Flight­less duck takes to the sky

Emo­tional sup­port animal Daniel be­comes in­ter­net sen­sa­tion, writes AMY B WANG

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

MARK Es­sig was set­tling into his flight from Char­lotte in the US to Asheville, North Carolina, this week when he no­ticed an un­usual pas­sen­ger board­ing the plane.

It was a duck. Mak­ing his way down the aisle.

Wear­ing red shoes. And a Cap­tain Amer­ica nappy.

The duck’s hu­man in­tro­duced him to their fel­low, now-amused pas­sen­gers: this was Daniel Tur­ducken Stinker­butt, or Daniel for short. He is a 4-year-old In­dian run­ner duck and is her emo­tional sup­port animal, she ex­plained.

“I heard a few maybe semi­crit­i­cal mut­ter­ings, like, ‘Now I’ve seen ev­ery­thing,’” Es­sig said. “But most ev­ery­body was de­lighted to have a duck on a plane. As they should be.”

Like many other pas­sen­gers, Es­sig snapped a few pho­tos while Daniel and his hu­man were board­ing. Af­ter take­off, Es­sig tried to con­cen­trate on light read­ing dur­ing the flight, but he kept glanc­ing to­ward the duck, just a row ahead and to the right of him.

When he saw the duck star­ing out the win­dow, he couldn’t re­sist tak­ing one more pic­ture.

Af­ter the flight, Es­sig posted his pho­tos on Twit­ter.

“My seat­mate is this hand­some duck named Daniel,” Es­sig tweeted. “His gen­tle quack­ing eases the sad­ness of leav­ing #SFA16 (the South­ern Food­ways Al­liance con­fer­ence).

“I was ex­pect­ing that this might amuse a cou­ple of my friends,” he said. What he didn’t an­tic­i­pate was that the pho­tos would go vi­ral.

It turned out a duck wear­ing shoes on a plane was too much for the in­ter­net to han­dle.

Es­sig posted two more pho­tos and a video: one of Daniel in his full red-shoed glory and an­other of the duck wag­ging his tail while his owner claims it means Daniel is happy. Both tweets were shared thou­sands of times.

The most pop­u­lar, how­ever, was a pic­ture of Daniel as the duck seemed to stare for­lornly out the plane win­dow. “Daniel, the duck on my flight, likes to look at the clouds,” Es­sig tweeted. That photo had more than 5 000 retweets and more than 11 000 likes.

The en­counter amused Es­sig but also piqued his cu­rios­ity about ducks as sup­port an­i­mals – he is the au­thor of Lesser Beasts, a book about hu­mans’ com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with pigs. Af­ter the flight, he looked up Daniel’s breed and dis­cov­ered that In­dian run­ner ducks do not fly.

“My guess was that he was gaz­ing out the win­dow, look­ing at the clouds, and the sight trig­gered a deep an­ces­tral mem­ory of what it was like to fly him­self,” Es­sig said, laugh­ing. “I’m al­most cer­tain that’s (what) he was think­ing.”

Within two days of Es­sig’s tweets, Daniel had be­come an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion, fea­tured on Buz­zFeed, ABC News and Cos­mopoli­tan, among many other sites.

The at­ten­tion sur­prised Daniel’s owner, Carla Fitzger­ald of Wis­con­sin, “be­cause to me, hav­ing an emo­tional sup­port duck is nor­mal – it’s my new nor­mal.”

Fitzger­ald adopted Daniel in 2012, when he was two days old. Fitzger­ald, a for­mer horse-and­car­riage driver in Mil­wau­kee, was in­volved in a se­ri­ous ac­ci­dent.

“Some­one who was pay­ing more at­ten­tion to the phone than the road hit me from be­hind, with enough force to bust up the car­riage,” she said. Her horse was badly in­jured and the crash sent Fitzger­ald hurtling to­ward a metal-grated draw­bridge. For months, she was im­mo­bile.

“It took them four months to teach me how to walk again,” Fitzger­ald said. Along with the pain, she suf­fered post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der.

Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, Daniel ap­par­ently knew things were dif­fer­ent and re­sponded with­out ever hav­ing been trained.

“He would no­tice some­thing wrong, whether it be my pain or my PTSD,” Fitzger­ald said. “He would come and (give me) lots of hug­ging and lots of kisses. And if he no­tices that I’m go­ing to have a panic at­tack, he would give me a cue to lay down by try­ing to climb me.”

At home, Fitzger­ald said Daniel com­mu­ni­cates with her in other ways: if he needs a new nappy, he walks to his chang­ing ta­ble. If he wants food, he walks to the fridge or to his feed bowl. Apart from bed­time, he wears shoes and a nappy, she said, be­cause he is so used to car­pet and linoleum.

He ap­par­ently en­joys movies, but only “su­per G-rated” ones. (Daniel re­sponded well to The Peanuts Movie but be­came up­set dur­ing a chase scene in The Good Di­nosaur, Fitzger­ald said.)

“He doesn’t iden­tify with other ducks be­cause he’s im­printed on hu­mans,” Fitzger­ald said. “As far as he’s con­cerned, he thinks he’s peo­ple with feath­ers.”

Her liv­ing room is full of tod­dler toys Daniel en­joys, par­tic­u­larly any­thing that has a but­ton to push or makes a sound, such as key­boards and mu­sic boxes.

“And God for­bid one of the bat­ter­ies runs out,” Fitzger­ald said. “He stomps his feet, he raises his hack­les, he huffs and he gives you stink-eye. And if you don’t change those bat­ter­ies right now, he gets snippy.”

Since the ac­ci­dent, Daniel has ac­com­pa­nied Fitzger­ald ev­ery­where. Mon­day was Daniel’s first time fly­ing on a plane. She pro­vided a note to the air­line from her doctor, who has said it is in Fitzger­ald’s best in­ter­est to have Daniel around for sup­port, but other­wise had a smooth trip. The crew on their first leg, be­fore their con­nect­ing flight to Asheville, in­sisted on pos­ing for pictures with Daniel and pre­sent­ing him with a “Cer­tifi­cate of First Flight.”

The Trans­porta­tion De­part­ment is de­bat­ing new rules re­gard­ing ac­com­mo­da­tions for dis­abled peo­ple on planes, in­clud­ing re­view­ing rules for emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals, USA To­day re­ported. The de­part­ment be­gan al­low­ing emo­tional sup­port an­i­mals on planes, but the prac­tice of bring­ing them on board has of­fended some pas­sen­gers.

“Who are we to say what is and what isn’t an emo­tional sup­port animal or what can and can­not be a pet?” Fitzger­ald said. “Or what they can do for peo­ple who have PTSD like I do? Hav­ing it is hell.”

For the time be­ing, Fitzger­ald said Daniel would no doubt ac­com­pany her on her next trip. – Wash­ing­ton Post

Daniel the emo­tional sup­port duck looks out the win­dow dur­ing his flight.

Daniel on board a re­cent Amer­i­can Air­lines flight.

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