Juanita the Duck: Mallard in federal lock-up awaits reunion with nursing home residents

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The Gabby Dog and Asia, the immortal tabby, hacked my computer again. Usually, I catch them after they’ve dropped a hint about a new job opening.

Sometimes, they just leave the job description on the printer with a sticky note saying, “Charlie, the black cat, would approve.”

Their latest suggestion?

“Bird educator needed at assisted living home, San Anselmo, Calif.”

 “I’m completely unqualifiGabby Doged,” I told them.

Of course, I could just imagine Gabby flushing the birds out and Asia catching them. But as it turned out, I had judged my pets too harshly.

Asia and Gabby had become addicted to the search for a lost pet, Juanita, the Duck. They felt compelled to check my e-mail for regular updates. And then, just when her people found her,  Juanita tripped herself up in some government red tape – more about how later.

Now, she wants to go home to the senior citizens who love her at the Bello Gardens Assisted Living Center.

But to make that happen, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the assisted living center must hire a bird educator; present 12 programs annually about migratory birds; rebuild her cage to conform to government regulations; apply for a Federal Migratory Bird Special Purpose Possession – Education Permit for Live Birds; and comply with a few other requirements.

Whew! Luckily, the assisted living center is on it. At first, I thought the pets wanted me to do something really hard.

Juanita is a 2-year-old mallard. She was but a few days old when she was discovered barely alive in a local park. According to a petition organized by Neysa Hinton, the executive director at the assisted living center, the Bello Gardens cook, Walter Paredes, took care of Juanita and built her a little bird house.

All was well for two years. Then one fine September day, Juanita flew over the fence. A neighbor found her and (not realizing the duck belonged at Bello Gardens) called the humane society.

Juanita ended up at the Wild Care refuge in San Rafael. It took a little while for Bello Gardens residents to locate her. When they did, they learned Juanita wasn’t exactly a lost pet. Wild Care couldn’t return her because it’s illegal for people to keep a wild duck – well, at least it’s illegal without a permit.

Juanita gets a lettuce leaf hand-out from a resident of the nursing home where she was rehabbed.
Juanita gets a lettuce leaf hand-out from a resident of the nursing home where she was rehabbed.

Faced with a mountain of government red tape, Juanita’s friends asked for help. The local newspaper ran a story and attracted the attention of U.S. Cong. Jered Huffman. He named Juanita a Conservation Ambassador and helped work out a safe path home for her with an agreement from US Fish and Wildlife, Wild Care and the Bello Gardens management.

“While it may seem silly to some,” Huffman said, “Wild Care and the government agencies tasked with protecting wildlife have a serious role to play in making sure we don’t harm the wild animals that call our region home.” That’s why the government doesn’t allow wild animals to be treated as pets, he said.

Nonetheless, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

“In this case, we’re all working together to find an appropriate and legal way for the mallard to live at Bello Gardens,” he said.

According to Alison Hermance, Wild Care’s communications director, it’s taking a little time, but the happy reunion is on track.

“Currently the Bello Gardens is working to meet the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requirements to have Juanita as an educational wild animal at their center,” she said. “The process has a lot of steps, but they’re moving forward. Juanita should be back with them soon.”

In the meantime, the residents have visited Juanita at Wild Care.

“Juanita has brought the seniors both purpose and joy,” said Mark Bello, who owns the assisted living center. “She has shown us how big one little duck can be.” He’s agreed to hire a bird educator and is asking people to apply or contact him (www.bellogardens.com) with names of candidates.

Resumes should go to Bello Gardens Assisted Living Center, 46 Mariposa Ave, San Anselmo, CA 94960.

The Gabby Dog and Asia will keep following the story, you can be sure.

Have a tip or story idea? E-mail Margo Ann Sullivan at TheGabbyDog@gmail.com and Follow The_Gabby_Dog on Twitter.


Margo Ann Sullivan

Margo Ann Sullivan is a pet columnist who has written for ZooToo, and numerous publications in New York and in New England. She’s had pets all her life, starting with a rescue collie named Lollypop. The Gabby Dog column chases the news that helps pets and people. It also chronicles the adventures of Gabby, the peke-a-poo, and Asia, the tabby cat, and their many pals, hitting the high spots between Providence, RI, and Manchester, NH.


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About Carol Robidoux 5555 Articles
Journalist and editor of ManchesterInkLink.com, a hyperlocal news and information site for Manchester, NH.