Monday, January 10, 2005

Monday, January 10, 2005

I spent tonight working on a leaflet for the Women in War event. Turned out pretty nice but it took up a lot of my computer time. So I'm posting just two (too) cute animal stories. Enjoy:

Lucy memorialized

Special to The Star Democrat
January 7, 2005

CHESTERTOWN Ć³ Lucy the Goose was memorialized last Friday with a service fit for a high-ranking diplomat. Which, in a way, she was, having served faithfully, if sometimes cantankerously, as Chestertown's avian ambassador for at least a dozen years.

I found her dead Dec. 19 on my daily pre-dawn walk, pausing to burst into tears before dashing home to call Chestertown Town Manager Bill Ingersoll. He responded immediately by contacting Ned Stirling, head of town maintenance, who had Lucy removed from the marshes where she lay. Even before Ned arrived, however, another early morning walker, noticing Lucy's lifeless body, immediately called 9-1-1. Our police responded with compassion, checking to make sure the goose's death was not a result of someone harming her. They found she had died of natural causes.

Lucy was cremated at the Humane Society of Kent County, and her ashes remained in Mayor Margo Bailey's desk until Friday's service, when more than 200 people came to the water's edge at the end of Cannon Street to say goodbye to Lucy. More than a few tears were shed as the mayor eulogized Lucy with a lovely selection of readings emphasizing the importance of all creatures large and small in our lives. I was privileged to spread her ashes in the river while well-known musician Tom McHugh sang a poignant song in her honor.

There are those who may have thought holding this service was pretty quirky. I think there's a lot to be said for a town that mourns a goose.

Many in the crowd offered their own stories about knowing Lucy.

I often wrote about Lucy while I was working for The Kent News, including stories of when Tri-State Bird Rescue veterinarian Dr. Heidi Stout and her team had to pick up Lucy and take her to their facility to remove a "bathtub ring" she'd acquired from some mysteriously sticky substance that had been dumped in the river; Treated as the royalty she was, the goose was not put in a cage, but allowed free range of an entire room at the facility.

"We don't want to cause her any stress," Stout told me. "After all, this is Lucy we're dealing with."

One of my favorite stories, however, resulted from the time a group of Muslim students from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, visited Washington College for several weeks. Lucy raucously introduced herself to them as they headed for the pier to board the Sultana. Flapping and honking officiously, Lucy still allowed the students to pet her head and back, thus enchanting them while escorting them up the pier. Many of the youngsters made several return visits to Lucy throughout their stay, and correspondence I received from some of them after they returned home assured me that meeting Lucy was the high point of a trip that had included visits to Washington, New York and downtown Baltimore.

They were lucky, since Lucy was not always so gracious to visitors. In fact, it was quite clear who she liked and who she decided did not belong in "her area." Her judgment was instant and punitive, spreading her wings and rushing at full throttle towards a hapless visitor in the "not like" category, grabbing their legs or, her favorite mode of attack, untying their shoelaces. It was never clear how she judged who would be friend or foe. Perhaps that's just how royalty behaves.

At the time of her death, Lucy might have been 12 or 20. While no one knew her true age, some locals remember first seeing her about a dozen years ago when she apparently just decided to float across the Chester River from a Queen Anne's goose farm and take up residence on neighboring Kent County.

Those who knew her early on, including kind employees of The Old Wharf Restaurant who first began feeding her, say Lucy was a bit of a wild woman in those early days, and it took a lot of leftovers to gain her trust and tame those flailing wings.

In time, however, Lucy began to take on the role of greeter for visitors to the town, often escorting them to the restaurant or, later, on to the dock to visit the Schooner Sultana. While she received no salary for her duties, which she took seriously 24 hours a day, she felt she was fairly compensated with corn and bread and even the occasional piece of mud pie.

In addition to staying in the memory of many Chestertown visitors, Lucy forged close friendships with countless residents of all ages.

I met Lucy about eight years ago on a beautiful, springlike afternoon when I strolled down to the river to sit outside and eat my sandwich. I had barely sat down on the curb when Lucy popped out of the water, shook herself off and strode over to me with a raucous honk, wings fearfully outspread.

Hoping to keep most of my fingers, I tore off a bit of the buttermilk bread and offered it to her. She put her wings down and accepted it with ladylike grace, cementing our friendship as long as she lived.

Almost every single morning over the past eight years, I took my pre-dawn walk to the river with a piece of buttermilk bread tucked in my pocket. As I cross over Water Street, Lucy never failed to start honking good morning. Then we'd sit together sharing breakfast and solving world problems as we watched the sun come up over the river. I've never found a better way to start each day.

The day before Lucy died, I noticed her arthritis was so severe she could barely walk. Her appetite, which had been declining for more than a week, could not be coaxed even by her favorite buttermilk bread. As I sat with her that last morning, trying to coax her with another bite, Lucy leaned against my shoulder and gently laid her face against my cheek. There's not a doubt in my mind she was saying goodbye.

I'll really miss that old bird.

Odd couple makes friends in Kenya

Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 17:01 GMT

A baby hippo rescued after floods in Kenya last week has befriended a 100-year-old tortoise in Kenya.

The one-year-old hippo calf christened Owen was found alone and dehydrated by wildlife rangers near the Indian Ocean.

He was placed in an enclosure at a wildlife sanctuary in the coastal city of Mombasa and befriended a male tortoise of a similar colour.

According to a park official, they sleep together, eat together and "have become inseparable".

"Since Owen arrived on the 27 December, the tortoise behaves like a mother to it," Haller Park tourism manager Pauline Kimoti told the BBC News website.

"The hippo follows the tortoise around and licks his face," she said.

The tortoise is named Mzee, which is Swahili for old man.

Ms Kimoti said that if the 300kg hippo continued to thrive then in the next few weeks they would allow the public to see the unlikely pair together before they are separated.

The sanctuary, which is on the site of a former cement factory, plans eventually to get the help of the Kenya Wildlife Service to place Owen with Cleo, a lonely female hippo in a separate enclosure.

This is the latest in a series of unusual bondings in the wild that have surprised and delighted zoologists in Kenya.

In 2002, a lioness at Samburu National Park adopted a succession of baby oryx.