His name was Puddles. His photo still hangs on the wall above my desk. Our relationship began, like so many, with a phone call from a client.
"Philipp, Mrs. Wickland is on the phone. She wants to know whether you'll see a duck."
This immediately got my attention. To be honest I sometimes only half tune into what I'm being told as I attempt to catch up on my office work by ineptly multi-tasking. I put down my pen and turned to face the receptionist.
"Did you say duck?"
"Yup, a duck."
I picked up the phone.
"Hi there, Dr. Philipp Schott speaking. I understand you have a duck now?"
"Yes! His name is Puddles! I got him from my daughter. The house was so empty after Al and Bandit died."
Al was her husband and Bandit their dog. Al was an interesting guy and was one of my favorite clients. He was short and round and had a gravelly voice. He was probably in his sixties and you could tell he used to be quite muscular. He told me that he had once been a biker and that if I ever needed help dealing with a difficult client I should ask him because he "still knew some guys" who would straighten things out. I limited my response to a smile and a nod. He also wanted to know whether he could volunteer to walk dogs for us at Christmas. We didn't have any patients stay over that Christmas and then Al died of cancer the next year.
It turned out that there was nothing wrong with Puddles and that Mrs. Wickland just wanted him to get a checkup. So I read up on ducks as best as I could in advance and then on the appointed day Puddles waddled in the front door, herded gently by Mrs. Wickland. Puddles was a standard white farm duck. Have you ever been up close to one? They are surprisingly large. He was easily ten pounds and when he stood tall he reached halfway up my thigh. Now imagine the scene in the waiting room. A half dozen clients, a couple dogs, a couple cats and in walks a duck. You could pretty much see the pupils of the cats eyes dilate from across the room. The one dog was indifferent while the other, a little Cairn terrier, began barking furiously until the owner settled him down. Puddles was as cool as a proverbial cucumber. He ignored everyone, let out a few soft quacks, strutted (a waddling kind of strut mind you) about the waiting room and generally assumed the air of having claimed the place.
The examination went well, despite Puddles's clear indignation at aspects of it, and I was able to pronounce him healthy, although I was at pains to make it clear to Mrs. Wickland that I was far from being a duck expert. The years went by and Puddles came in regularly for his check ups and once or twice for relatively minor foot and skin issues. I always looked forward to his visits. I shouldn't play favorites among my patients, but he definitely was a favorite. He was treated like a rock star by the staff and the other clients and his arrival never failed to spark delighted gasps.
Then one day Mrs. Wickland called to say that Puddles wasn't well. He had been eating less and less and his bowel movements were much wetter than normal. When I looked at him it was obvious that he had lost weight and he wasn't nearly as feisty as he usually was. Also, it became clear that it wasn't watery stool she had seen, but excessive urination mixing with the stool. We ran some tests and determined that his kidneys were failing. He was eight years old at that point, which is elderly for a duck. We struggled along with a few attempts at treatment as Mrs. Wickland wasn't ready to say goodbye yet, but nothing made any difference. With tremendous sadness one blustery March day we let Puddles go.
Spring is a busy time, so despite his celebrity status I soon stopped thinking about Puddles until six months later when Mrs. Wickland phoned. I hadn't spoken to her since the day of the euthanasia. She had trouble keeping the emotion out of her voice, but she wanted reassurance that she had done everything she possibly could for him. She missed him terribly and she always would. Love is blind. It is blind to gender, colour, age, shape, religion, and it is absolutely blind to species.