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By Brett Hickman
Southsider Voice columnist
Chances are, you’ve never heard about a special-needs duckling – until now.
Meet Topper the duck along with his care-provider Lisa Clements Guckelberg, a Southport graduate, who began caring for him shortly after hatching. Topper is a White Pekin duck who hatched on July 24 and was later shipped to Tractor Supply Company with a peculiar curl of his head and neck.
“The cause of his condition is unknown, whether it was neurological, a malformation or an injury. The curling of his neck as if he were still in the egg caused him to lose his balance and fall. In the pen, other ducklings walked on him and he was unable to feed himself.” said Guckelberg.
At this point Topper’s life was in peril, but TSC didn’t have the resources to deal with a special-needs duck. The manager contacted Guckelberg, who has a farm in Johnson County.
In steps, Topper’s life-saver nurtured him at her farm where she has her own normal hens, roosters, turkeys, ducks and even guineas. She helps rescue special-needs small bird-animals, such as chickens and ducks. She hand-fed Topper with vitamins, electrolytes and niacin. She would gently uncurl and massage his neck which gave brief moments of relief. Shortly after treatments, Topper would curl up again.
Guckelberg, then created a tiny cervical collar from a sock. Topper was able to walk normally and eat and drink on his own. However, Topper would often remove the collar and revert to curling his neck, perhaps out of habit, she observed. Topper began to show improvement, even acting curious and being loveable.
Still, he flipped over backwards helplessly and could not move until Guckelberg would flip him over. As there’s no manual or guide for caring for a duck with this condition, it’s totally trial and error by assesing his needs while trying to rehabilitate him.
She then prepared a special protective space with a hay-covered floor that acted as a cushion when he fell. The hay was replaced with straw after Topper became entangled, causing a great restriction in circulation, leaving his foot swollen and discolored. Fortunately there was no damage and he quickly healed. He also was unable to swim in the duck-pool. If he flipped over on his back, he would take in water and could drown.
Topper continued to be helpless without Guckelberg’s attention and care that created some stress for her. At one point, Topper went back to not drinking or eating and had to be hand fed.
She originally obtained the ranch for her two horses and added some roosters and hens. She is not in the habit of taking on rescue projects.
However, as Topper grew, he began to walk normally and eat and drink on his own. He could swim in his pool and began behaving like a normal duckie, of course with a loveable, assertive and humorous personality.
Two months after being brought to the farm, Topper’s incidents of flipping over had decreased significantly. Guckelberg said that Topper seemed to know when a curling attack was coming. He could also right himself afterward.
Now, he may not be totally cured, but Topper seems to be closer to normal. He quacks, plays, swims and eats on his own. His progress is due to the care and love provided by the reserved Guckelberg. Topper even seems to be appreciative, she contends.
However, this isn’t totally a story about a care-giver helping an afflicted duck. Instead it is simply about an unselfish person assisting a special-needs recipient.
It matters not the recipient was Topper the duck; it could have been any animal or person in need.