Award-winning columnist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at 

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Saralee Perel

Bob Still Fills the Bill

When Grant, one of our pet ducks, started limping, I made an appointment with a veterinarian.

My husband, Bob, and I got her and three other ducklings at the Barnstable County Fair. We didn't know their genders until they grew up and struck passionate poses. When we named Grant, we didn't know she was female.

The average life span for a Khaki Campbell (Grant's breed) is seven years. Our trip to the fair was 21 years ago. I think I know the reason she has lived this long.

Over the phone, the veterinarian's secretary, Carol, said, "What is your duck's name?"

"Grant." For some reason I started giggling. I felt rude so I covered up my laughing by saying something I thought was funny. "When we bring her in, just give her the command, 'Grant. Sit.'" Then I blurted out, "She'll be a sitting duck," which put me into massive hysterics.

Carol sighed, then asked for identifying information. "Her color?"

"Her color? Don't you think you'll know which one in your waiting room is a duck?"

"Her color," Carol repeated.

"Brown." I figured it would not be a brilliant idea to say, "Put the charges on her bill," so instead I said, "She does have her down sides, so to speak."

Carol asked, "What is Grant's problem?" You know where this is going, don't you?

"She's limping." Then those inevitable words came out of my mouth. "She's a lame duck."

Fortunately, the veterinarian had a sense of humor. When I said something about ducking his questions, he shot back, "That quacks me up."

It turned out that Grant had arthritis, which we could treat with calcium and aspirin.

When we adopted the ducklings, I was an anxious new mother who worried constantly. So I bought a baby monitor for their coop. I kept the receiver by our bed. But I couldn't tell the difference between a normal quack and an "SOS! Help!" quack.

I'd frequently wake my poor husband by saying, "Is that a 'come quick' quack?" (Try repeating those last three words four times very quickly.)

One duck's name was Dawn. "Is that the quack of Dawn?" was not funny after the 400th time I repeated it.

Once I heard a real baby on our monitor. Freaking out, I woke Bob — again. He said, "We pick up neighborhood sounds if monitors are on the same frequency as ours. And people can hear sounds coming from our monitor."

"Bob, mothers will think their babies are quacking!" I can imagine how many pediatricians heard the same complaint: "Doctor, my baby's quacking like a duck!"

Now, at age 21, Grant is still a happy duck. She spends her days clucking, eating and swimming. She has her own little pond and a cozy coop. But the best thing she has is Bob.

Since she still has arthritis, Bob grinds the calcium and aspirin and adds it to her food.

Since she's blind, Bob has made her play area completely flat so she doesn't fall.

Since she gets cold at night, Bob put an electric heat lamp above where she sleeps.

And when we lose power during storms, Bob brings her inside so she stays warm in our bathtub.

All of our pets have outlived their life expectancies. I believe that's because of the love in Bob's heart. Taking good care of his brood is not something he "tries" to do. It is the embodiment of who he is.

When death has stolen a beloved pet, he feels crushing heartache.

He still mourns our first dog, who died 20 years ago. During her final trip to the vet, he stopped at her favorite beach so that she could be at the place she loved the most, one last time. He carried her from the car to the sand and let her eat her first McDonald's hamburger.

He has never gone to that beach again.

Yesterday he said, "When I refill Grant's pond with fresh water and see her splashing around so happily, it's the best part of my day."

And when I see the joy on Bob's face as he watches her swim, it's the best part of mine.