“Want to know what it’s like living with a houseful of pets while still holding onto your sanity? You’ve got to read Amy Peterson’s warm and funny book about her experiences coping with all manner of animals. Not only will you get a lot of laughs but you’ll also pick up some valuable tips about co-existing with your own critters!” – Bob Tarte, author of Enslaved by Ducks, Kitty Cornered and Fowl Weather.
This excerpt is from Chapter 7, Bumpkin, of Something Furry Underfoot. Nicole is a student co-worker, Mark is the author’s husband. Preceding this is Tip #37: A domestic duck can have as much personality as a dog.
On April 17, 2007, at around 3:00 p.m., Nicole approached me at work with a large shoebox, the contents of which was peeping. Word had gotten out that I was taking possession of a duckling, so with my new charge in hand and a half dozen co-workers gathered `round, I lifted one corner of the lid. Before I could see inside, the creature pushed upward on the lid of the box, and within seconds, we were face to face with a bright yellow duckling with orange feet and an orange bill. I heard several people say, “Oh, how cute.” One person asked, “What are you going to do with it?” but all I could do is wonder, “What kind of duck is this?” My next thought was that the little duckling would jump out of the box, so I had no choice but to replace the lid and carry my peeping charge out of the building and to my car.
Because the height of the box was only half the height of the duckling, I couldn’t bear to keep the duckling inside the box if I didn’t have to. Once I was seated inside my car and the door closed, I lifted the lid, took the duckling in my left hand and held it against my chest. It blinked, looked around, but made no attempt to wiggle or get away. So, using one hand to hold my duckling and the other to drive, we made our way the 10 miles home. The duckling never did wiggle; it was as if sitting on my chest was his or her preferred method of travel.
As we drove through the streets of Lansing, East Lansing and into Haslett, I was amazed by the heat coming off its little feet. Duck feet look rubbery, so I wasn’t expecting them to warm my chest. And when we took the turn into my neighborhood and I held the duckling close to my face, I wasn’t expecting its beak to be warm, too.
Once safely home, I carried the duckling inside where we were greeted by two curious dogs and one meowing kitten. The duckling blinked and peeped once in response. I told the three curious fuzzies that this was our new pal, and they would have to get used to it being around.
I carried the duckling down to the bathroom and placed her in a cardboard box I had retrieved from the local grocery store the day before. The box was lined with newspapers and soft towels, the former to throw out each day, the latter because a nest would likely have been soft and fuzzy, or at least not hard, I was thinking, and, well, okay, it was totally irrational to put towels in there, but I did anyway.
Above the box was a trouble light, which provided the primary source of warmth for the little duckling. The proper height of the light was very important—if it was too close to the bottom of the box, the duckling would bake; too far away and it wouldn’t be able to stay warm enough. What constituted too far and too close was completely beyond me and I had to trust that Mark would adjust it based on the fact that he had not baked any of his baby turkeys.
Everything looked to be in order, less the matter of food, and I was contemplating my next move when Mark appeared. Looking at the duckling he remarked, “Oh my, what a cutie. Do you know what kind?”
“I haven’t a clue.”
We stood there and stared at the duckling, who stared back at us, blinking every now and again. Finally, it peeped. Mark began talking to it, introducing himself and telling the duckling it had fallen into good hands. He picked it up and the duckling stopped peeping. As he was babbling on to the happy little duckling I asked, “So, uh, what do baby ducks eat?”
“Duck starter,” he said, and he turned as if snapping out a trance. “They’ll have it at Soldan’s.”
Since Mark had immediately assumed the role of the alpha male duck, I assumed the role of the alpha female duck, meaning, while he took up vigilance of the duckling, I found myself driving the fifteen minutes or so to a pet store in search of something I didn’t know existed. As I drove, I had plenty of time to ponder why anyone had named the substance I was looking for “duck starter.” The word “food” worked for just about every other species of animal, and the duckling I was going to feed had already started out in life without the substance I was looking for, so what I really needed was “duck keep growing.” On the other hand, I pondered, why isn’t human baby food called “kid starter”?
After wondering if anyone else has these types of issues, I asked the Soldan’s staff if they had duck starter. I was directed to the back corner of the store where, sure enough, there were five and ten pound bags of this pulverized pale tan-looking stuff labeled so that even I could determine what it was. The store also had turkey starter, which is probably how Mark’s turkeys had started out and why Mark knew duck starter existed.
After I found the duck starter, I wondered what other things I might find in the store for ducks, so I wandered up and down the aisles looking for duck grower, duck finisher, duck preening supplies, duck bathing gels, something else for ducks. I found row after row of stuffed toys and bones and food and kitty litter and even horse supplies, but nothing for ducks. To be sure I hadn’t missed something, I asked the clerk at the desk. She was a long-haired brunette with a narrow, horse-like face, a neck like a Rottweiler and a rear end like a hippo.
“Do we have what?”
“Anything for ducks besides duck starter?”
“Like—?” she asked, turning her mane sideways and snorting like a piglet.
“Like, you have all these squeaky toys and beds and bones and everything for dogs, so, what do you have for ducks?”
“Ducks only need food and water and to be kept safe and warm,” she said, waving a fat panda-like claw.
“And ducks are different than dogs, then, in what way?”
“Dogs are fuzzy and loyal; ducks are feathery and messy?” she asked, her face wrinkled like a perplexed monkey.
“And that explains why you don’t have anything else for them besides duck starter?”
As I drove home with my little bag of food, I couldn’t help but count the number of stuffed toys we’d given to my childhood dogs, Candy and Ashley—God rest their souls—the plush beds they didn’t use because they’d slept with me, and the rawhide bones that once littered our house. How ridiculously spoiled our beagle and cocker spaniel had been, since all they needed was food and water, safety and warmth. And of course, we’d taken spoiling to a new level with Dusty and Little Dipper.
But rather than pondering the hundreds of dollars wasted on dogs, as I pulled into the driveway with my first of what would be many bags of duck starter, I came to appreciate ducks for their simple needs.
“Have any problems?” Mark asked. He was sitting on the bathroom floor while the duckling was running about, pecking at the newspaper.
“Walked right to it,” I smiled.
After tucking the duckling in the box, Mark took the bag and sprinkled some of the powdery stuff on top of the water bowl. This created a circular pattern of spinning tan speckles.
“That’s fascinating,” I said. I turned my attention to the duckling, who was also watching the water spin around.
“See, ducks are attracted to things that move,” Mark explained. “In the real world, it’s stuff like bugs and worms. But here, when powdery food is placed on water, it creates movement. The duckling will peck at it, realize its edible, and in no time, start eating the Purina duck starter.”
I raised a skeptical eyebrow and waited for Mark to stop adding duck starter to the water, for the water to almost stop moving. I was about to sneer when the duckling stepped up to the bowl, dipped his head in the bowl, mucked up his beak and began to eat. And while it ate, it peeped. It was the cutest thing to hear a duck happily peeping away while eating. At times, it peeped with its head in the food-water mixture and made bubbles.
Convinced that the little duckling would survive we named her Bumpkin.
Tip #38: Dogs and cats can be trained not to eat baby ducks.
Review for Something Furry Underfoot:
Story Circle Book Reviews by Laura Strathman Hulka:
The book is presented to the reader with magic (the name of one of their bunnies) and great appeal. Whether you have pets of your own, had them in your childhood, or never understood the pull of being owned by a remarkable pet, this book will make you smile, laugh out loud and grimace in sadness. You will close the book with regret that it is over—and, yes, feel the urge to run to the animal shelter to see what enchantment you can find for yourself and your family. “See, every fuzzy and feathery that enters our lives has a story. And I believe it is our job as humans to make their stories as good as possible.”
When Amy married Mark in 1994, she became a stepmother to four children ages three, five, 13 and 15. Unable to find uplifting self-help books about step-parenting, Amy documented her own humorous, stressful experienced in From Zero to Four Kids in Thirty Seconds. This helpful, how-to book includes over 50 tips for step moms and is a fun, entertaining read.
At the same time Amy was thrown head-first into the world of step motherhood, she was also unwittingly plunged into the world of pet ownership, thanks also to Mark. Something Furry Underfoot documents Amy’s adventures in learning how to care for and spoil a variety of pets and how she ultimately fell for each one. In Something Furry Underfoot readers will meet a male hedgehog that escaped several times for encounters with a female hedgehog and fathered several unplanned litters of baby hedgehogs; a domestic duckling that out-pecked two dogs and a formerly stray cat; and a ferret that cost $1,200 in vet bills. Readers will also learn how it’s possible to get nine hamsters for the price of one (and why Mark wanted to keep all 8 babies), and why Amy’s second mynah bird is named BOGO. A portion of the proceeds from Amy’s book will benefit animal rescue organizations.
Amy works for the state of Michigan and lives with Mark and numerous critters. When not working or caring for animals, she tends to get into trouble while traveling and while trying to catch fish that are inevitably larger than Mark’s.
www.amylpeterson.com is where Amy blogs about nature, pets and life
Other books by Amy Peterson: