter amidst a small puff of snowy soft down. During the chase, the goose uttered not a sound, though the motorist was wheezing and spewing.

An interested observer was a lady on horseback, who was in her pasture on the northeast corner. She’s is often seen there with her daughter and others, exercising the horses they keep.

With a bemused expression, the rider said, “I know that goose. It belongs to my neighbors, but they’re not at home right now. Put it in here with me and I’ll see that it gets home.”

Later, the goose’s owner explained, “The goose’s name is Babe. It has been with us almost all its life, but something killed its companion awhile back. I think it’s lonely and is going out looking for a new friend.”

Anybody who has been around ducks and geese knows about their high level of intelligence. Hunters must go to extraordinary lengths to get close enough to shoot them, often dressing in clothes meant to make them invisible, but more often making them appear like under-watered shrubbery with a pot belly.

In the 1980’s, in south Texas, there was a white domestic duck named Doc, after the veterinarian who saved her from a careless child at Easter time. Doc couldn’t walk, but she could scoot around in circles, using her one good leg for locomotion and dragging the crippled one behind. She swam in her kiddie pool the same way, in tight circles, softly quacking and frequently ducking her head, intuitively looking for food in the colorful plastic bottom.

Doc’s companion was Sugar Ray Duck, an orphaned mallard hybrid, rescued at an early age from certain death at the bills of a brood of purebred mallards he tried to adopt. He earned his name after being watched enduring their attacks for several days. Eventually, he was snagged with a long handled crabbing net and introduced to Doc, in the kiddie pool.

It was love at first quack, as mature Doc and youthful Sugar Ray found in each other companionship and affection otherwise missing.

Their routine was simple. Doc spent days in the yard, alternately scooting or swimming in circles, eating cracked corn and napping in the magnolia shade. Sugar Ray swam in the wide, lazy creek behind the yard and sometimes flew far away, but late every afternoon he would return to Doc in the yard.

At night, they slept in the laundry room, in a second kiddie pool, lined with old blankets, dishes of water and corn placed along the outer edge. On particularly eventful days, Sugar Ray would arrive home late, after Doc had been taken inside. On these evenings, Sugar would land in the yard, jump up the porch steps on wide webbed feet and, using his bill, knock on the door to be let in.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Pause. Tap. Tap. Tap.

The taps never varied and the sudden delight of opening the door to find an

inquiring drake never diminished. Sugar would enter without invitation, waddle across the kitchen, hop down two steps into the laundry room and join Doc in the pool, where a joyful reunion would ensue, as Sugar shared his adventurous day with his homebound companion.

The vet had warned Doc’s caretakers to be sure she got plenty of exercise, as her crippled condition made her prone to pneumonia and other infections. Several times each day, Doc was dutifully held aloft and she would “fly” around the yard, quacking happily, energetically flapping her wings and creating a light shower of downy feathers.

Combined with the swimming and scooting, the exercise was enough for several years, but early one morning Doc was found dead in the laundry room bed, with Sugar Ray alongside her, quietly quacking a low, mournful melody.

Sugar continued their routine alone for several weeks, each night tapping on the door and being let in, only to find his bed empty and lonely. After awhile, he started spending his nights on the creek, returning to the yard only to eat the cracked corn left there for him.

One day, Sugar was seen swimming with three white ducks identical to Doc. These sightings became more frequent, and as time passed, Sugar gave up his daily ration of cracked corn and reverted to the natural life for which he was better suited, happily together with his new friends.

It’s easy to feel empathy for Babe the goose, especially when you know the story of Doc and Sugar Ray.

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