Goodbye, Sneeze; you’ve gone to a better place

The Truck

“Honey… I want to let you know something.”

Oh crap. What did I do this time….

“I’ve been seeing this gray pickup truck driving very slowly through the neighborhood…”

Ah phew… not me. 🙂  We certainly keep our eyes open for things. Seeing vehicles driving slowly, the driver or passengers looking around at things in the neighborhood always perks our interest, but being Christmastime you can’t help but be extra cautious. “OK, just keep your eyes open in case it comes back.”

A little while later, Sasha goes off. She’s a Kuvasz, it’s in her DNA to be a guard dog. And guarding she was.

“Honey… there was this man standing at the edge of our property, out in the road. He was feeding bread to the ducks, but then Sasha went off, he looked up and saw her and took off… he got into that same gray truck and drove off.”

You see, those neighborhood muscovy ducks love to come to our yard. We care for them. Oh sure, I’m tired of all the duck poop, I’m tired of my flowerbeds getting trampled and the plants nibbled down to stumps. But ducks just don’t understand landscaping and property rights like we do. Besides, after all these years we’ve become rather attached to them. Muscovy ducks have a depth of personality. When you get to observe them and interact with them as much as we have over the years, you come to learn a lot about them. Sure, when they first arrived at the neighborhood pond some years ago we had no idea what the heck this odd duck with the red face was… and they perched too. But once we came to know what they were and how they were, gosh… we became rather fond of them.

It’s all Sneeze’s fault.

Sneeze

Butch (left) and Sneeze (right).

I guess it was about 4 years ago when this one duck arrived at our house. He was a bit of a loner, but regularly visited our house. In fact, he rarely left our house. He would plop down in the flower bed by our front door and sit there all day, only moving when the kids would go out to feed him.

We called him our guard duck. 🙂

He eventually earned a name, because he sneezed. Thus, his name, Sneeze.

Sneeze would come and go as the seasons changed, especially mating seasons. But he always came back, and while other ducks would come, eat, and leave, Sneeze would hang out at our house for hours. Sometimes Sneeze might disappear for a few days, which would turn into a few weeks, and even I found myself a little sad to not see the guy on a regular basis. But then one day he’ll show up or we’ll find him down at the pond. The joyous exclamations of “SNEEZE!” ring out from Kiddos as they rush to go greet his return. This repeated for years.

Oldest grew especially fond (and protective) of the ducks, especially Sneeze. Sometimes when Oldest would need to take a little time to himself to chill out, he’d go outside and hang with the ducks calling it his “Duck Therapy”.

 

Say what you will, but there’s no question time with the ducks is therapeutic for Oldest. Time to relax, maybe procrastinate from homework, or act like the Jane Goodall of ducks just observing and learning their behavior.

But there’s one source of great stress when it comes to the ducks. No, not all the poop.

The Roundup.

The Roundup

It happened about 6 months ago. Oldest calls it “The Dark Harvest.” There’s no need to rehash it here… click to read about it.

As soon as Wife mentioned this gray truck and some random person feeding bread to ducks in our yard… well, I figured it was another roundup. I called our HOA management office to confirm but had to leave a message. Oh sure, a strange truck driving slowly to the neighborhood should yield a phone call to the police, but all the signs pointed to another roundup. The workday proceeded, and about 3 o’clock in the afternoon I received a return call.

Yes, another duck roundup.

I spoke with the management person for a while. I expressed my feelings on the matter, I asked questions. I let her know that these men were not conducting themselves appropriately. While they chased ducks, they trespassed on properties I know they did not have permission to tread upon. They were cramming ducks into crates, ducks bent in ways that would impress a yoga instructor. This was not humane treatment, and didn’t do much to foster me trusting their word that the ducks were actually going to some “farm pond up north.” I’ll take them at their word, but it’s my firm belief the ducks are being destroyed (which is rather senseless… muscovy meat fetches a high price and could feed a lot of hungry and homeless here in Austin).

We continued to speak. She framed it as the ducks acting oddly due to overpopulation, but much of their “odd” behavior is actually normal muscovy behavior. But people don’t care… they just see poop and property damage. I can understand that, being a victim of it myself. This is a matter purely of population control, and the muscovy are easy targets because they aren’t legally protected like mallards are (but that’s a whole other matter). Plus I understand the issues of population. I hunt. There isn’t enough predator pressure to keep the muscovy’s in check, so the humans need to clean things up to keep things managed. I totally understand, but there are better ways to achieve this, such as picking up their eggs when they lay a nest. Furthermore, just removing eggs would be far less traumatic to the ducks — and to the children. The management office lady told me flat-out the roundup was scheduled around school schedules so children would not see it. Of course, we homeschoolers get to see everything.

So I’m of mixed emotion on the roundup. The logical part of me fully understands the reasons for it, and I cannot argue with the need for the population control. I can argue with their methodology (especially if they are using a “sedative” in the bread to make the duck capture easier, as any sort of drug they’re using could be ingested by any bird or animal in the area, and could cause massive kidney problems or death… but you know, they’re just fucking birds so who cares, right?). I can argue that egg collection would be a far better regulator as part of a management program, as it’d keep population in check and be less stressful to both birds and residents — think of the children, right?  But then there’s the emotional part of me that can’t stand to see our little feathered friends be captured, knowing their destruction is imminent.

And so it brings us back to today… well… yesterday.

Breaking the News

When I got off the phone with the management office, I gave Wife a briefing.

“Daughter, can you go get your brothers? I need to talk to you guys.”

“What? Is it something bad?” (she could read it on my face)

“Just go get your brothers.”

Daughter fetches her brothers, and they can all see it on my face. They knew about the gray truck. They knew about the man feeding the ducks. They knew. They knew before I told them.

And the tears flowed. 😦

After the last roundup we spent a lot of time talking about what happened. Kiddos had a lot of anger over the situation, and we work to diffuse that. We explain the rational reasoning, and they understand that. But still… these are their little feathered buddies, and it hurts. It breaks their hearts. They know they aren’t our pets, they know every rational fact about the situation; that doesn’t make it any easier.

What hurts the most? Worry about Sneeze.

You see, when the last roundup occurred, we didn’t see Sneeze. Sure we watched the men gather up numerous ducks, the Boys even looked in the back of the truck in the crates to try to identify who was being taken. We couldn’t tell much given how the crates were stuffed full, but we couldn’t see if Sneeze was there. Of course, the men still had more work to do, so who knows if he got picked up after they left our street. For a few days we didn’t see Sneeze and we were all just heartbroken.

Then one day while driving through the neighborhood, I saw him. My heart leapt with joy. The old boy managed to evade capture. 🙂

And so, for the past some months life returned to “normal”… but with another roundup, we worried again if Sneeze would be taken this time. We didn’t want that to happen. The constant worry, the fact that we’re essentially powerless to stop anything… we felt helpless. But a thought entered my head. I didn’t want to say it aloud because I didn’t know if it could happen. But the crazy thing? The kids had the same thought and they said it.

“Dad, what about Crazy K Farm? Could they take him?”

Crazy K Farm

When we first started researching muscovy ducks, I found this website to the Crazy K Farm. The folks there were muscovy duck enthusiasts, which was pretty cool. And look, they’re right over in Hempstead, Texas (just northwest of Houston). It was through them I learned about the misguided and poorly crafted Fish and Wildlife Services CFR 21.54. And by all of that, I exchanged a few emails with Tobi Kosanke (the woman behind Crazy K Farm). I even went and “Liked” their Facebook page, and got to keep up with all the daily goings on at the farm. It just seemed like a wonderful and loving place. I mean, right now Tobi is rehabbing a poor little chicken named “Gimpy”, handfeeding it 20 waxworms 3 times a day. Everything I see about the Tobi and how she runs her ship just exudes love and care. Their rescue work, the products Crazy K makes, it comes from care and love. It just warms my heart.

So… could they help?

I had no idea, but I had to give it a shot.

I called. I got to speak with Tobi. It’s all sudden… here’s some almost-strangers calling out of the blue wanting to know if you could rescue a couple muscovy ducks. But nothing phased Tobi. Sure! Bring them over. I mean, she was familiar with me and my situation already, she remembered me, she remembered what was going on. But still, this all felt very strange to me. “What am I doing?”

“Kids? Go find Sneeze and herd him over to our yard. We’re taking him to Crazy K.”

“Dad? Can we also take Squirt?”

Squirt was born about 6 months ago. Oddly, right about the same time as the last roundup. Sometime in the past month or so we noticed he came to the yard with a limp. He’s been limping on it ever since and just can’t get around that well. The kids feared he’d be an easy target for the roundup.

“OK, we can take him too.”

The mad dash to get going. It was 4:00 PM… a drive to Hempstead from Austin, and dealing with Austin rush-hour traffic would take us at least 3 hours to get there. It’d be well past sunset, dark. Geez… need to secure the house. Turn off the oven (there went dinner). Close and lock the windows, draw the shades. Need to take Sasha out for a pee. Pull the middle seats out of the van, put Sasha’s travel crate in. Gotta get the cat crates down to use to transport the ducks. Need to get dressed. Need to get dinner for everyone. Oh hey… the kids got Squirt into our yard. Hey… that old broken fishing net that Oldest bought at a garage sale some years ago, that’ll be perfect for snagging the duck. OK, got Squirt, into a cat carrier. Kids, go find Sneeze! OK Sasha, eat some dinner. Crap crap crap, need directions. Call Tobi, get directions, let her know we’re coming. OK, there’s Sneeze. Kids, flank him and work him towards the corner, there we got… got him! Into the cat carrier. Sasha, yes yes, we’re going somewhere, hang on. Wife and I running around the house trying to get things ready to go.

What the hell am I doing? What am I thinking? I’m about to drive 3 hours to save a duck (well, 2 ducks). Am I doing this for the duck? Yes. But it’s more doing it for the kids. They can have peace in knowing he’s safe and cared for. But still… I didn’t wake up this morning thinking I was going to be driving 3 hours to relocate a duck. This is part of that whole “life is a journey” thing, isn’t it?

OK everyone, into the car! Honey? Do you have some towels we can use to cover the cages to keep the ducks calm? Thank you! Kids, chill out… John, chill out… we’re all a little on edge. This is all a whirlwind. OK, are we good? Ready? Let’s go.

And so, off we went.

The Farm

Me and Gimpy.

The drive was uneventful, but neat to see all the Christmas lights as we drove through small towns. We grabbed some Burger King and ate it in the car as we drove. Doggie travels very well, thank goodness. And thankfully, the drive itself was generally without event…. but I tell you.. the subtle smell of duck poop sure builds up in the car. 🙂

We arrive at the Crazy K Farm and drive up to the house. Yes, it’s a shame we couldn’t come during the day to really see the farm, but there was a sense of urgency. When we arrived around 8:00 PM, it was dark. Hrm… what’s that I see? Oh yeah, that’s the structure covering the pool. And look kids! Look what’s perched all over it! Muscovy ducks! That gave the children a good sign: a place that welcomes the muscovy!

I could see in the house that they were eating dinner. Ick. I felt bad about that, but Tobi knew we’d be arriving about then and she said that was OK. I left everyone in the car while I went up to the door to introduce myself. I was met by Tobi’s daughter, I introduced myself, and then Tobi came out. It was wonderful to finally meet her.

After the initial greeting formalities and before I went back to the car to bring up the rest of the family I gave Tobi an aside:

“So… am I crazy for doing this?”

“Yes. But so am I, so welcome to the club.”

It’s called “Crazy K Farm” for a reason.  🙂

Meeting Tobi, her husband and daughter, introductions to our family. We left the ducks and Sasha in the car. They have a lot of livestock guardian dogs too, and the mixing of ours and theirs likely wouldn’t go over very well (in fact, it was a link off the Crazy K website that started us on the path to Sasha). And so, we started talking… and got the tour.

No, not so much a tour of the grounds, but a tour of the animals. You see, I’ve told the kids about “Ducky Ducky” and Gimpy and the other animals there at the farm. Of course, the kids wanted to meet them. And so, we got the tour of the animals, getting to meet everyone. Gimpy needed a feeding so the kids got to see that, which left an impression on just how much care goes on here. Much talking. Much joking. The Kosanke’s are so welcoming, so kind, so friendly and jovial. There was just something about them, how they were as a husband and wife, as a family, as people doing what they love in life. I can’t put my finger on it, but there was just something so neat about them and everything. Perhaps it was all the smiling and laughter that tainted my perception, but I think that’s alright.

Squirt, enjoying a head scratch.

Eventually we remembered what we came here for, so we took out the ducks. Squirt went first. We explained the limping and so Tobi held Squirt while her husband checked Squirt’s leg out. He couldn’t find anything externally wrong, so we’re not sure what brings about the limp. But did it matter? This duck got his head scratched and seemed to be in ducky heaven.

The ducks were taken over to the “VIC” room — Very Important Chicken room. It’s a coop that of course held a good number of chickens. Since the ducks are essentially blind at night, Tobi wanted to keep them in there overnight since they’d have no idea otherwise what was going on, where they were, and so on. So Squirt was released. Sneeze went into the VIC in his crate and was released inside the VIC room.

No… he didn’t like it.

He just had no idea where he was, but it was obvious to him it was different — he wasn’t in Kansas any more, Toto.  In fact at one point he tried climbing up the wire mesh walls in an attempt to escape (remember, they’re perching ducks so they have claws in their feet).

The children all said their goodbyes to Squirt and Sneeze.

We went back to the car to get ready to go. I finally let Sasha out. She had been very patient, very quiet (don’t recall hearing her bark or whine from the car). But the moment she got out oh… she was excited. All the smells, everything was new and different. She was hard to control, but only because she was intently curious about where she was. I didn’t take her all the way up to the Kosanke’s, there was still some distance, but there was no barking, no trouble, just excited. Got her to take care of her business, then back into the car for the drive home. We said our goodbyes, but it’s only for now. We will certainly be back. The Kosanke’s invited us to come back any time (and yes, we’ll bring the wine!), and we certainly will.

We drove home, arriving just before midnight. But none of us could go to bed. We were too pumped up from the trip. Of course, being the Internet junkie I am, when I got home I logged onto Facebook and what do I see on the Crazy K Farm Wall for a status update?

Crazy K Farm Gimpy is now at her heaviest by 0.5 ounces! She’s very excited by wax worms and as per vet’s suggestion, am going to buy meal worms and let them metamorphose into beetles. She apparently really likes beetles. On another note, we took in two VERY handsome Muscovy drakes, rescued from a roundup that would have most certainly resulted in their deaths. I am sure they will be very happy here. I will make sure they are!

Tho Wife had just tucked the kids in bed, I called them all into my office to read that. Let them go to bed with a final happy thought. 🙂

Yes, I’m Crazy

You don’t know what life is going to throw you, but it’s good to be prepared and when things happen to just flow and roll with it.

Yes, some people are going to look at us as crazy for what we did. Sure it’s about the ducks. Once I overcame my own ignorance about these “buzzard-faced ducks” I came to learn what amazing animals they are. Yes, I care about them. Yes, I want to do more to increase awareness about the Muscovy duck. As of this writing there’s still 2 weeks left in the comment period on the FWS CFR 21.54. Please take a few moments to read and comment… it would go a long way.

But ultimately, this is about family. This is about helping my children. This is showing them that we can make a difference. That we aren’t always powerless. That there are good people in this world. That whatever you want in life, you can get it if you’re willing to get up and do something… even if others look at you as crazy, and even if you think you’re a little crazy too.

Ten, twenty years from now, how are my children going to look back on this crazy little ride we took? How is our life going to change because of this little event? I mean, I really like the Kosanke’s and would love to go back to their farm to learn from them or just hang out around the fire pit with a little wine and good food. I don’t know how things will go from here, but it’s sure making for an interesting life.

So Sneeze… it will hurt to not see you every morning. In fact right now as I typed that I choked up a bit. Yes, I miss the guy. It’s like losing any pet. If we let him get taken, he’d be gone and likely destroyed. But doing what we did? He’s gone, but to a better place. A place where we know he’ll be loved and cared for, and that we can even still visit him from time to time. Either way he’s gone and that hurts, but every time we feel that hurt we can also smile because hey… he got to meet Ducky Ducky. What more does he need than love, food, and cute girl ducks. 🙂

Goodbye, Sneeze.

15 thoughts on “Goodbye, Sneeze; you’ve gone to a better place

  1. Excellent post sir. Just another reason I’ll never (as long as I can help it) live in an HOA neighborhood, though a city can be no better.

    “the subtle smell of duck poop”

    Classic line there.

    Makes me wonder where the nekid PETA women are that should be pouncing all over this!

    • Thank you.

      I have mixed emotions on HOA’s, and frankly our HOA has been one of the better ones… they don’t get all “HOA-Nazi” about things, they have actually been working lately to try to do better at maintaining the parks and so on. And in some regards, I wish they’d actually do more (e.g. sidewalk maintenance). So it’s a fine line.

      But really, this comes down to not just HOA/deed issues, but also a city issue, and also a Federal .gov issue… you should check out the links in the above post about the US Fish & Wildlife Service fiasco. It needs more comment from the citizenry. So much of this doesn’t make logical sense.

      Nevertheless, every day we get one step closer to moving out of the city and doing our own thing.

      • You know Hsoi, I went to the Krazy farm place and haven’t even made it to the Fed thing and I’m already pissed. We need to take about 98% of the laws, regulations, and rules in these united states and cram them right up the special interest @$$ that got them written in the first place. I’m so sick of this crap I just about can’t stand it any more. I’ll put a nice polite comment on there for you ’cause you made a great post and those folks at the farm are awesome. But believe you me I will be cursing up a storm on THIS side of the monitor! I need a frickin beer…

        • Yup. The whole thing makes little sense.

          Now I’ll grant that the feral ducks can become a nuisance… but so can feral cats or dogs or other animals. So why isn’t this being handled in the same manner? What I have great problem with is the inconsistency and illogical approach to the whole issue. I am not against finding a solution, I just want a solution that’s right, that serves the people, and makes sense. It’s do-able.

          To FWS’s credit, they are listening and making changes. Granted, I am not happy with the fact “they know better” than the will of the citizenry, but that’s another issue for another time.

          Thank you so much for taking the time to read up and make the comments on the regulation. Every bit helps.

          To me… it’s like that saying… first they came for X, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t X… then they came for Y, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t Y. And then they came for me, but there was no one left to speak up. I grant such matters of ducks matter little to most people, but to me it’s not just about the ducks but about greater issues of regulation where it makes no sense, about intrusiveness, about government overreach and so on… it just chips away at the stone, unless we do something about it.

          Thank you.

  2. What a wonderful story! Wonderful memories for the family, taking care of God’s critters, what a great example! Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. You rock, hsoi! I am especially interested in non-native species protection for those species that aren’t displacing natives. (focusing on another bird that is thriving in Austin but has no protection against destroying its young) I dunno when the roundup is going to happen but if you want to take more ducks out there, I have a small pickup and would be willing to take them (no duck poop smell in the car..lol).

    This is the pumpkin guy with the pukey old cat btw.

  4. Sorry to hear! It’s always difficult to lose something your attached to, especially what my grand-dad would call a “wild pet”.

    But, as you said, at least you know he is alive and well in a warm, friendly place.

  5. Pingback: Sadness « Firearms and More in Texas!

    • You guys certainly crossed my mind in the past. And now that your place is developing, it could end up being a good refuge. 🙂

      Joy, if you’d like to help in the saving, please read and officially comment on the FWS CFR 21.54. Tobi’s website has the details:

      http://www.crazykfarm.com/MuscovyDucks.html

      If this regulation is allowed to stand, even in revised form, it doesn’t bode well for these critters.

  6. Pingback: Crazy K kinda day « Stuff From Hsoi

  7. Pingback: Help save Sneeze! « Stuff From Hsoi

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