Another Muscovy Tale
I have dozens of Muscovy tales, and after the warm reception from the Thanksgiving Muscovy Tale, I thought I'd post another one, from 2003.
I made sure I saw each of the dozen or so main inhabitants of my backyard lake at least once a week. I finally spied Messy Momma, who had been missing, limping and looking horrid, at the far side of the lake. I whipped out my trusty binoculars to get a better look from my upstairs balcony. She flew a couple of yards into the lake, rather than walk, so she obviously knew something was wrong.
She swam across to my side of the lake and, with a heartbreaking amount of effort, she hoisted herself out of the lake. At this point I didn’t need binoculars. I went downstairs, out the door onto the patio, and opened the patio door. And guess who was standing there—barely.
I touch wildlife only when I have to. Not because I’m afraid to or I think their mom’s won’t touch them if I do. I don’t touch them because they might like it, and if they like it, they might approach other humans. And as we all know, that creates a potentially unsafe situation for the wildlife. But Messy Momma wasn’t going anywhere. She looked up at me and cooed as best she could and the only way I could interpret it was as a cry for help. She had lost her sheen, her feathers were a mess, and she had difficulty holding her head up.
Getting her into one of my wildlife boxes was easy; she practically hopped. This was the first time I touched a grown Muscovy. She was soft and smooth and surprisingly squishy and light. I thought she’d be more dense and substantial. I learned my lesson with Little Guy [and his tragic end] and closed the top of the box—a move she wasn’t too happy about. But I couldn’t handle another projectile duck while I was driving.
My regular rehabber wasn’t available to help, but she did refer me to someone in the Acreage. The Acreage is the rural part of West Palm Beach, where there are no streetlights, you drive in a cloud of your own dust, and you constantly feel like at least one of your tires is flat. The trip took almost an hour, even though the distance was less than twenty miles. When I arrived I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to see. I’m not sure what I thought a wildlife rehabilitation facility would look like, but even if I had spend hours pondering, I wouldn’t have pictured this place.
The rehabber’s house (about 1500 square feet) was front and center, and behind it, for over two acres, were aisles and aisles of cages of all sizes, packed with birds and waterfowl. Upon closer inspection, the birds crammed into cages appeared to have mutilated themselves and/or each other, and the entire “facility” reeked of manure and urine. There was also a man-made pond, around which were over one hundred swans and geese, and two trumpeter swans were in a small enclosure, separated from the rest, evidently because of their aggressive tendencies.
When the rehabber answered the door, the stench of alcohol had already permeated the air. She gave me the grand tour of the facility, with pride, showed me her IRS nonprofit-status certificate, and told me, after examining Messy Momma for ten seconds, that all she needed was a small dose of something called Tylan each day, in fresh water, and that no one else should drink it. She handed me a container of Tylan and at that point there was no way I was prepared to pull off something like that at my house.
I proposed I would donate $100 if she would put Messy Momma in her own cage and treat her. I would call each day to check on her progress, and when she was better, I would retrieve her. The rehabber agreed and showed me to an empty cage. She scooped up Messy Momma, gave her a kiss and a few strokes, and gingerly put her in the cage.
At that moment, a world of contradiction and confusion filled my head. It would’ve been so convenient for the rehabber to live down to my expectations and be a miserable, animal-hating cretin. But instead, all I saw was pain and desperation. I didn’t tell my husband about my day because I knew he’d be devastated. This is the guy who visited an animal shelter–once–and left weeping uncontrollably.
Each day when I called, the rehabber told me Messy Momma was getting better. By the end of the week, she was ready to be picked up. To my surprise, she looked beautiful. Her sheen was back, her feathers were perfectly in place, and she was singing as best as a Muscovy can. And when I brought her home to the lake, she jumped out of the box, flew around my house a couple of times, took a long swim, and preened for hours, right on my fence.
Once I started asking around the animal-caretaker community, I discovered I was the only person who didn’t know that the wildlife rehab business can be dicey. Rehabbing and hoarding can have a lot in common. I have compassion for those whose passion for animals causes them to make poor choices, but I cannot condone hoarding under the guise of helping.
A month later, a friend told me that the Messy Momma’s rehabber died, and that Animal Control had assessed the situation and found that few of the animals were well enough to be relocated. Almost all were euthanized.