Lucky duck finds firm footing

Colleen Kottke Associate Editor
Now Media Group


The plight of a crippled little duck has captured the attention of a national audience, thanks to the ingenuity of a middle school teacher with a 3D printer and a small band of animal advocates.

Fond du Lac business owner Vicki Rabe-Harrison came across the little Muscovy on a Facebook page filled with animals in desperate need of a home. What caught Rabe-Harrison's attention was the duck was missing its feet due to frostbite.

Rabe-Harrison wasted no time rescuing the duck (dubbed Phillip) and enlisted the help of Oshkosh middle school teacher Jason Jishke who fashioned a small pair of prosthetic webbed feet from a 3D printer — a project that took nearly six weeks to perfect.

A volunteer working for Animal Farm Sanctuary knew owners, Brandon and Alyssa Herbst would welcome the winged-misfit into their menagerie located in the town of Cedarburg. Once Phillip was fitted with his manufactured feet, he joined up with Lumpy the African gander who Alyssa affectionately refers to her her 'three-quarter goose' due to his misshapen wing, two goats used for testing in medical labs, goats, dogs, chickens, a turkey and a group of horses with an laundry list of ailments.

Brandon says Phillip has literally been taken under the wing of a boisterous female duck named Sassy Pants whose constant cacophony renders the young Muscovy into silence. Brandon says the pair has been inseparable since placed in quarantine for their respective foot ailments — she from Bumblefoot and Phillip from, well...no feet.

'She has surgery on her feet from time to time and has to have them bandaged. She met Phillip while they were in the quarantine room together. The pair looks so cute sleeping right next to each other,' Brandon said. 'It's funny how these two little ones with all their issues can so happy together despite all their problems.'

Alyssa says Brandon is working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's engineering department to design new light weight feet that will accommodate the growing young duck.

'He's happy walking around without his prosthetic feet, however, they do give him more stability,' Alyssa said.

Aside from the buzz surrounding Phillip's new feet, Brandon says several people have stepped forward to assist on their 9-acre farm caring for the 50-plus animals or simply making a financial donation. While the couple is in the process of becoming a nonprofit organization, Alyssa said the operation is largely self-funded.

'One man who knew he was dying wanted to be sure he donated to our farm before his passing,' Brandon said. 'Phillip's story brought that out in people.'

Alyssa said it was important to open their farm and minister to these abandoned and abused animals. However, with 50-plus animals living under the barn roof, they agreed it was time to stop accepting animals for the time being —unless its a dire emergency or the animal has nowhere to go.

'I don't want to become animal hoarders ourselves and not be able to give them the care that they deserve,' Alyssa said.

Brandon said Phillip's unique story captured the public's attention.

'Not only that, it rejuvenated the call to action against people biting off more than they can chew when it comes to raising animals. Unfortunately many of these animals become abused or neglected as a result,' Brandon said. 'Each one of the animals here has a unique story like Phillip's. People need to know that animals don't vanish once you've lost interest in them: They need care all the time, all year and every day.'

Alyssa says they made the right decision taking Phillip into their care.

'He was among a flock of ducks that were left to perish in the cold. That makes us even more happy to take Phillip in and give him the care he deserves and needs,' Alyssa said. 'He's such survivor.'

To learn more about the couple's rescue work, visit www.autumnfarmsanctuary.org/about-us.html