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Friends for Life

Tara Harrison examines Puff the duck
Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Some of the strongest relationships are born in adversity — and some of the most uncommon relationships, too. Such is the bond between Ashley Scott of Elizabeth City and her close friend, Puff the Duck.

No less an authority than the American Veterinary Medical Association describes the connection between people and animals in these words: “The human-animal bond is a mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals, and the environment.”

Ashley and Puff crossed paths in March, 2015. Ashley happened to be in a place where baby ducks were being sold as Easter pets. She noticed that two of the little ducks were in bad shape — both had been trampled on by the other ducks and were in danger of being simply discarded by the sellers. She quickly adopted both of them. One, which she had named Peep, was too severely injured, and died within a week. But the other duck — named Puff because of the crest on its head — rallied and survived. From there, what had begun as simply an impulse to rescue a small injured creature developed into the aforementioned “mutually beneficial and dynamic relationship … essential to the health and well-being of both.”

In other words, Puff and Ashley bonded.

Ashley says that as little Puff recovered, she didn’t like to be separated, and even wanted to cuddle with her rescuer. But there’s much more to the story than that.

Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine
Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Ashley herself suffers from an autoimmune disorder that requires periodic grueling treatments, and after each one a period of rest and recovery is essential. As Ashley would recuperate, Puff would crawl into her arms and the two would sit quietly together. If she got up, Puff would want to be carried with her. It was comforting and rejuvenating for Ashley.

As Puff grew, Ashley would release her into the Scotts’ back yard, where there is a pool and open space. She quickly took to being outdoors and spends a significant amount of time there. Ashley points out that Puff can fly and is free to leave at any time. But home is where the heart is.

Being outdoors is not without its hazards, however, and in February 2016, Puff was attacked and badly wounded in the back by an owl. So badly, in fact, that emergency surgery was necessary to save her life. The attending veterinarian told Ashley that he was surprised Puff survived.

Once again, Ashley devoted herself to nursing Puff back to health. And as a result, their bond grew even stronger.

Recently, Puff began to show signs of distress, and a trip to the local veterinarian revealed that Puff was egg-bound — developing an egg, but unable to pass it, a potentially life-threatening situation. There was some indication that the egg may have been broken, which can result in serious infection. The condition required the expert care available from the NC State Veterinary Hospital, (VH), so Ashley and Puff made the three-and-one-half-hour drive from Elizabeth City to Raleigh. There, a team led by Tara Harrison, a clinical assistant professor in the Exotic Animal Medicine Service, helped Puff to successfully pass the egg (she has since passed others, as well) and administered antibiotics to prevent infection.

Ashley Scott with Puff. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine
Ashley Scott with Puff. Photo by Nathan Latil/NC State Veterinary Medicine

Back at the VH in late June for a follow-up examination, Ashley acknowledged that it was a long trip, but said “it was worth it for my baby.” Ashley firmly believes that the two are together for one another’s benefit. To honor the occasion, both Ashley and Puff came dressed in NC State-themed finery to express their appreciation to the clinicians and staff.

Ashley and Puff have faced and overcome their share of challenges in their short time together. More importantly, each has been there for the other when they were needed most.

But then, that’s what friends for life do.

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine