I've always spent time around animals, but I've never had many pets. I rode horses growing up, and as an adult I worked on farms and ranches with lots of livestock, and I spent a year as a vet's assistant. Working in close proximity to many animals has always made my life more interesting and I couldn't imagine living a life without animals. But, still, I'd never gotten a pet because I always felt that somehow if the time was right, an animal would choose me to live with it, not the other way around.
The funny thing is that I was right—an animal did choose me. The source of constant surprise about that fact is that that animal is a duck. Yes, I have a pet duck.
Snip the Duck, separated herself from the flock at an early age and chose to be a pet. I raised eight ducklings, and she was always the first one to lead the chorus of quacks in greeting when I stepped into the backyard, and she was the only duckling to follow me around asking for lettuce treats, while the rest remained aloof and skeptical. Now, when I open the gate to the garlic patch in the backyard, she is the duck who bolts through to go hunt for beetles, slugs and moths. Particularly endearing to me is the fact that she eats caterpillars (unfortunately not the fuzzy ones, but the vegetable garden predatory-ones) and cock roaches. It's satisfying to know that my vengeance on the garden pests comes full circle—they are a tasty snack to Snip the Duck but she will turn the valuable protein into eggs that I will turn into delicious baked goods and omelets.
Certainly, one of the things that endears me to this duck is that she is incredibly useful and reliably lays almost 300 eggs a year. That's more eggs than a chicken typically lays, and the eggs are much bigger. She is extremely entertaining from a distance, but she also likes some human interaction. Snip can be quite chatty, and when I weed the garden, she sometimes is right underfoot, nibbling at the soil that I turn up, looking for grubs and worms in the soil I turn over. If she sees me pick up a shovel, she comes 'running' (a fast waddle), because she knows it means lots of goodies getting turned over in the soil for her to nose through.
For a lot of the past year, I've been planning my wedding, and trying to think of ways to make it unique, and a reflection of who we are as a couple. Last fall, a friend of mine was watching this endearing duck behavior in the backyard and said, with a light in her eye, "You should make the duck your Ring Bearer!" Like all ideas that are not my own, I immediately turned it down, saying that it was too risky, who was going to be responsible for the duck during the wedding? How was she going to march down the aisle in the first place?
But, the longer the idea mulled in my head, the funnier it became. I secretly started doing google searches for "duck harness" and "taking your duck for a walk," and I found that there are a lot of duck-crazy people out there—people who put diapers on their ducks and let them live in the house, in addition to people who make a duck harness-diaper combination with special leadrope by hand, for sale for $39.95, plus shipping. I don't think Snip the Duck would ever tolerate a house-bound life, let alone enjoy it —there's no worms, or lettuce! But, the harness idea stuck with me.
I went to Petco. They do not sell duck harnesses. I eyeballed all the dog, cat, rabbit and even ferret-specific harnesses before impulsively settling on a sleek, black adjustable harness and leash set up - made for a chihuaha.
It worked! I had to adjust the harness out as large as possible because duck dimensions are a little less proportionate than a small dog's, then carefully tuck the duck's wings through the straps where a dog's front legs would go, but it was on and buckled! Of course, Snip the duck hated it, and nibbled at the contraption any chance she got, so I had to distract her with food and adventure.
As the wedding date approached, I had to adapt the plan for the duck as it became obvious that she wouldn't really respect the harness apparatus. We decided to use lettuce as a bribe, and the groomsman walking with the duck would just toss the lettuce out in front of her to get her to go forward. One of the many good things about a four-pound duck is that if she stops and won't go forward, she can be gently picked up by the leash and encouraged on.
Snip the Duck, as expected, stole the show and waddled down the aisle, nibbling on lettuce the whole way, seemingly unconcerned by 200 people staring at her.
She solidified her pet status and earned herself a long backyard life even after she retires from egg-laying.