10-22-2011, 02:13 PM
Caution Baby Ducks In Office Watch Your Step read the sign taped on Criss' office door. Inside, the ducklings wandered about the office but still staying close to Criss while he tapped away on his laptop at his desk. The six little ducklings explored the cavernous space underneath the desk, pecked at crumbs of food in the carpeting that somehow avoided the vacuum cleaner, and warmed themselves by the space heater, all the while huddled together in a downy mass of perfect solidarity.
The space heater was set on low, but the office became unbearably hot as the afternoon wore on. Dean Waring's warning on keeping the chicks warm still stuck in Criss' mind, however; they had not developed their feathers and so were still vulnerable to changes in temperature. Sweating, Criss peeled off his t-shirt and kicked off his boots to make himself more comfortable. He was about to strip to his briefs when he heard a knock on the door. "Come on in," he yelled.
The door opened slowly. Criss' brother, JD stuck his head inside. "Hey, Criss," he said.
Criss looked up. "Oh, hey, JD, come on in. Just watch your step, okay?"
JD entered the office. "My God!" he exclaimed, fanning himself with his hands. "It's like an oven in here!"
"Well, the chicks gotta keep warm," Criss reminded him. "So, what's up?"
"Well, I made a few phone calls last night," JD explained, "and there's someone I want you to meet."
JD opened the door wider. There in the doorway stood a plain-looking, bespectacled woman with orangey-red hair tied up in a bun. She wore a blue long-sleeved shirt and khaki trousers that gave her skinny frame a more masucline appearance. "This is Dr. Brenda Gilchrist," JD said. "She's an orthinologist from Wildlife Rescue of Nevada in Valgado. She's here to help you with your duck problem."
Embarrassed to have been caught shirtless in front of a lady, Criss hastily pulled his t-shirt back on, then stood up and shook her hand. "How do you do, Doctor," he said politely
Dr. Gilchrist returned the greeting cordially. "Hello, Mr...Angel, is it?"
"Criss. It's a pleasure to meet you." She looked around the office. "So, where are the ducklings?"
Criss scanned the floor of the office. "Oh, they're around here somewhere," he said. He bent over and peered under the desk. "Yeah, there they are, under here."
Dr. Gilchrist stooped down and looked under the desk with him. "How many are there?"
"I only see five."
"Well, there's six of 'em down there." Criss grabbed one of his boots. "Maybe one's hiding in my boot here."
He shook his boot and out tumbled the sixth duckling. "Oops! There he is!" he laughed. "Playing hide-and-seek, were you?"
"So where have you been keeping them?" Dr. Gilchrist asked.
Criss pointed to the cage. "I bought them here in the pet carrier over there. I didn't want to leave them at home alone, especially with Hammie."
The ducklings huddled around Criss' bare feet. "That's another thing," he said. "They follow me around everywhere I go. If I leave them, they start crying and carrying on like I'm abandoning them." He flushed with embarrassment. "They think I'm their mother."
Dr. Gilchrist nodded. "Your brother told me about that. You were the first thing they saw after they hatched, so they thought you were their mother. It's called 'imprinting'; it's instinctive, so there's nothing you can do about it. When did they hatch?"
"Have you fed them anything since they hatched?"
"Well, this morning I gave them a little cornmeal and some water. Is that okay? They didn't eat much, though; they just kept following me around the house."
"Ducklings are fed in the egg through the yolk sac, so there was no need to feed them for the first few days. At least you didn't give them any breadcrumbs--it's bad for their digestion. Water's good, but they need a protein diet. I've got some special meal mix for them." She looked at the space heater. "I'm glad to see you've been keeping them warm."
"Yeah, well, one of my cameramen was in 4-H, and he raised some baby chicks, so he's got some experience with them. I sure don't."
"You're not intending on keeping them as pets, are you?"
"Oh, no!" Criss protested. "No, no, no, no. JD told me it was illegal to keep wildlife as pets. I just wanted to rescue them after their parents got gunned down by Lake Meade. There are snakes and lizards out there that eat eggs, you know. I truly intend to return them to the wild as soon as they're old enough."
"Well, your intentions are honorable," Dr. Gilchrist conceded, "but you are doing more harm than good bringing them up in captivity like this."
Criss was shocked. "Captivity!"
"Yes, that's basically what it is--captivity. Carrying them around in a cage, no access to their natural habitat--they won't be able to adjust to the wild growing up in a human environment. And then there's the matter of your cat; once your back is turned, Hammie is going to hunt them down and kill them."
"So, what do you recommend that I do?" Criss asked. "Take them back to Lake Meade? They won't last an hour out there on their own! They need me to protect them! I can handle Hammie, all right. It's the rest where I need your help."
Dr. Gilchrist sighed. "Well, I'd gladly take them off your hands, Criss," she said, "but, unfortunatly, right now we don't have either the facilities or the staff to raise ducklings. We're barely making it as it is, what with budget cuts and our grant proposal being turned down. In other words, I'm as much in a bind as you are as far as the chicks are concerned. When your brother called me last night, he told me you would be willing to help out if I helped you with the ducklings, so I jumped at the chance and came here to Las Vegas. So, I'm willing to make you a deal: I'll help you raise the ducklings so they can live in the wild, and you help with the funding of our organization. Does that sound good to you?"
Criss looked at Dr. Gilchrist. Then he looked down at the ducklings gathered at his feet. Then he looked at Dr. Gilchrist again. "Okay, Doc," he said, "you got yourself a deal."