Ducks

In loving memory of Svetlana the duck, our baby girl

In loving memory of Svetlana the duck, our baby girl thumbnail
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This article has been a while in the making since grief and pain delayed its writing. If you’ve followed our stories or social channels over the years, you know how special Svetlana the duck was to us.

On Friday, October 26, 2018, Svetlana took her last breath. We petted her and rubbed her bill one last time. (She loved bill pets.)

We told her how much we loved her. How much we appreciated her life and the joy she gave us.

Then Dr. Hurlbert at Healthpointe Veterinary Clinic completed a painless and peaceful avian euthanization process, and Svetlana went to sleep one last time.

We still can’t fathom the permanence of it. The fact that Svetlana is gone from our lives forever.

Svetlana as a young duckling years ago, enjoying a lap nap and belly rub from her loving parents.

Svetlana as a young duckling years ago, enjoying a lap nap and belly rub from her loving parents.

The purpose of this article

Our reasons for writing this article and sharing Svetlana’s story are as follows:

  1. Remembrance – We’ll never forget Svetlana or the joy and laughter she added to our lives on a daily basis. This article is something of a digital “tombstone” – a permanent, public place that commemorates how much she was loved by her family while preserving some of the memories and photos from her joy-filled life.
  2. Catharsis – As part of our own grief/healing process, we need to openly express and share what we’re experiencing at an emotional level, rather than holding it inside.
  3. Support – Others grieving the loss of a beloved pet/family member should know that they’ve got company and that it’s ok to grieve on your own time and your own terms.

Svetlana died after a three year battle with chronic aspergillosis. Aspergillosis is a respiratory fungal infection common in waterfowl and poultry, and we’ve learned a LOT about this disease over the past three years.

Svetlana the duck enjoying a snow day with her mom, Susan, aka The Tyrant.

Svetlana the duck enjoying a snow day with her mom, Susan, aka The Tyrant.

As soon as we’re able to, we’ll write another article for poultry parents who want to prevent or treat aspergillosis. Not only did we make some early treatment mistakes, but there are more effective, out-of-patent medications available now that weren’t available to us a few years back when Svetlana first got sick.

However, duck healthcare is not the purpose of this particular article; commemorating Svetlana’s life is.

Svetlana the Duck’s Life Story 

Duckling arrival day

In late summer 2013, we ordered three female ducklings from Metzer Farms.

The ducklings hatched in Gonzales, California. They were immediately “sexed” by Metzer’s staff, then placed in a specialized shipping box to be flown to our local post office in Greenville, SC.

Since we didn’t know how to properly sex ducklings at that point in time, our earlier, pre-Metzer attempt at sourcing ducklings from a local breeder hadn’t exactly gone as planned…

When our first round of ducks were of age to be visibly sexed based on voice (only females quack loudly) and feather coloration, we realized we only had one hen and three drakes. Nope, this is not a good ratio for the female – and certainly not good for people intending to raise ducks for eggs.

This is the reason we ordered our new ducklings from Metzer Farms, a highly regarded breeder of ducks and other waterfowl.

The post office called at 5:45am to let us know our package had arrived. We rushed down to the loading dock. Awaiting our arrival was a box emitting the adorable, telltale sound of ducklings: a chorus of high pitched peep-peep-peeps.

We were like children at Christmas, but somehow managed to hold back on opening the box of ducklings during the car ride home.

The ducklings first day at Tyrant Farms. (The third one is inside the small cracker box in the back.)

The ducklings first day at Tyrant Farms. (The third one is inside the small cracker box in the back.)

Once home, we immediately opened the box… Out rushed three adorable fluffy yellow ducklings. Our hearts were set aflutter as their little eyes looked up at us. “Mom?” “Dad?”

Arrival day! Our three ducklings napping on The Tyrant, their new mother.

Arrival day! Our three ducklings napping on The Tyrant, their new mother.

Duckling Socialization

We wanted our ducklings to be socialized to humans from Day 1 so they’d be calmer, tamer adults that we could easily pet, feed, and perform medical checkups on.

The ducklings see the great outdoors for the first time!

The ducklings see the great outdoors for the first time!

Countless times each day, we picked them up, petted them, cuddled them, and rubbed their little duck bills. Afterwards, we immediately gave them treats so they’d have positive associations with being handled by their strange-looking, giant featherless duck parents.

The ducklings getting bigger and enjoying a night on the couch with their human parents.

The ducklings getting bigger and enjoying a night on the couch with their human parents.

As a recent scientific study confirmed, ducklings are actually amazingly intelligent in certain capacities, with an innate ability for non-learned pattern recognition that rivals humans and primates (but doesn’t require teaching).

Each week, we’d also weigh our ducklings. We were amazed to see that they’d double in size or more every seven days. (It only takes about 14 weeks for a duck to reach full size after hatching.)

You can see true feathers just starting to emerge on the backs and tails of the ducklings. Ducks and ducklings sometimes kick their flippers out when relaxing or in order to slightly cool themselves. Ducks' internal body temperature is 104°F.

You can see true feathers just starting to emerge on the backs and tails of the ducklings. Ducks and ducklings sometimes kick their flippers out when relaxing or in order to slightly cool themselves. Ducks’ internal body temperature is 104°F.

Falling in love with “White Duck”

We didn’t know what to name our three new ducklings at first. We figured we’d just wait until names came naturally based on their traits or personalities.

In addition to regular cuddles and treats, the girls enjoyed movie nights and sleepovers together with their human parents.

A night on the couch with the ducklings. Little did we know at the time that the duckling asleep on Susan's lap would have such a profound impact on our lives.

A night on the couch with the ducklings. Little did we know at the time that the duckling asleep on Susan’s lap would have such a profound impact on our lives.

One duckling in particular stood out as being exceptionally sweet and sociable. We didn’t yet have a name for her, but Susan began singling her out for belly rubs, bill pets, and extra cuddles, for which the duckling was very much a willing participant.

This very special white-colored duckling was remarkably smart and sociable from day one.

This very special white-colored duckling was remarkably smart and sociable from day one.

Soon, all three ducklings’ coloration began to change as they started to form their first adult feathers over their fluffy down. One duck was red-colored, one was more white, and one was somewhere in between.

Thus, the ducklings earned their first “temporary” names: Red Duck, White Duck, and Medium Duck. Not very creative, we know, but it beats the name “that one” – plus the names were only intended as place-holders.

White Duck (duckling) at about a month old.

White Duck (duckling) at about a month old.

White Duck was the temporary name of the duckling most receptive to human affections, and we doled out all the love on her that she’d allow.

White Duck the duckling, enjoying a nap on The Tyrant's lap.

White Duck the duckling, enjoying a nap on The Tyrant’s lap.

From Duckling to Ducks

We took the ducklings out into our gardens each day to let them explore, swim, hunt insects and worms, and learn to be ducks. Slowly, we began introducing them to our two remaining adult ducks – Lady Margaret Thrasher and Sir Winston Duckbill – so they’d eventually form a single flock.

Once they reached a suitable age, the girls got to stay in The QuackerBox, the outdoor duck house reserved for mature female flock members. We were like proud parents sending their kids off to college.

Svetlana and her sisters trying to drink out of a bird bath, which doesn't seem particularly well-suited to providing water for ducks.

Svetlana and her sisters trying to drink out of a bird bath, which doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to providing water for ducks.

Just because they were now grownup outdoor ducks didn’t mean we didn’t continue to pet them, give them belly rubs, and feed them treats on a daily basis. This especially held true for White Duck, who continued to adore her human parents and The Tyrant in particular.

Thanks to being members of a few duck groups on facebook, we also came to learn about duck diapers (yes, seriously).

 

Sleepovers with White Duck's friends made possible by duck diapers.

Sleepovers with White Duck’s friends made possible by duck diapers.

Since it’s impossible to potty or house train a duck, duck diapers allowed us to bring our girls indoors for the occasional sleepover or movie night without having to worry about our house becoming a stable.

Svetlana loved having friends in for movie night, although she didn't necessarily enjoy sharing her food and treats.

White Duck loved having friends in for movie night, although she didn’t necessarily enjoy sharing her food and treats.

Even though she was now an adult, White Duck continued to be loving towards her human flock members, with a temperament closer to a dog than a duck.

The way she looked at us was unique relative to the other ducks too. Like a dog, she’d constantly cock her little head to one side as her eyes analyzed our facial expressions trying to discern our intentions… Treat? Belly rub?

Svetlana's inquisitive and loving looks toward us always melted our hearts.

Svetlana’s inquisitive and loving looks toward us always melted our hearts.

As with our other ducks, Svetlana’s absolute favorite treat was tomatoes. We grow all the yellow and red currant tomatoes our garden can fit (those were her favorite because she could easily grab them with her bill and gulp them down whole).

We also taught her to beg and jump for tomatoes which provided lots of laughs each summer.

Any time we’d say “White Duck,” “tomato,” or “nummy-nums,” she’d come sprinting. If we uttered those words inside, we could always count on hearing her “meh-meh-meh” happy response, soon followed by the hilarious sound of her little flippers swish-swish-swishing across the floor as she ran towards us, hoping for a treat.

White Duck’s Great Escape

White Duck also showed herself to be very intelligent and resourceful on numerous occasions…

If you have ducks or other animals, you start to pick up on their language. For instance our ducks have a very specific warning call for snakes, that actually sounds like a quack version of “snake! snake! snake!”

Their word for snake is very similar to their general alarm/warning quacks. They know that when they sound the alarm when we’re home, we’ll come rushing out to see what’s wrong.

Late one afternoon, we heard the warning quacks, and rushed outside to see what was happening. The ducks were lined up near the fence looking out towards the back of our property. White Duck was nowhere to be seen.

Panicked, we ran downstairs, terrified that a predator had somehow gotten past our 6′ tall fence and grabbed her. We rushed through the gate and into the garden area.

Then we heard the “really happy duck” sound, reminiscent of Woody Woodpecker: “meh-eh-eh, meh-eh-eh, meh-eh-eh” in quick procession.

There was White Duck, bill-deep in the garden greens, happily foraging. She’d managed to slip through a maze we’d erected to let our cat, Bob, get out of the fence, while keeping the ducks in.

“It must have been an accident,” we said. “There’s no way White Duck will figure out how to get through there again.”

The next morning, soon after we let the ducks out of the Quacker Box, we heard the alarm quack again.

Sure enough, White Duck had remembered where the hidden exit spot was and how to traverse it. She gobbled down as much fresh kale and lettuce as she could before we grabbed her out of the garden.

As we walked her back to the duck area, we could practically see the thought bubble over her head cursing her sisters for telling on her again.

Svetlana wasn't smart enough to learn how to knit (plus she doesn't have fingers and opposable thumbs), but she loved sitting next to The Tyrant's watching her knit at night.

Svetlana wasn’t smart enough to learn how to knit (plus she doesn’t have fingers and opposable thumbs), but she loved sitting next to The Tyrant watching her knit at night.

Loving Life

White Duck LOVED her life.

She soon became flock queen, although our girls aren’t aggressive towards one another nor do they seem to have any strict pecking order. She was the queen more in the sense that she led her flock in various activities, protests, and misbehavior.

 

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Every afternoon, she’d lead her flock in a chorus of honks demanding to be let out of the back yard at the ordained hour. The evening ritual was to go foraging in the rest of the yard before being put up for the night.

There's nothing cuter than a set of duck butts sticking out from under a bush during a foraging session.

There’s nothing cuter than a set of duck butts sticking out from under a bush during a foraging session.

She loved hunting worms, snails, and slugs. On summer evenings, she loved chasing moths on the front lawn as dusk settled in.

Svetlana crouched in hunting position, in search of insects.

White Duck crouched in hunting position, in search of insects.

She’d crouch down into stalking position as soon as she spotted a moth flying low enough. Then she’d wobble-charge across the lawn towards her victim as fast as her little flippered legs would carry her.

Back and forth she’d go, zigging and zagging, quacking with pure joy and elation (as her human parents laughed), until it was time to go in for the night.

Svetlana was the only one of our ducks that figured out that each time we moved our potted plants (like our potted citrus) there would be earthworms underneath the pots. Any time she saw us moving pots, she’d instantly come running over for a meal.

One time, White Duck introduced her flock to a walking rock, aka a turtle. They found the notion that rocks were alive and capable of moving to be very unnerving.

White Duck shows the flock a turtle.

White Duck shows the flock a turtle.

Another time, she led the flock in befriending “Hop” the wild rabbit, who would forage with the duck flock every night during the summer. We think one of the reasons Hop decided we (humans) weren’t a threat was because of our closeness to White Duck and her flock.

Hop the rabbit on an evening foraging expedition with Svetlana and her flock.

Hop the rabbit on an evening foraging expedition with White Duck and her flock.

She also loved being naughty and trying her best to sneak past us (and our temporary fencing) in pursuit of a lush patch of garden treats.

When White Duck found a particularly good foraging spot, she couldn’t help but make her Woody Woodpecker sound, prompting the rest of the flock to come rushing over to join in on the feast.

The girls foraging a patch of white clover together.

The girls foraging a patch of white clover together.

When White Duck was about a year old, we built her and her flock a DIY backyard duck pond with two waterfalls. This brought the flock’s quality of life to a whole new level.

White Duck and her flock would swim, splash, dabble, and dive for hours each day.

White Duck showing off her beautiful wings and distinctive blue-purple wing bars while cleaning in her pond.

White Duck showing off her beautiful wings and distinctive blue-purple wing bars while cleaning in her pond. Photo by John Christ.

White Duck’s Best Friend and Soulmate

Over time, White Duck grew especially attached to Medium Duck (who was later named “Jackson” in honor of our friend Courtney Jackson).

White Duck (left) foraging the gardens with Medium Duck, aka Jackson (right).

White Duck (left) foraging the gardens with Medium Duck, aka Jackson (right).

White Duck and Medium Duck were best friends and soul mates. (If you have ducks, you know that their sexual habits aren’t very clearly delineated.)

White Duck and Medium Duck cleaning, washing, and playing together in their pond.

White Duck and Medium Duck cleaning, washing, and playing together in their pond. Photo by John Christ.

They’d forage together, swim together, take naps together, and have humorous duck conversations together.

White Duck and Medium Duck enjoying a nap together in a Red Mizuna mustard patch.

White Duck and Medium Duck enjoying a nap together in a Red Mizuna mustard patch.

We’d often have to tell them to “talk it through” when their conversations became particularly animated.

White Duck Gets Sick

Early on, we fed the girls an organic feed blend formulated for ducks. It contained a medley of whole grains, corn, peas, and other assorted vitamins and goodies. (We now use a kibble.)

White Duck hamming it up for a photo.

White Duck hamming it up for a photo.

Everyone appeared to wolf down the blend with gusto.

However, we came to find out that White Duck was picking out and eating only her favorite parts – the corn – and leaving the rest. This meant she wasn’t getting balanced nutrition.

Since she was laying an egg each day and only eating corn, oyster shell, plus whatever foraged treats she found, she soon became nutritionally deficient.

White Duck standing next to her icy, winter pond.

White Duck standing next to her icy, winter pond. Photo by John Christ.

One problem with ducks is that it’s very hard to tell when they’re sick or injured because they hide it until they’re REALLY sick of injured.

In the wild, appearing unwell signals predators that you’re easy pickings. Domesticated ducks aren’t too far removed from their wild ancestors, so this behavior is still engrained.

White Duck walking through a patch of dianthus flowers.

White Duck walking through a patch of dianthus flowers.

Also, rather than laying eggs in their own individual nests like chickens do, ducks form a communal nest. If we have four laying ducks, there’s a single nest with four eggs when we open the Quackerbox in the morning.

Unfortunately, these two traits mean that human duck parents have virtually no way of knowing when they have a duck who is declining in health and no way to know which of their ducks is not laying eggs.

One day, rather than being her normal jovial, high-energy self, White Duck didn’t come out to greet us when it was time for the evening garden walk. Instead, she sat under a bush, seemingly unable to move.

We rushed her inside and into a mildly warm tub of water to see if we could figure out what was happening. As she relaxed in the warm water, it soon became apparent what was wrong.

One egg came out, then another, and another. In total, she ended up passing a total of five eggs (some with soft shells) that had previously been stuck in her oviduct.

We’d heard of “egg-binding” before, but never experienced it or read much about it. All we knew is our sweet little White Duck was sick and in pain, and it was incumbent upon her parents to give her care.

White Duck Becomes “Svetlana”

One of the primary risks of severe egg binding in ducks and other birds is bacterial infection in the oviduct, which can be fatal.

Thankfully, we have a highly regarded avian vet near us: Dr. Hurlbert at HealthPointe Veterinary Clinic. We immediately called to schedule an appointment.

“What’s your pet’s name?” the receptionist asked. Embarrassed, I paused before replying, “White Duck.” After all, what kind of lousy duck parent names their duck “White Duck”?

The Tyrant shook her head, no. “Her name is Svetlana,” she said in the background.

“Ok,” said the receptionist, “we’ll put her in the system as ‘White Duck Svetlana’.”

Svetlana resting her head on The Tyrant's lap.

Svetlana resting her head on The Tyrant’s lap.

Where in the heck did the name Svetlana come from?

As it turned out, The Tyrant had recently read an article making fun of Neiman Marcus’s $100,000 chicken coop “inspired by Versailles.” The coop came with a chandelier, a library (with actual books), and an on-site consultation from Svetlana Simon, the cofounder of the company behind the coop.

The Tyrant thought the article and the notion of a $100,000 chicken coop was both ridiculous and hilarious. She also thought White Duck deserved a regal name such as Svetlana.

Thus, through a combination of misfortune and embarrassment, White Duck’s name officially became “Svetlana” upon the scheduling of her first vet visit.

Svetlana falls asleep on the tv table during movie night.

Svetlana falls asleep on the tv table during movie night.

Svetlana the Duck fights for life 

Given the risk of deadly bacterial infection that can come from egg-binding, Dr. Hurlbert recommended that we immediately start Svetlana on a round of Bactrim, a broad spectrum antibiotic.

To be clear, we think antibiotics are chronically overused, both by people and on farm operations leading to disastrous and deadly consequences.

Our policy in regards to our animals is to only use antibiotics as a last resort and/or to save the animal’s life. And once you give antibiotics to egg-laying poultry, you certainly don’t want to eat their eggs.

So from that moment forward, Svetlana was no longer a “production animal” intended to lay edible eggs. She was now our pet who would be given full princess treatment.

Svetlana the duck on one of many road trips with The Tyrant. We told her these trips were

Svetlana the duck on one of many road trips with The Tyrant. We told her these trips were “migrations” so she’d better understand what was happening.

Over the next few weeks, she lived mostly indoors, and was pampered around the clock.

At the time, we didn’t fully grasp the importance of using an anti-fungal medication in combination with the antibiotic. Dr. Hurlbert did recommend we give Svetlana an anti-fungal, but it was very expensive and virtually impossible to find locally. Plus, the form available to us at the compounding pharmacy would not have been very effective for avian patients, e.g. ducks.

We soon came to find out why ducks and other poultry should always take an anti-fungal if they’re on antibiotics.

Svetlana’s antibiotics knocked out both her good and bad bacteria alike, making her more susceptible to other pathogenic microorganisms.

An especially common fungal pathogen that infects and kills numerous waterfowl each year is aspergillosis. Typically, it infects sick or immune-compromised birds or birds taking antibiotics. Since Aspergillus spores are everywhere (especially in soil and mulch), Svetlana was a sitting duck.

Next thing we knew, we were soon back at the vet receiving a diagnosis that Svetlana had pneumonia AND aspergillosis. Our vet offered a grim prognosis of Svetlana surviving, much less recovering.

Over the next several months, we went through extraordinary measures to keep Svetlana alive – and she fought to stay alive at each step.

Again, since this article isn’t intended to be about duck healthcare, we’ll save the medical details – and recommendations for other duck parents based on what we’ve learned – for another article.

Svetlana becomes a mom

One wonderful thing did happen at the beginning of all this awfulness: Svetlana became a mom.

Two of Svetlana's

Two of Svetlana’s “ducklets.” We called Svetlana and her sisters “the ducklings” so we felt a new collective name was needed to avoid confusion.

Before she became egg-bound and we started her on medications, Svetlana was laying eggs. Given her mutual affections with Sir Winston Duckbill, we guessed that her eggs were fertilized.

Once Svetlana got sick and we weren’t sure if she’d live, The Tyrant hatched a plan… We were going to allow three of Svetlana’s eggs to develop so that she could live on in perpetuity via her offspring.

Problem was, it was the middle of winter and freezing cold – not good conditions for young ducklings. Plus, Svetlana was in no condition to be a mom.

What to do?

We set up an indoor nest and brought Jackson, Svetlana’s soulmate, inside to become a surrogate mother.

Svetlana and Jackson take turns sitting on the eggs on their indoor nest. Ducks kept in close quarters have communal nests, so this isn't all that uncommon. Shortly after this photo was taken, the effects of the hormones Svetlana was given to make her stop laying eggs took effect (so her body could put energy into healing, not reproduction), which made her molt and become grumpy.

Svetlana and Jackson take turns sitting on the eggs on their indoor nest. Ducks kept in close quarters have communal nests, so this isn’t all that uncommon. Shortly after this photo was taken, the effects of the hormones Svetlana was given to make her stop laying eggs took effect (so her body could put energy into healing, not reproduction), which made her molt and become grumpy.

Almost immediately, Jackson went broody and began sitting on Svetlana’s eggs and guarding the nest.

We could (and should) write an entire article about the strange and humorous mishaps that occurred during this process.

All the hardship from a rather challenging experience being a duck incubator was worth it since Svetlana and Jackson became parents.

New ducklings hatched at Tyrant Farms.

To give you a sense of how far things went off the rails and how determined we were to make sure Svetlana’s eggs hatched: I ended up sleeping on the couch and incubating the duck eggs under my shirt during the final 24 hours before the new ducklings hatched.

As a new, inexperienced, duck mother, Jackson instinctively loved her eggs, but was terrified of them as soon as the eggs started to make noises and crack. The noises prompted her to start attacking the eggs as though they were alien invaders, so we had to remove them from her nest.

Snowed in by a winter storm, we were unable to leave our house to borrow our friend’s incubator.

Pippa Luckinbill, daughter of Svetlana, fighting out of her shell and being welcomed to earth by The Tyrant.

Pippa Luckinbill, daughter of Svetlana, fighting out of her shell and being welcomed to earth by The Tyrant.

When the moment came, it was downright magical watching each of Svetlana’s three eggs hatch, and the new ducklings emerge.

Even though she was grumpy and feeling bad from her medications, we brought Svetlana in to see her ducklings hatch.

Even though she was grumpy and feeling bad from her medications, we brought Svetlana in to see her ducklings hatch.

Good news: at this point, we knew how to sex ducklings.

The Tyrant carefully holding Svetlana's daughter, Pippa.

The Tyrant carefully holding Svetlana’s daughter, Pippa.

Other good news: once the ducklings were out of the eggs, Jackson fell bill-over-flippers in love with them and was an amazing mom.

Jackson and baby swooning.

Jackson and baby swooning.

Bad news: there were two boys and one girl. Ugh.

Good momma duck. Jackson lowering her wing to protect her

Good momma duck. Jackson lowering her wing to protect her “ducklets” from the cold during a trip outdoors.

We ordered three new female ducklings from Metzer, let Jackson raise all six ducklings, then gave the two males to a friend who wanted them for her farm.

The whole family outside enjoying a mild, winter day. (Svetlana in the back.)

The whole family outside enjoying a mild, winter day. (Svetlana in the back.)

At the end of the debacle, we ended up with three new girls, and Svetlana had a beautiful genetic daughter: Pippa Luckinbill.

Pippa, daughter of Svetlana, enjoying a warm nap on The Tyrant.

Pippa, daughter of Svetlana, enjoying a warm nap on The Tyrant.

Svetlana Recovers

We invested untold hours caring for Svetlana as she battled two potentially deadly diseases.

Spending nights indoors allowed Svetlana to make new friends, including Bob the Cat.

Spending nights indoors allowed Svetlana to make new friends, including Bob the Cat.

She never seemed to lose hope or fight throughout the whole process. We think that may have been at least partly due to how much she loved the life she wanted to return to.

Svetlana especially loved springtime, when the harvest baskets are full of greens, the chickweed is plentiful, and the insects, worms, and crustaceans are bountiful.

Svetlana especially loved springtime, when the harvest baskets are full of greens, the chickweed is plentiful, and the insects, worms, and crustaceans are bountiful.

Slowly, Svetlana got better. After a couple of months, she was swimming, talking, and running around the house like her old self.

Svetlana enjoying a fan on a hot summer night.

Svetlana enjoying a fan on a hot summer night.

We started letting her spend more time outdoors during the day, at first for a few minutes, then for a few hours, then for a whole day. At night, she’d come back inside to be coddled, receive therapeutic medications, and ultimately go to sleep in bed next to her mom, The Tyrant.

Svetlana loved to sleep under chairs, tables, and stools. Perhaps her favorite spot in our living room was under the cat ladder where Bob the cat's food, water, and outdoor access door are located. Since Svetlana would occasionally beat up Bob, he'd get a bit nervous about climbing his ladder if Svetlana was sleeping underneath it.

Svetlana loved to sleep under chairs, tables, and stools. Perhaps her favorite spot in our living room was under the cat ladder where Bob the cat’s food, water, and outdoor access door are located. Since Svetlana would occasionally beat up Bob, he’d get a bit nervous about climbing his ladder if Svetlana was sleeping underneath it.

Every night, she’d start at the foot of our bed near her neater feeder water and food bowl. Once The Tyrant settled down to sleep, Svetlana would make her way up the bed. She’d then nestle her big fluffy chest against Susan’s arm or neck, resting her bill on Susan’s back or sometimes going all-in and using Susan as a nest.

A more humane version of a down comforter. Svetlana in full cuddle position on The Tyrant, her favorite human.

A more humane version of a down comforter. Svetlana in full cuddle position on The Tyrant, her favorite human.

Each morning when Susan woke up, she’d smile and laugh at Svetlana, pet her, rub her bill, and have a conversation about the day ahead.

Then we’d “take Svetlana to school,” which was our term for bringing Svetlana outside to spend the day with her outdoor flock.

It's hard not to start the day with a smile when this is the first thing you see in the morning.

It’s hard not to start the day with a smile when this is the first thing you see in the morning.

Svetlana hits the road

Over the next three years, Svetlana became a central focus of our life.

That's one trusting duck! Svetlana perched atop The Tyrant's outstretched hand.

That’s one trusting duck! Svetlana perched atop The Tyrant’s outstretched hand.

If we went to have dinner at a friend’s house, she came with us.

If we went to see parents for a holiday, she was along for the ride.

Svetlana on the road to the family lakehouse during Thanksgiving 2017.

Svetlana on the road to the family lakehouse during Thanksgiving 2017.

When Svetlana first saw Lake Santee-Cooper during Thanksgiving at my parent’s lakehouse, she seemed completely overwhelmed.

Our family enjoyed watching this sunset at my parent's lakehouse on Thanksgiving Day, 2017. Svetlana seemed overwhelmed by the size and scale of the new world she was experiencing, so she stuck close to The Tyrant for comfort.

Our family enjoyed watching this sunset at my parent’s lakehouse on Thanksgiving Day, 2017. Svetlana seemed overwhelmed by the size and scale of the new world she was experiencing, so she stuck close to The Tyrant for comfort.

Her brain had trouble comprehending the sheer size and splendor of an actual lake, not to mention all the ducks, geese, herons, and other wildlife residing there. When an osprey flew overhead, Svetlana instinctively hit the deck, and we had to reassure her that she was safe.

Svetlana the duck in Christmas regalia.

Svetlana the duck in Christmas regalia.

Of course, we also took Svetlana on day trips. For instance, we wanted her to experience some real mountain streams, so we took her up to Poinsett Bridge.

Svetlana the duck looking mighty and regal in front of Poinsett Bridge.

Svetlana the duck looking mighty and regal in front of Poinsett Bridge.

She had so much fun swimming and foraging in the cool mountain water and playing in some of the smaller waterfalls.

Svetlana exploring the mountain waterfalls at Poinsett Bridge.

Svetlana exploring the mountain waterfalls at Poinsett Bridge.

Of course, she also had winter and snow adventures as well.

Svetlana the Duck seems thoroughly unimpressed by the dreaded Abominable Snow Duck.

Svetlana the Duck seems thoroughly unimpressed by the dreaded Abominable Snow Duck.

After two+ years of intensive care, Svetlana seemed back to nearly 100% of her former glory.

We took her in for a vet “well visit,” and Dr. Hurlbert couldn’t believe how much she’d recovered – much less, that she’d been able to recover at all.

Svetlana recovered from seemingly impossible odds and fought so hard that we jokingly referred to her as

Svetlana recovered from seemingly impossible odds and fought so hard that we jokingly referred to her as “Super Duck.”

In fact, she was doing so well that we even took her off of her therapeutic/preventive medications.

She was living each day of life to its ducky fullest, while enjoying nights indoors being pampered by her parents.

Our evening ritual often included Svetlana sitting at the counter watching us make supper while she enjoyed eating one of her multiple nightly meals.

Our evening ritual often included Svetlana sitting at the counter watching us make supper while she enjoyed eating one of her multiple nightly meals.

Nightmare

In mid-October, Svetlana started having difficulty breathing again. It soon progressed to panting, and she was unable to catch her breath.

We immediately started her back on her medications and scheduled the earliest possible vet appointment (Dr. Hurlbert was on vacation). Within minutes of our arrival at the vet’s, Dr. Hulbert put Svetlana into an oxygen chamber.

The aspergillosis was back, and Svetlana was going to have to stay overnight in the oxygen chamber at the vet’s and be scanned in the morning to get a better sense of what was happening inside of her.

We’d brought some of Svetlana’s favorite treats with us (tomatoes and fresh garden greens), but she was feeling so bad she wouldn’t eat them. The vet’s office made her as comfortable as they could during her overnight stay, and we scheduled a visit to come see her at 2pm the next afternoon.

The vet tech called in the morning to tell us that Svetlana had eaten some of the treats we’d left and was breathing slightly better. They hoped her breathing would be good enough that they could lay her on her back for a scan before our afternoon visit.

When we arrived, we could tell Dr. Hurlbert was distressed and preparing to bear bad news. A duck lover and former duck parent herself, she’d always had a special affection for Svetlana.

Dr. Hurlbert showed us the scans. Not only was the aspergillosis infection back, it had severely and permanently thickened and scarred Svetlana’s air sacs and lungs to the point that she was barely able to breathe. There were no medications or procedures she knew of that stood a chance of effectively treating her.

The only way to keep her alive would be to keep her indoors in an oxygen tank nearly around the clock with regular anti-fungal nebulizations. That wouldn’t be a life, it would just be a slow, excruciating death.

Dr. Hurlbert let us know that the only humane decision — although it was beyond painful — was crystal clear: we had to let Svetlana go.

Saying goodbye to our baby girl 

We wept intensely in shock and disbelief as Dr. Hurbert walked us through the euthanasia steps that she’d performed for other birds, including her own ducks.

We’d get to be there with Svetlana for her last wakeful moments. She’d feel no pain. In fact, at the end, she’d probably feel as good as she had in many years, back before this whole nightmare started.

Dr. Hurlbert returned a few minutes later to let us know that it was time. Each step felt surreal as we walked into the emergency care room.

This was going to be the last time that we’d ever see Svetlana, the little duck we’d raised, cared for, and loved like a child. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to our little girl. How could we be?

Svetlana had just received a powerful opiate to help her relax and go to sleep. She was wobbly, but still awake when we arrived at her oxygen chamber.

Grief and anguish swept through us. All the memories. The joy. The happiness and love. Our baby girl who we’d loved and cared for so intensely for so many years.

Svetlana looked beautiful and alive. We took turns petting her head and her neck.

We told her how much we loved her. We told her that she’d never fade from our memory. She’d always be our Baby Girl, our little White Duck. We promised to take care of Jackson (her soulmate) and Pippa (her daughter) for her.

One last time, Susan took Svetlana’s smooth bill in her hands and stroked it gently, as she’d done every morning for three years.

One final memory of Svetlana the duck, our baby girl.

One final moment in time with Svetlana the duck, our baby girl.

Always one to trigger a good laugh in her parents, Svetlana momentarily regained consciousness and looked at us as if to ask, “hey, what are you guys doing here?”

Then she faded, permanently and completely, into a final peaceful sleep.

Svetlana was gone forever. We were broken.

Grief and Recovery

The only downside to love is that it makes you vulnerable to pain.

We’ve had numerous pets over the years, but neither of us ever loved a pet as intensely as we loved Svetlana the duck. The grief we’ve experienced from her loss is every bit as intense as the love we felt – and still feel – for her.

Svetlana cuddling up for a nap next to her mom on the sofa.

Happier times: a recent photo of Svetlana cuddling up for a nap next to her mom on the sofa.

We’ve walked the stages of grief before, and we know that each day will get a little easier.

Earlier this year, Susan lost her mother to cancer. A week before Svetlana died, we had to put down Charlie, our 18 year old cat that we’ve had since the first day we fell in love. Three days after Svetlana’s passing, Susan had to go to Texas for two weeks to be the caretaker of her sister who is also undergoing cancer treatment.

Suffice it to say, we’re not fans of 2018, and we’re looking forward to putting it in the rearview mirror.

If you’re experiencing the intense grief that comes from the loss of a pet or person that you loved, know that you’ll get better too. Give yourself permission to cry and feel the pain when those waves come. Talk about your loss and what you’re experiencing with other people you love.

Letting Jackson and Pippa Know That Svetlana Was Gone

Jackson, Svetlana’s best friend and soulmate, took Svetlana’s passing particularly hard.

For days after she first disappeared, Jackson mourned the loss of Svetlana in her own way. Normally very socially and physically active, she sat under a bush by herself away from the other ducks, barely eating or swimming in the pond.

We brought Jackson inside to stay with us at night, both for our own sake and for hers. She walked around the house calling for Svetlana and looking for her in all of their old hiding places.

The Tyrant trying to explain that Svetlana isn't coming back to Jackson the Duck, Svetlana's grieving soulmate.

The Tyrant trying to explain that Svetlana isn’t coming back to Jackson the Duck, Svetlana’s grieving soulmate.

Each night when Svetlana and Jackson stayed indoors together, one or both of them would inevitably try to raid the cat food station. Hilariously, they couldn’t conceal their glee and would start making their loud happy noises as they ate, cuing us that the raid was on.

We’d yell at them and herd them away from the cat food, but not before they’d had a few bills full. They knew they were being naughty, but the benefits outweighed the punishment. Immediately after, they’d spend a few minutes talking about their heist before settling down.

Now without Svetlana, Jackson made an instinctive raid on the cat food. Rather than stopping her, we let her fill up, knowing that she hadn’t eaten much in the past few days and that she deserved some happiness.

After having her fill, she went around the house telling Svetlana about how naughty she’d been. Only this time, Svetlana wasn’t there to share in the joy of it all. Eventually, Jackson settled in under the chair that she and Svetlana used to cuddle under and went to sleep.

Life would go on, but it wouldn’t be the same – for any of us.

The Tyrant letting Pippa know about the loss of her mom while providing a comforting head and belly rub.

The Tyrant letting Pippa know about the loss of her mom while providing a comforting head and belly rub.

Forward, In Love

Jackson’s experience exemplifies what’s so hard about Svetlana’s loss (or the loss of someone you love).

Past memories that once brought joy, now trigger the painful reminder that she’s gone. She’s not with us as we walk through the present, and there are no new memories to make together in the future.

No more laughs. No more cuddles. Her final chapter is written, no matter how badly we want the story to go on.

Left: A picture of Svetlana's flipper taken back in 2015. Right: The mold of her flipper made for us by HealthPointe Veterinary Clinic after she died.

Left: A picture of Svetlana’s flipper taken back in 2015. Right: The mold of her flipper made for us by HealthPointe Veterinary Clinic after she died.

Nevertheless, we know that Svetlana loved her life. She loved her family, both human and waterfowl.

Her life made ours better. We’ll never forget Svetlana, and we know that the best way to honor her memory is to move forward – to love and enjoy each day on earth as much as she did.

And that’s what we intend to do.

We're still not ready to say goodbye. We still have waves of grief hit us each day. We'll never forget Svetlana and we'll treasure the memories she made with us forever.

We’re still not ready to say goodbye. We still have waves of grief hit us each day. We’ll never forget Svetlana and we’ll treasure the memories she made with us for the rest of the time we have.

Goodbye, Baby Girl. You were — and still are — loved beyond measure. We’ll carry your memory with us forever.

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