By Tracy Ahrens
One January day a surprise package from Amazon was delivered to my door. Inside were several gifts for my cats and my dog, Angel. There was no name disclosed as the “sender,” but I wish I knew who it was. I want to thank them, because the stuffed duck toy inside instantly became Angel’s favorite friend.
This yellow, fuzzy, flat duck with a squeaker inside is about the size of Angel’s Shepherd/Husky head. She carried it upstairs to my bedroom and placed it on my bed where she sleeps beside me. It has been there ever since, with an occasional accidental tumble to the floor and my duty to retrieve it back to Angel’s side.
Angel uses it as a pillow. She sleeps holding it between her front paws. I have found it tucked between the footboard and mattress. I have seen it sticking out from under her body as she snores. One day it was between her back legs. This duck is definitely her pal for life.
Adopted last year at the age of 11, Angel had no name and no history on record. She was a stray with a variety of health issues and facing euthanasia at a kill shelter. Angels intervened and she was transported by a rescue worker to a shelter 200 miles away. That’s where I met her and fell in love.
For two months she showed no interest in toys. Then one day she relaxed a bit more and picked up a stuffed toy given to her by a young boy who volunteered at the shelter. She showed me that she is skilled at quickly severing the limbs, ears and tails off of stuffies with her back teeth. She can pluck the stuffing and squeakers out in seconds. (Read my story about this stufficide.)
This yellow duck, however, is sacred to her and goes unscathed.
Someone who follows my posts about Angel on social media sent us this duck, a gift so perfect it was like divine intervention.
Angel finds comfort in this fluffy critter and sometimes gently chews on it at night, squeaking it before I fall sleep.
“We have favorite things, why shouldn’t our pets?” said Steve Dale, certified animal behavior consultant (CABC) and national radio host. “What makes it a favorite toy likely depends somewhat on the individual pet, but we really don’t know exactly. The texture of the toy will attract a pet to it, and conceivably the smell may also matter. Sometimes, it’s like Linus’ security blanket, presumably giving the pet a feeling of comfort. Sometimes we reinforce the behavior because it’s so cute, and we say that to the pet. Like so many behaviors, we knowingly or unknowingly may contribute just by telling the pet how cute he is, or how wonderful she is.”
I have experienced this toy/pet bond with several other pets over the years.
My cat Desdemona had a love for little plastic, felt covered mice. Three mice she loved to fetch and retrieve with me for many years. Those mice I eventually placed on a shelf beside her ashes.
My cat Forest loves a real mink tail toy and for several years he would carry it around the house, losing it in places for me to find and retrieve it.
My Brittany Spaniel, Speckles, bonded with a large stuffed moose that my mom gave me one Christmas. That moose was as big as Speckles when he was a puppy. He carried it everywhere and slept on it, using it as a pillow. He ripped its ears, tail, antlers, and lips off and I mended and washed that ratty thing countless times. Speckles would watch me toss his moose into the washing machine and wait for it to come out of the drier. Speckles died at the age of 12. The moose I could not part with.
My cat Jack loved Speckles and he mourned when Speckles passed away. The moose became security for Jack during his sadness and I often found him sleeping near it. My last dog, Trucker, was adopted at age 5 and he also found comfort in that moose. When Trucker died, I had the moose cremated with him.
A friend told me that his Pomeranian, Cody, carried around a small stuffed lion toy for 15 years, sucking on its ear. When Cody died, my friend wanted to bury the lion with the dog but he could not find the toy.
It wasn’t until two years later when he brought home a new puppy, a border collie named Toby, that Toby explored his backyard and found the lion under bushes. The dirty, moss covered lion shocked him as it stuck out of Toby’s mouth. The lion is now sealed in a plastic bag as a memory.
I remember years ago reading a story about a photographer who specialized in capturing images of old, tattered dog toys like these in special locations in order to memorialize pets who had passed away. The images were simple, yet moving. Torn, dirty, frayed toys were placed in a wooded area, or on a park bench or a special chair that the dog used to rest. It spoke volumes to the years that toy was loved.
It’s like an old teddy bear or a comfort blanket that a child used to carry, but now is tucked away in a cedar chest with other mementoes.
I have taken many photos of Angel sleeping with her duck on my bed. Sometimes I capture short videos of her squeaking it softly in her mouth. I post them to social media, often with the caption of, “A girl and her duck.” These images alone tell a story and I will continue to share them for others to enjoy.
I protect Angel just as I protect this duckie that is so important to her. I know that my Angel, based on her breed, is in the last years of her life. When she passes away, I plan to have this duck cremated with her so they are together, forever.
Tracy Ahrens is a veteran journalist, author, artist and mom to three rescued cats and one dog. See her web site at www.tracyahrens.weebly.com and add her children’s book, “Sammy Sparrow’s First Flight,” to your collection. All proceeds help 10 humane organizations.