Monday, November 28, 2016

I wish I could rewrite the ending on this one

I have most Mondays off, so on nice days, I go hiking at one of the many parks in the area. Last Monday, I spent most of the morning and early afternoon hiking and, on the way home, tired and muddy, I drove through Lincoln Park, a small residential park with a few trees and a pond. As I drove by the pond, I noticed a woman in the middle of the road. In front of her was a duck, struggling to drag itself out of the street.

I pulled over and got out of my car, and at that point, the duck, a mallard, had managed to get himself into the grass. He seemed comfortable enough, though wasn't moving to walk or fly away, despite his wariness of the humans standing around him. A man who'd also been driving by told the woman and I that he had called animal control. He drove away and the woman, who had a car full of kids, soon followed him, thanking me as she left. 

“I guess this is my problem now,” I thought, and went back to my car. After texting some friends and Joe, I came to the conclusion that I’d wait for animal control but try to find another option in the meantime. I called Brukner Nature Center, which does wildlife rehab, and the woman I spoke to told me that, if I was able to capture the duck, I could bring it to them. Knowing what animal control would do should I leave the duck there, I decided to at least try to capture him. How hard could it be to capture an injured duck? 

SPOILER ALERT, it turns out it’s super hard! 

Joe left work early (which is ridiculous and also why I love him) and stopped to get a box and some towels. We tried to capture the duck once he got there, but it FREAKED OUT and also all the other pond ducks and geese came over to see what we were doing and swarmed around us like a bunch of duck-zombies, hungry for brains bread, and in the midst of all the confusion, our duck got into the water. 

So. At that point, we could have given up. But instead we went to Meijer and bought a net. 

We rushed back to the pond and saw the duck, which we (stupidly) named Lincoln, sitting on the little plank-ramp that the ducks use to climb out of the water. He wasn’t able to climb all the way out, so he was just sitting at the end. And unfortunately, every time we got near him with the net, he swam away to the middle of the pond where we couldn’t get to him. 

We decided to leave for the night, since it was getting dark, and try again in the morning. We tried for an hour the next morning, but were still unsuccessful. I came to visit Lincoln during lunch and again after work, each time feeling more and more useless. When I visited him that night, I was at first hopeful that he had gotten out of the water, as all of the ducks were huddled together in the grass next to the pond. But as I walked the path, I soon found him, still in the water, on the complete opposite end of the pond. He was still swimming away every time I got near him, but not quite as quickly. And he was all alone. 

I went home and cried to Joe, but we decided that, at that point, we should probably just let it go. He didn’t want to be caught. I’d spoken with someone from the parks department earlier that day, who told me that it’s extremely difficult to catch a duck that doesn’t want to be caught, but that they would try to catch him the following day. It made me feel a bit better, but I still felt like I’d failed in some way. If only we’d been able to get him before he got back in the water. If only. 

The next day, I went to work as usual, hoping that the parks department would have better luck than I did. Joe texted me around lunchtime, saying he wanted to try one more time to catch Lincoln. It turned out that my kind-hearted husband, also feeling badly about the duck, had gone by to see whether the parks department had been there. They hadn’t, and Lincoln was still in the water. He wasn’t swimming away as he had been the day before, so Joe thought maybe we could catch him this time. 

All of our duck-catching gear (which at that point consisted of two towels, a box, work gloves, a net, some bread, and a dog crate) was still in the back of my car (because you never know when you might need to catch a duck), so we were all set. We got to Lincoln Park and formulated a plan. I was cautiously optimistic but trying to tamp it down, as my optimism had gotten us nowhere so far. 

On our first attempt, Lincoln swam away again. He slowly made his way to the other side of the pond. I decided to stay on one side while Joe walked to where we thought Lincoln was headed. He crept up to the edge of the pond, slowly dipped the net in front of Lincoln, and Lincoln swam right into it. Joe scooped him out of the pond, easy as anything, and made his way toward me. 

Guys, I wish I could adequately describe the jubilation I felt as I watched Joe walk toward me, Lincoln safely in the net. I dropped the bread I was holding and sprinted to the car to get the crate ready. Joe deposited Lincoln into the crate and we made our way to Brukner, hoping that we’d gotten him in time. 

Brukner is about a 40 minute drive from where we live, and we spent the entire trip alternating between excited chattering and sitting in happy silence. Every now and then I’d break the silence with, “REMEMBER THAT TIME YOU CAUGHT A DUCK?” and we’d start laughing hysterically. 

(We also later realized that there was a guy fishing in the pond the entire time we were trying to catch Lincoln, someone who watched us scoop him into a net, put him in a dog crate, and then quickly drive away. I hope we gave him a fun story to tell on Thanksgiving.) 

Once we arrived at Brukner, we were able to transfer Lincoln into their care easily. I filled out a form, they gave us a patient card so we could call and check on him, and we were done. We both went back to work, feeling happy that we’d tried our best to help. 

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending. 

Brukner was closed on Thursday and Friday, and when we called on Saturday, they told us that Lincoln had died. They did everything they could, even taking him to an outside vet, but, after all that, his injuries had just been too extensive. 

I wish I had something deep to say here. But I don't. It just sucks. 

Even now, a few days later, I still find myself tearing up about that duck. I spent five days fixated on him, thinking about how to catch him or what was happening to him at Brukner. Our giddy happiness at having caught him turned into an impressive display of grief (we cried a lot and then impulse-bought a brass duck statue that we found at a vintage-y store) for an animal we’d known less than a week. 

If I’m honest, lately I’ve been feeling frustrated about the many terrible things happening in the world, things that I cannot change, or situations that have no easy fix. And here was a situation in which I could actually do something. There was a hurt animal in front of me. I knew exactly how to help. Someone else gave me the knowledge, I had all the tools. And I still failed. 

I keep wondering how my week would have gone had I driven home a different way. Or if I had just ignored the situation and driven by instead. I probably would have worried about the duck for a bit, then placated myself with thoughts that someone else probably dealt with it. Maybe that’s how the people I met last Monday are feeling. Several people happened upon Lincoln while I was waiting for Joe to get there with supplies, and each one seemed supremely relieved when they realized I’d taken ownership over this sad little duck. I'm a bit jealous of them, really. They can at least tell themselves that the duck was probably fine, since someone was there helping. I wish I could have done more.

Still, as disappointed as I am, I just keep reminding myself that there are ways to help. 

Brukner Nature Center, and other organizations like it, can always use donations, whether the donations are monetary or items like animal food or blankets. If you’re able to give, they’ll put these items to good use, helping animals like Lincoln, or educating children and adults in the community on how to safely interact with wildlife, both healthy and injured.  

I know that, because of organizations like Brukner, many other animals are successfully rehabilitated. I’m so thankful that a place like this exists in our community and that, when faced with this situation, I had an expert (other than Google) to talk to. I wish there had been a better outcome for Lincoln, but we happily made a donation so that the experts at Brukner can continue helping animals like him. It doesn’t feel like much, not really. But sometimes it has to be enough.