(First published in Planet Magazine, 06jun1995)
Tempe resident Nancy Townsend has invented many things.
Exhibit One: a little thing called Warm Puppy. It involves a
microwave, but I'd really rather not go into details. You can ask
her about it yourself when you call to order your duck
And why in the world would you need duck diapers? For your
duck, naturally. Duh! And, fortunately for you, Nancy Townsend is
in the process of patenting the world's first disposable duck
Why would you want a duck? Because ducks are
"environmentally perfect pets," says Townsend. She can recite you
a whole list of reasons you should have a duck. "They will take care of
all of your insects, they kill weeds, they don't kill anything
good. They do not hurt grass, flowers, plants, or shrubbery.
They'll find 20% of their own food. Ducks can withstand
temperature ranges from something like 40 below zero to 120
degrees like we have here, with no outside shelter at all.
Doesn't bother them. Ducks carry no diseases. None at all. They
need no shots. They don't need medication. Chickens have to have
shots and medication. But ducks don't."
Ducks also lay eggs. Townsend's husband takes a couple from
the refrigerator to show me. "Delicious!" he says. You eat
them? I ask. "Well, they're unfertilized!" says Townsend. I know,
I know. But the idea! "I'll admit it bothered me a little
at first," she admits. "But I got over it."
You may have seen Nancy Townsend around town. She's the one
dressed as Mother Goose, holding a leash that leads to a ducka
duck that is wearing a diaper that matches Mother Goose's dress
print. Matildathat's the duckstarts quacking (or "talking,"
as Townsend says), as soon as she sees the leash, which hooks to
the diaper assembly, which in turn straps around the duck's
torso, "so when I pick her up (by the leash), it doesn't hurt.
Now, the flying was her idea."
Matilda's duck-walking technique leaves the Chuck Berry
method in the dust: first she ducks down (there's really no better word
for it) in readiness, waiting for Townsend to pass her and gently tug the
leash, at which time she hop-flies ahead, as far as the leash will allow.
It's a routine that attracts a lot of attention, and Matilda
loves meeting the public, and makes new friends wherever she goes. "I
have found one group of society that absolutely loves Matilda
that I didn't expect to: young men. It's incredible!" says
Townsend. "Guys that you would not believe, in a group,
teenagers, whatever, in a mall, that you would think the last
thing they'd do would be toin front of their friends!ooh and
ahh over an old duck! All the macho goes right out the window!
They just love her! They all just go nuts over the duck." So, if
a young woman was to have a duck...? Townsend nods and smiles.
Townsend thinks of ducks as the great equalizers. "I have
found that, believe me, race, creed, color, intelligence,
financial statusnothing makes any difference when it comes to
this duck," she says. "Everybody asks the same questions. Is it
real? Like it's some robot thing. Is it a duck? I love that.
She's all dressed up, sitting on my lap in a cafe, and I get
asked, is it tame and is it a pet? NoI was sitting minding my
own business when this wild duck came out of the sky and sat in
my lap all dressed! Incredible!"
The two have been refused entrance only once. At
Rawhide, if you can believe ita place where horse apples
underfoot are completely acceptable, but a duck wearing a diaper
is somehow beyond the pale. Guess it ain't that raw. "If I
undressed her and threw her over the fence, she'd be fine.
There'd be no objection. Apparently it's insurancein case a
horse kicked my duck in the head. Or something."
Sometimes they visit parks with ponds, such as Kiwanis Park,
where Matilda swims around and teases all the boy-ducks. "I've
had drakes follow her up onto the sidewalk and up on the picnic
tables, just totally smitten by this duck. But she doesn't pay
any attention to them whatsoever."
So how does a person end up getting so involved with ducks?
"Well, I had a duck before, that was drowning in the park,"
Townsend recalls. "My husband was fishing and this duck was,
like, going down for the third time. So he fished it out with his
net and brought it home for me to take care of. It lived in the
back yard for years." She was hooked.
But that doesn't explain how it end up as a housepet. "One Christmas I
thought it would be fun to bring the duck in for Christmas."
Christmas duck? Wait a minute.... "No, it wasn't
dinner time!" she says. "I made this kind of makeshift
diaper. It didn't work too well, but I knew I could make a
duck diaper. The duck diaper was a good idea. So, over my husband
saying, no, Nancy, you are not going to buy a duck, I went and
bought another duck at a feed store for two bucks. And proceeded
to invent the diaper holder."
Having a duck in the house didn't sit too well at first with Townsend's
two cats. "Even when she was in the cage, the cats would come around
and she'd peck 'em on the nose so fast they never even knew what hit 'em.
A duck can pick a fly out of the air. Okay? A duck can hit a cat's
nose and the cat never knows what happened. So the cat is totally
befuddled. It knows, if I go close to this, I get hit, I don't
know where it comes from, I don't know how. But then [Matilda]
was lonesome, so she had to make up with the cats. So she'd go
sleep with them. She'd get closer and closer and they'd wake up
and go "AAAAAHHH!" Finally they got used to it. They play with
all the same toys now." Do they fight? No way. The cats are
completely cowed by the duck. "The cats won't fight with her. If
it comes to something dropped on the floor, a toy or anything,
that all three of them wantas soon as Matilda says, 'I want
it,' they just let her have it."
Matilda doesn't play with just kitty toys, though. She can
play a toy piano (she learned in "only two lessons!" beams Townsend) and play
soccer. "She's very smart. The minute she knows what I want and
that I'll give her a treatwhich takes no time at allshe does
it. And she does it from then on. They're very much creatures of
Townsend is a walking library of duck knowledge. "I got a
lot of books from the library and studied up, because I figured
if I started walking around town with a duck, people are gonna
ask me questions."
Some of the answers are surprising, such as how Matilda
stays clean. "She goes in the bathtub every night, just like we
do. Ducks don't need to swim," she says. "That's a fallacy." Or
should that be fowl-acy? (Oh right, like I was going to do
a whole article on ducks and not make any puns!)
Are ducks affectionate? Well, I was with Matilda for only an
hour, and she took to me like a...never mind. But I did
experience an especially endearing duck trait known as the Duck
Hug: if you hug a duck, it will extend its neck to full length
and curve it to fit yours. I never hugged a duck before, but I
have now, and I have to say it was a pretty darn agreeable
Nothing near as intense as the bond between a duck and its
owner, however. A duck "bonds to you above and beyond anything
you can imagine," Townsend says. "No other animal imprints to
that degree." One of Townsend's informational duck flyers
explains: "A baby duck will imprint on the first large person or
thing it sees after leaving the shell. If this is you, you are
MOM." This doesn't mean that Matilda will come when called,
Townsend admits, though Matilda definitely does know her name. "I
can fuss at her from the next room if I hear her getting into
something, and she'll stop."
The life expectancy of a duck, as near as Townsend can
figure it, is anywhere from 8 to 20 years. Matilda is a full-grown
six-month-old mallard. "They do all their growing in the
first ten weeks. You can watch a duck growit's that fast."
Is there a down side to having a duck as a pet? Is there
anything one might want a duck to do that it will not do? "Yeah,
shut up," says Townsend's husband.
One would think there'd be Duck Societies of some kind, groups
of Duck-as-Housepet enthusiasts, but Townsend isn't
aware of any. "I think a few people do [keep ducks in the house],
but they haven't met. And that's not...very good. But the diaper
thing makes it possible for anybody. Somebody living in a New
York apartment could have a duck." (Hmm...a future Seinfeld
episode?) "Matilda rides in the car, she can go anywhere, and
with the diaper you don't have to worry about stopping or
anything. A long-distance trucker could have a duck for a pet!"
Townsend's duck diapers come in all of your basic duck sizes
and can be any color or design you want. One of Matilda's
favorites is her Phoenix Suns diaper. "I'm a big Suns fan,"
Now the most important question: how often do you have to
change a duck's diaper? Well, your smaller sized indoor ducks
need to be changed only about four times a dayfive at the most-
-and it takes only about 10 seconds. "You can change a diaper in
the car. I've changed a diaper in front of people standing all
around looking at her and they didn't even know I did it."
Townsend and Matilda are available to appear at parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs, clog dances, whatever. And if you know of
any duck clubs or support groups, let her know. My suggestion was
that she look on the Web. (Har! OK, last one.) And if you want
a duck yourself, she'll let you browse through a duck catalog (yep) that
has pictures of ducks of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Just pick
what you want and mere days later a fertilized egg will arrive,
ready to be hatched. Make sure you're there when the baby duck
pops out, and you're guaranteed a friend for life. Or at least
for 8 to 20 years.
© Deuce of Clubs