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Brokering Peace between Ducks and Dogs

Off-duty staffer saw a need, made a change

Part of an online series profiling staff and friends who vounteer "Off Duty"

  • Water birds need safe habitat, especially in spring. Compassion Over Killing

  • Keeping dogs leashed in wildlife areas allows coexistence. Ariana Huemer/The HSUS

  • Signs in the wildlife area now ask visitors to leash their dogs. Andres Aguirre

by Ariana Huemer

Some people say that animals don't have feelings. If I had any doubt, a walk along the river with my dog early this spring proved to me that they do.

At a sandy spot on the riverbank, a little mallard paced endlessly around the still figure of another duck. A closer look showed that the motionless duck wasn't injured—she was dead. 

A trail of canine paw prints leading to and from the body told the story well enough, and I left the bird to his grief.

A duck in mourning

The next day, and the day after that, the scene remained the same: the lone mallard keeping vigil over his mate's lifeless body. I began to worry. Would he slowly starve to death?


On the fourth day, at the advice of an HSUS wildlife expert, I climbed down the riverbank to remove the body and encourage the duck to move on. After I carried the body away, I watched the little mallard's webbed feet pacing in confused circles around the now-empty spot. Eventually, he slipped into the river and swam slowly away.

From sadness to action

I had to wonder: how could dog owners, who doubtless like animals, be so careless about wildlife? Perhaps they didn't know about the leash law. Some communication with city officials was in order.


My email to the Santa Cruz city council and mayor received several concerned replies. He couldn't make any promises, Mayor Rotkin said, but he'd try to get leash-law signs up near the wildlife areas, along with some enforcement.

No more than a week later, I saw the new leash-law signs posted at the river mouth. Even better, I saw several happy people and their dogs—all on leashes.

Hoping for harmony

The new signs came none too soon. With spring upon us, nesting ducks and other water birds seeking safe spots to hatch and raise their babies need all the help they can get.


I know that some dog owners will need time to adjust their habits, so I'll speak up politely if I see dog owners ignoring the signs. In the meantime, I'm hoping that the city's willingness to help wildlife will have planted the necessary seeds for change in our town.

Ariana Huemer is cruelty case manager for The Humane Society of the United States.

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