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Who you calling a duck?

You could say Diane Anheier brought Sammy out of his shell. Now the gregarious denier of his own duckhood dutifully follows her, all the while charming his way through a Largo assisted living facility.

TAMARA EL-KHOURY
Published August 13, 2006

Sammy doesn’t swim. He’s not a flier. He doesn’t even really quack. The most ducklike thing about Sammy is his waddle. It’s a whole body effort. He thrusts his long neck up and forward, using the momentum to scoot his webbed feet through the halls of Cypress Palms and into the activity room for bingo.

When Sammy waddles in, the white-haired competitors look away from their bingo boards and greet the 8-pound visitor.

“Isn’t he something?” says Ruth Brown, a resident at the assisted living facility. She reaches out to stroke his blue-gray feathers.

She and Sammy are good friends. Some nights Sammy will peck at her door wanting to visit.

Sammy waddles out of the activity room in search of another open door and the bingo game continues.

“B-5!”

***

Sammy has worked at the Cypress Palms campus of the Palms of Largo assisted living community for a year, since Diane Anheier, 59, a nurse, found him next to the barn where she boards her horse.

It was May 5, 2005. Diane was picking through some abandoned eggshells. At first, all she saw was a feather, plastered with yolk, stuck in a shell. Until it moved.

“I said, 'This baby is still alive.’ ”

Diane hand-fed him warm chicken mash every two hours. She never took pictures of him during his duckling days. She didn’t intend to keep him.

Four weeks later she took Sammy back to the barn, put him in front of his duck mother and hid behind a bush. Sammy let out a high-pitched chirp and ran around looking for Diane, the only mother he had ever known.

She brought him home. Since Muscovy duck is somewhere below Australian Cattle Dog on the food chain, and Diane owns three cattle dogs, she keeps Sammy in a kennel on top of her refrigerator.

In the mornings, she lets Sammy bathe in the kiddie pool, but he’s never outside for more than an hour or two. He prefers air conditioning.

She dresses him in bandannas and baby bibs. She diapers him using a contraption she ordered on the Internet. At night, he rests his black-and-white feathered head in the crook of her neck and she rocks him in a rocking chair.

“Sammy doesn’t know he’s a duck,” she says.

Now, she has lots of pictures of Sammy:

Sammy splashing in the bathtub.

Sammy dressed as a pumpkin for Halloween.

And Sammy sitting on a desk chair at the office.

***

Sammy and Diane work double shifts on the weekends and a regular shift every other Wednesday.

The Palms of Largo is a pet-friendly community, said Frank White, executive director of the Cypress Palms campus. Pets belonging to staff and residents must be medically cleared, weigh less than 60 pounds and not be aggressive.

Two employees at Cypress Palms bring their dogs to work, and one used to bring her rabbit, Domino, who has since been adopted by White and lives in the facility.

Sammy is the only pet duck.

Sammy makes elderly women giggle and attracts visitors from other floors. Some residents, trying to reach down to pet him, practically fall from their walkers.

While Diane, who some call “The Duck Lady,” prepares medicine and takes blood sugar readings, Sammy waits in the nurses’ office, behind a baby gate.

Below his ever-wagging tail is his little diaper pouch, which Diane changes every two to four hours in a quick swooping motion. Sammy does not protest.

Before and after dinner time, Sammy and Diane go room to room checking on residents. Sammy’s non-quack makes him sound like a bird with smoker’s cough.

At Gladys Brown’s room, Diane says, “Miss Gladys, I have someone to see you.”

She picks Sammy up and puts him in the bed. Miss Gladys is 87. Sammy makes himself comfortable on her stomach. He holds mostly still, except for his shaking tail. He seems to know to stay quiet for the more fragile residents. Miss Gladys doesn’t say anything. She smiles. She strokes Sammy’s back. Her hand shakes.
Miss Gladys’ daughter, Gladys Ball, is visiting.

“My mother doesn’t remember anyone but Sammy,” she says. “It’s quite remarkable.”

Sometimes, Diane leads the way down the third floor’s carpeted hallways; other times, Sammy will forge ahead, stopping at an open door and looking to Diane for permission to enter.

When he’s not calling on residents, the residents are calling him.

“Come on, Sammy,” says Ruth Brown. Bingo is over and she’s waiting for dinner. Sammy stops to flap his wings and Diane lifts him onto the bench so Miss Ruth can pet him. Miss Ruth turns to another resident.

“Do you know Sammy?” she asks.

“Yes,” the woman replies. “We all know Sammy.”

***

Sometimes, at the end of a 16-hour shift, Diane takes Sammy outside to the pond. If he sees a wild duck, he hides behind her leg.

Diane tosses Sammy into the deep end of the pond.

Then she reminds him, “Sammy, you’re a duck!”

Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727) 445-4181 or tel-khoury@sptimes.com.

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