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ONE LUCKY DUCKY: HOW A SMALL FARM IN OJAI CHANGED AN INJURED DUCK’S LIFE

A few weeks ago, a little one-legged duck hobbled its way off a farm and into my life. Hopper, as he came to be known, is a young duckling who was found pinned between a wooden platform and a chain-link fence. The small farm where he lived had adopted a group of infant ducks (sometimes known as a paddling, paddle, or raft) after a local elementary school explained that they could not care for their newly-hatched class pets during the summer.   I entered his enclosure to find a frightened duckling who seemed to panic at the prospect of being held. I felt the rapid pounding of his heartbeat against my hand as I scooped him up and examined the large wound on his side. It was a deep cut that had, in the time that Hopper was trapped, filled with ants and other insects. Badly injured and in need of care, many would have seen this duck as a lost cause to be put out of its misery, but as his heart rate slowed in my hands and his beak nuzzled my palm, I realized that it would be impossible to walk away.



Despite having two dogs and one cat at home, I packed up Hopper (whose name is fitting since he is often forced to get around on one leg) into a towel-lined crate and with the help of my partner, converted our master bathroom into a temporary hospital wing. Knowing nothing of how to care for an injured duck, the hours after his arrival were filled with Google searches and frantic phone calls to animal rescue centers. At the time, most shelters were only accepting wild ducks for rehabilitation into the wild and any shelter that would accept a domestic duck in such poor condition was either at capacity or unable to care for Hopper. Though my knowledge of ducks was limited, I was certain of one thing— Hopper would not make it on his own in the wild.

As the runt of his family, this pint-sized duck was disadvantaged from the start. Born with a right foot that fused at the shank (somewhere around where the human knee would be), Hopper struggled to compete for food among his healthy siblings and his malnutrition began to show.  By 12 weeks of age, his brothers and sisters had already developed their luscious adult plumage and were three times as big as Hopper who had maintained his small frame and youthful fluffiness.

Shortly after coming home, we noticed that Hopper had a strong appetite—devouring his feed alongside the bits of zucchini, plums, pre-nibbled carrots and banana that we fed him without hesitation. Feeding time and Hopper’s daily routine of bathing, crate cleaning, and supervised sunbathing taught us that ducks are incredibly messy birds and Hopper was no exception. His injury made it difficult to stand, so we spent a lot of our time cleaning waste off of his feathers and changing out the towels and newspapers that he used to prop himself up.

As Hopper ate and rested, his strength flourished and so did my fondness for him. We had fallen into a routine of care and companionship and a large part of me thought that I could make this work. Our dogs had transitioned from a furious sniffing of the small opening that separated them from Hopper to a gentle curiosity about his presence in their home. They watched from inside as we took Hopper into the yard and filled a kiddie pool with water, allowing him to swim. When Hopper was strong enough to hobble about the lawn, our dogs observed him closely through a glass sliding door that separated them from their feathered house guest. Days passed without any response from a rescue agency and our hopes of finding Hopper a permanent caregiver began to dim. Secretly I wished we could keep him, but I knew in my heart of hearts that this level of care was not sustainable. Then, a light at the end of the tunnel. Nearly two weeks after Hopper had come to stay with us a woman named Katie rang and said that she might have room for Hopper on her farm. We arranged a visit for the following day.

Love at first sight

From the moment that Katie walked through our doors, I had a good feeling about her. Wearing flowy blue yoga pants and a white tee shirt, she shook my hand and apologized for being covered in lots of different animal poop. “I’ve held a lot of different animals today,” she said. It wasn’t something that I could see or smell, but her unabashed disclosure made me like her immediately. As I sat holding Hopper, she held her hands out towards me, indicating her desire to hold him.  “Who is this little guy?” she said, as she scooped him up. His response was to add to the stains that she had collected by pooping in her lap. I waited for her response and was surprised at a giggle. “Well hello to you too, Hopper,” she cooed.

Katie told me more about The Little Farm in Ojai a non-profit animal sanctuary for rescued, neglected, and unwanted farm animals that she began several years ago. After 30 minutes of conversation, shared laughter, and a few shed tears, Hopper was packed into his crate and off to his new forever home.  You can find out more about Hoppers recovery from Katie and the Little Farm In Ojai below.  They are currently accepting donations to help Hopper on his journey to recovery.

Reflections from Katie:  Hopper has an amazing spirit and super healthy appetite. He eats everything but LOVES his mealworms and spinach. We usually put them in his water bowl so he feels like he’s fishing and he sifts through it all. He swims twice a day, once in the big pool with Rice, our other duck, and once in our kitchen sink so he can get a little bath washing up afterward. He is gaining weight and has new feathers but still the softest head and loves to cuddle–especially tucking his head into my arm and napping. He has a follow-up appointment with the vet next week, and we are looking into a cart for now so he can take some pressure off his body and let things shift around. We have all the hopes in the world to get him what he needs and for him to have a long happy life. It’s up to him and we will follow his lead. He is not suffering, and in minimal pain per his veterinarian. We are monitoring him to make sure that we don’t push him too much.

@thelittlefarminojai Hopper update: We had a full check up and X-rays. He received stitches on his wound and is on antibiotics. His organs are functioning but are all smooshed over to one side, his “bad” foot has a good leg, his “good” foot actually has a bad leg from over compensating and supporting his body best he could on one leg. We need to get some weight on him, he’s pretty underweight. But the catch there is that with more weight there is more for his legs to support. We will re-assess in two weeks with our vet and see if he can be a candidate for a cart or prosthetic…for now it’s a some supervised pool time and a healthy diet including some supplements to help his bones get stronger. If you would like to donate to Hopper or any of our animals’ care please click the link in our bio and thank you! @thelittlefarminojai Back at home and Hopper helping with afternoon feedings. Amazing bounty of donated organic vegetables from @westridgefamilymarkets! THANK YOU! Everyone is very very happy! #nowaste #organic #adopt



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The Havasi Wilderness Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to heightening awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.

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