On the morning of September 16th 2002, Carol Frey of Auburn, California went to a local pond to feed the abandoned ducks and geese.
Instead of running to greet her as they usually did, they were either trapped on a small island, or sinking, as if they were in quicksand. The entire pond was covered with something that looked and smelled like oil. Carol quickly found a phone and reported an oil spill.
Within hours, many people and agencies came together to start rescuing the birds, determine the source of the spill and begin the clean-up. Local vets were called but most didn’t have experience with waterfowl, much less oiled waterfowl. Dr. Virgil Traynor, felt compelled to try to help. The birds were cold and dehydrated, so he administered electrolyte solutions to help stabilize them. He knew they needed to be washed, but how?
A call to IBRRC’s oil spill hotline quickly connected him with the best solution for the birds; transfer to IBRRC’s headquarters in Cordelia. Placer County’s Animal Control officer, Audra Mackay, who helped with the rescue, was more than willing to help drive the birds to the San Francisco Bay Oiled Wildlife Care and Education Center, about 80 miles from Auburn.
Coleen Doucette, IBRRC’s rehabilitation manager, readied the center to receive the oiled birds and began calling volunteers and additional staff to come and help. Fearing that some of the birds may have been hiding in surrounding shrubbery, IBRRC’s Chris Battaglia and Wendy Sangiacomo, headed to Auburn, where they would stay for three days rescuing the rest of the birds, as well as hazing (scaring away wild birds attempting to land on the pond). Karen Benzel fielded media calls and knowing that the birds might be homeless, began getting media support to alert the public to the birds’ plight.
Over the next several days, IBRRC staff and volunteers worked 14-hour days to intake, stabilize, medicate, feed, wash, dry and rehabilitate the 26 geese and seven ducks, in addition to caring for the many other birds at the center. One duck and two geese were so debilitated from inadequate nutrition and prior injuries that the most humane solution was to end their suffering with a painless lethal injection. The rest, although extremely malnourished, responded quickly to the nutritious grains and greens their bodies craved, and after being washed, they looked and most likely felt, like new birds.
As it turned out, the oil was actually hydraulic fluid caused due to a faulty sump pump at a county maintenance garage down the street from the pond (located on private property). The owner of the property acknowledged that the birds had been abandoned there over several years. Since he didn’t live there, he felt the best thing for the birds would be to find proper homes for them.
Because the birds were featured in television coverage by the ABC and NBC affiliates in Sacramento, as well as newspaper stories in the Sacramento Bee, The Daily Republic and the Auburn Journal, many people called offering homes. All the ducks and geese now reside on safe spacious properties with ponds and proper nutrition.