August 22, 2013 | Volume 43, Number 33

Pampered fowl needs a friend

Talk about a lucky duck.

Finnegan, a 4-year-old khaki Campbell that moved to Haines with owners Gene and Michele Cornelius a few weeks ago, watches movies from the living room couch. He goes camping and plays in his owners’ slippers.

Also, he wears a diaper.

The Corneliuses moved here from Homer with Finnegan and three cats in a VW camper. They didn’t set out to live with a duck. They brought Finnegan and a female duck, Phoebe, home four years ago, for the purpose of producing eggs.

They started bringing the ducks in at night after having trouble keeping their duck pen warm. But Finnegan and Phoebe quickly became a part of the family and the couple started diapering the pair to accommodate time indoors.

Last August, Phoebe was killed by a lynx. “Finnegan was very sad. There was a lot of sadness in the whole family,” Gene said.

Ducks need companionship, creating another reason to include Finnegan in family activities. “People do find it unusual,” Gene said. “It’s not common, obviously.”

Now the couple is looking to find a permanent mate for their little buddy.

A classified ad on the Haines Community Website describes the “handsome” khaki Campbell drake as a lonely duck in the prime of life, seeking a mate, ideally a good egg-layer. The ad assures the relationship would be for the long-term, and the mate would join “a loving household” and not get eaten.

In the meantime, Gene and Michele are Finnegan’s closest friends. During evenings indoors, Finnegan plays with string toys, struts about and hops onto the couch to snuggle during a movie.

Finnegan wears a diaper because waterfowl can’t be potty trained.

“If you don’t want stuff inside your house, on the floors, walls…put a diaper on him,” Gene said. But since changing the diaper is “messy business,” Finnegan typically doesn’t spend more than a few hours a day wearing one.

The diaper is fastened by a harness that fits around the duck’s torso and holds a piece of a cloth baby diaper that Michele cuts to fit. The couple found it online at avianfashions.com, where duck diapers include ones with a polka-dot design. “You could get really snazzy with it, but we like the basic black.”

Inside, the diapered duck also “hangs out” with the couple’s cats, but they’re not close friends, Michele said. “They have respect for each other. They acknowledge each other as family, but they don’t cuddle up together,” Gene said.

Finnegan approaches the cats, but the cats don’t approach him, because if they do, the duck will snap at them.

When Gene or Michele are home during the day, they keep Finnegan in a beefed-up chicken coop and pen at their home near Letnikof Estates. Finnegan’s pen is equipped with mirrors to help fend against loneliness. “They’re not too smart,” Michele said.

And when the couple isn’t home, neither is Finnegan.

“Anywhere we go, we have our duck with us,” Gene said. Finnegan accompanies them on trips ranging from town errands to camping trips in national parks. Out and about, Finnegan travels in a kennel-sized rubber tub that contains straw, food and water.

On long road trips, Finnegan gets out at rest stops, just like everyone else. A leash that fastens onto his diaper allows the waterfowl to roam safely. Stares from strangers aren’t uncommon while walking their duck on a leash, Michele said.

On camping trips, Finnegan likes swimming in streams – but not without his leash, which prevents wandering and offers protection from other animals. “With the leash, we’re able to reel him into safety,” Gene said. Finnegan once had a run-in with a bear, but fortunately, the couple was nearby. “He’s a good camper,” Gene said.

There are challenges to bringing a duck camping, and everywhere you go. The couple would like to go out in their boat, but taking Finnegan with them would prove difficult and hinder the outings. “We would like to not always have a duck with us,” Gene said.

Ducks have more personality than people think, Gene said. But since most people with ducks have more than one or two, they’re unable to see differences. Gene and Michele know their duck. They say his favorite treats are broccoli, cabbage and dandelions. He especially enjoys bugs, slugs and flies.

If Gene and Finnegan are inside the house, and Michele leaves, Finnegan runs up to the window and watches. He sleeps in his travel tub, which doubles as his bed and is brought into the house at nighttime. In the morning, when Finnegan hears his owners up and moving, he lets out his guttural quacks that sound something like “baat.”