Sunday, February 7, 2010

What Value has a Life?

Tangene is a male Indian Runner duck. When he came to the farm in 2007, we thought he was a female and one of our staff chose the name that has stuck with him ever since. At first glance, Tangene may seem like the most unlucky of ducks. He has had several major injuries in his lifetime. Yet, Tangene, sees life differently. He arrived at the farm with a severely broken wing that had to be amputated. We nursed him through that and he did great. He didn't fly anyway, so, as he later told us, it didn't really impact him. Then, one year later, we found him limping around the barn. We do not know what happened but somehow he broke his ankle. Luckily, a splint applied to the joint was all that was needed and he fully recovered from that injury as well, with not even a limp to show for it. Then, yesterday, life took a sudden turn for Tangene when he was stepped on by one of our horses. Our vet just happened to be on site and determined the leg was indeed broken.

It being a Saturday, we could not find a veterinarian who works on exotic animals to look at him. In fact, no one was available until Tuesday. We couldn't let him sit there with a broken leg without any help. We were suddenly faced with two choices - euthanasia or a 4 hour round trip to Cornell University to get him some help. We knew this was going to be a very expensive trip. As we weighed the situation over, Tangene sat wrapped in a towel on the lap of one of our barn staff. Everyone loved Tangene, and we were all huddled around him, knowing this injury could be fatal for him if we couldn't get the appropriate help.

Tangene looked at me cautiously, his life resting squarely in the next decision we would make. He looked up at me and said, "Well, if you are asking me to weigh in here, I say we fix it. Just put a stick on it, wrap it, and let me heal." Of course, it wasn't that simple. But it was clear he was not voting for euthanasia. We called Cornell.

On the two hour drive, Tangene and I had a conversation about his life and about Life in general. I explained to him that we were trying to help him and how I honestly didn't know if the doctors could do anything for him.

Tangene: Its just my leg. I'm fine everywhere else. They will just fix it and I'll have to go through rehab again. Oh, rehab, how that gets so boring. But I can do it. We've done it before you know. You will help me and I'll just move along until I can walk again.

Dawn: But I need you to understand that the vets may tell me they can't fix this. And we could be faced with you not being able to survive. I'm not sure what they will say.

Tangene: Well it seems obvious to me that I need you to properly represent me then. Seems like you are the one to set the tone here. I'm not just a duck you know. I'm me. Let me tell you about my life. I am a wizard of sorts. I hold a space in the barn for everyone. I am wise.

Dawn: I'm not questioning your intelligence here, but look at you. You are missing a wing, a toe, and now this major leg injury. You are one very expensive duck!

Tangene: No, I am one very lucky duck that I am with people who don't question the value of a life. When you take me to these doctors then, you need to tell them about me. You just need to ask them to help me. Then we'll do the rest. I think, after all, that this is my call, not yours. All you need to do is show them who I am and they will act appropriately. I am not dying today.

Admittedly, this trip was hanging heavy on me. It was clear how Tangene felt, but the reality was that if this leg could not be saved, the only option left was euthanasia. He was so sure about all this. I didn't want to disappoint him.

When we got to Cornell, they gave me the usual talk about the estimate for treating something like this and was I aware of how much money could go into this. Tangene looked at me from the carrier. His life was momentarily in my hands. "I need to explain our philosophy at our sanctuary." I told the vet. "If an animal is with us in our care, then we believe that we are responsible for their care. If something can be done to save this leg and his life, then we need to do that. He is a wonderful duck." The vet looked at me and smiled and looked in the crate at Tangene and said, "well you lucky duck, let's take a look at you then."

Tangene looked up at me and said, "Thank you. You see, they see me for who I am, a lucky duck."

As it turned out, the leg was broken in two places, but they think he may have a chance to heal. They stabilized the leg, gave him pain killers, and sent him home with us to have our avian vet look at him in a few days to see if surgery is needed. Still groggy from anesthesia, I loaded Tangene back in the car for the drive home. There was just a quiet stillness in the car. Then about half way home, he gently clucked from the crate.

Tangene: I am a lucky duck indeed. The value of my life isn't in a vet bill. It is in the heart that you just stood up for. It is in the bravery we showed together today. It is in the love for my friends back at the farm. It is for the vet who will think about me at the end of her day and realize that we just taught her about the value of a life, and that she helped save mine, and that it meant something to you. She saw your smile when she told you it might just be able to heal. She knew it meant something. She knew I meant something. She knew I am loved. And she knew she was now a part of my life. That is the value of a life. My life has touched so many more than you know. This was a good day.

I couldn't resist one more question for him. "So what is this about you being a wizard?"

He clucked from the back of the car. "Its funny isn't it? Oh well, we'll figure it all out someday."


Harmony said...

Dear Tangene,

Thank you for having touched my life as well!


Janey said...

I think there's a bit of wizardry in everyone at Spring Farm.

Thank you for your wonderful wisdom, Tangene!

Catbird said...

This is such a great story Dawn. Thank you so much. Give Tangene a hug from me! :-) I can feel his duck-in-ality through your story. :-) -Kate

deborah said...

hi. what a lovely, lovely story. can i copy and post on my yahoo group 'pet ducks r us'? or maybe it has already appeared there... thanks