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San Anselmo seniors fight wildlife officials for custody of mallard duck


Schools kids visit “Juanita” the Mallard duck while she was at Bello Gardens Assisted Living in San Anselmo.
Courtesy of Bello Gardens Assisted Living



Juanita the mallard duck, who was rescued at the age of four days nearly two years ago and took up residence in an assisted living facility, may never see her home again.

Found abandoned and barely alive in a local park in February 2014, Juanita was brought to Bello Gardens Assisted Living in San Anselmo. She has lived there ever since. The residents love her.

“A landscaping guy found Juanita and asked if I could take care of her,” said Walter Paredes, a 16-year employee and cook at the facility. “She was a little baby that fit in my hand. She had no feathers, just baby fuzz like a chicken. I put her in a box with some blankets. I cooked her rice, fed her tomatoes and insects from the garden.”

Now she is grown up, Paredes said. “She is nice and beautiful. She likes to be with the residents. Sometimes they have music and she stands in the middle of them and looks like she is dancing to the music.”

Paredes built her a little house, a pool and a waterfall.

But the duck snuck in a little jaunt over the fence Sept. 16 and was found by a neighbor who, thinking Juanita was lost, called the Humane Society, which delivered the duck to WildCare. At first, the Bello Gardens residents, whose average age is 85, didn’t know what had happened to Juanita.

“The residents and their families started taking fliers all around town, putting them up on telephone poles and handing them out. ‘Juanita is lost,’” said Neysa Hinton, executive director of Bello Gardens Assisted Living.

A resident’s daughter called WildCare Sept. 18 and discovered Juanita was there.

Now it looks like Juanita won’t be able to return.

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“Anyone who finds a wild bird is required to take them to a facility like WildCare,” said Melanie Piazza, WildCare director of animal care. “Clearly their heart was in the right place, but they raised a mallard duckling and imprinted her so that she is no longer a wild duck and can no longer be returned to the wild.”

The director of animal care said Juanita “is perfectly healthy,” but added, “We are not legally allowed to return her to somebody who is not permitted” to have a wild bird.

“Under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act we would lose our license. Our permit is very specific that we cannot give an animal to a facility that does not have the proper permits,” Piazza said.

Hinton said she had reached out to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife regarding a permit to no avail.

“We can’t even apply for a permit at this point,” Hinton said. “I’m not understanding that process. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has not come out and looked at our facility to see if we can apply for a permit.”

A spokesman for the department was adamant on the point.

“There are a whole lot of state and federal laws that prohibit ducks from being kept as pets. It is against the law to have a pet duck,” said Andrew Hughan of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“Ducks fall under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They are federally protected; you can’t interfere with a duck. You certainly cannot have it as a pet,” Hughan said.

“It’s not sanitary. It’s not safe. Wild animals carry lots of diseases that folks could be susceptible to,” Hughan said.

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“Your one duck, I’m sure, is not a problem,” Dave Smail of the county’s environmental health services told Hinton in an email Aug. 4.

Smail quoted a San Anselmo local ordinance that had adopted Marin County Code 22.68.020I. The code states, “On any lot in any R district, in addition to any livestock permitted in the district by the terms of this title, there may be kept not to exceed twelve fowl other than roosters, quacking ducks ….”

“We do have what I hope is a happy resolution,” Piazza said. She said Willow, a bird who used to live at WildCare, has passed away, “so now we have space in our permit and our caging to house another mallard.

“We are in negotiations now with permitting to see if we can keep her here,” Piazza said.

When Paredes went to WildCare Saturday to visit Juanita, he was not allowed to see her.

“She is currently still considered a patient and we do not have a permit yet to put her on display as an educational animal,” Piazza said.

“Since she just came in recently, we have to follow all the rules,” Piazza said. “But as soon as we get our permits, she will be able to be in the pond and on display. I would hope that would be in the next few months.”

Meanwhile, Hinton, Paredes and the residents are working to bring Juanita home.

“Our residents and their families are planning to walk the neighborhood this week with a clipboard to collect signatures on a petition,” Hinton said.

“We are a state-run facility and I don’t see why an exemption can’t be requested,” Hinton said. “They are saying we broke federal law and could be fined. I said, ‘The duck was four days old and we had no way of knowing it was a wild duck.’

“If hunters can hunt these ducks, then I can’t understand why we can’t keep a duck that is domesticated, that they say can’t live in the wild,” Hinton said.

“The seniors are sad. They miss Juanita,” Paredes said. “So do I.”

Article source: http://www.marinij.com/general-news/20150929/san-anselmo-seniors-fight-wildlife-officials-for-custody-of-mallard-duck