Although Jessie, our eighty-pound black Doberman, looked menacing — she snarled at strangers and attacked backyard critters — she was extremely loyal and loving to our family. We wanted a second dog, but agreed that Jessie would be better off alone; we were afraid that jealousy might compel her to hurt any dog that got between her and us.
So when our son Ricky came home from school one day with an egg, we smelled trouble. Ricky´s egg came from his second-grade class project: incubating and hatching Rhone ducks. The egg had failed to hatch at school, so his teacher allowed him to bring it home. My husband and I didn´t think the egg was likely to hatch outside the incubator, so we let him keep it. Ricky placed the egg in a sunny patch of grass in the yard and waited.
The next morning we awoke to a bizarre squeal coming from the backyard. There stood Jessie, nose to nose with a newly hatched peach-colored duckling.
"Hold on," my husband, Rick, said. "I think it´ll be okay. Just give it a minute."
The duckling peeped. Jessie growled and darted back to her doghouse. The duckling followed. Jessie curled up on her bed, clearly ignoring the little creature. But the duckling had other ideas. She had already imprinted on her new "mother," so she cuddled up on Jessie´s bed, snuggling under her muzzle. Jessie nudged the duckling out of the doghouse with her nose, only to have the baby squirm back to its place under her muzzle. Jessie gave a big sigh and reluctantly accepted her new role.
Ricky named the duckling Peaches and pleaded with us to keep her. Jessie didn´t seem to like having a new baby, but she wasn´t predatory toward Peaches either. We gave in and decided to see how things would go.
Surprisingly, over the next few weeks, Jessie really took to motherhood. When Peaches pecked at the ground, Jessie showed her how to dig. When Peaches chased tennis balls, Jessie showed her how to fetch. And when Jessie sprawled out on the leather couch to watch Animal Planet on television, Peaches snuggled right under her muzzle. After an inseparable year of digging, sleeping and fetching together, Peaches weighed eighteen pounds. She seemed quite happy in her role as Jessie´s "puppy." Then one day something changed: Peaches´ innate "duckness" kicked in. She began laying eggs once a day and became obsessed with water. During feeding times, Jessie ate while Peaches flapped and splashed in the water bowl.
One evening Jessie became frantic when Peaches disappeared. We had visions of coyotes lurking, snatching Peaches while Jessie slept. Jessie barked and howled, as would any anguished mother who had lost a child. After a thorough search of the neighborhood, we were close to giving up hope. Just then, Jessie sprinted into a neighbor´s backyard. We followed her. There was Peaches, sloshing and squawking in the hot tub. Jessie hopped in to retrieve her.
As much as we wanted to keep Peaches in our family, one thing was clear: She needed to spread her wings and join the duck world. Ricky tied a red ribbon around Peaches´ leg, loaded her and Jessie into the car, and we drove to a nearby pond. During the ride, Jessie curled up with Peaches and licked her head. It was as if she knew exactly what was happening and why.
As we approached the pond, Jessie and Peaches scampered toward the water. Jessie leaped in first. Peaches wobbled behind. They waded out together several yards before Peaches took off — gliding toward a flock of her own. Jessie turned around, trudged back to shore and shook off. She sat for a few minutes, watching her daughter. Then as if to say, "It´s time to set my little one free," she yelped and jumped back into the car. Back at home Ricky taped pictures of Jessie and Peaches digging, fetching and snuggling, to the inside of the doghouse. And, for a long time afterward, Jessie made weekly visits to the pond. Although we could usually see the red ribbon, we thought we could also hear Peaches´ distinctive squawk, saying hello to her birth" family.
Motherhood changed Jessie. Once unsociable and intimidating, she soon became a friend to all in the neighborhood. She snuck out at every opportunity to play with other dogs, jumped on visitors and licked their faces. Snarling was no longer part of her vocabulary. We had feared the worst the day we saw Jessie and baby Peaches standing nose to bill. We could never have imagined that an eight-ounce ball of downy fuzz would soften our eighty-pound Doberman for life.
J. Canfield et alii
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Dogs
Florida, HCI, 2008