How a Toronto quarantine trend became a London area farm sanctuary's headache
Some families that fostered baby ducks apparently couldn't stomach what they signed up for
A London area farm sanctuary says it's been forced to clean up after a foster baby duck program when some of the participating families from Toronto couldn't stomach the fact the ducklings they paid to raise might end up on a dinner plate.
The program is run by Woolley Wonderland Farm near Peterborough, Ont. and, according to its website, the Critter Visits program offers families, seniors' homes and schools the opportunity to "borrow a pair of days-old ducklings and watch them grow, swim and waddle."
The program took off like a rocket in April, when the coronavirus crisis reached full swing. Suddenly, adopting ducklings became something of a craze in Toronto, where thousands of families discovered a welcome distraction from the daunting headlines and cooped up days at home because of the pandemic.
However, some families who signed up apparently didn't understand what they were getting into. Some seemed to be unaware the pair of ducklings they paid $150 to foster at home would eventually have to be returned to the farm from whence they came in order to be sold for breeding purposes or made into food.
'The people who contact us are horrified'
It meant a lot of time on the phone for Siobhan Poole, the cofounder of Cedar Row Farm Animal Sanctuary near St Marys, Ont., who's been fielding calls from upset families from Toronto since the spring.
"The people who contact us are horrified that the ducklings they've had in their homes are going to end up as meat," she said. "I had a woman contact me last Thursday in tears because she found out that the ducklings would end up on somebody's plate."
"We've had at least 50 ducklings looking for homes," she said. "We only have two here but we've placed a lot at different homes."
"Unfortunately I don't have any more safe places to put them and more requests keep coming in," she said.
'You can't have ducks in most cities'
Karen Woolley, the president of Wooley Wonderland Farm Inc., the Peterborough-area farm that owns the Critter Visits' foster duck program said she's aware of the controversy and never meant to mislead anyone.
"It's a short-term program because you can't have ducks in most cities," she said.
Woolley said she's rented foster ducks to more than 1,000 families in Toronto, Ottawa and Cambridge, all municipalities where local bylaws forbid the keeping of fowl within city limits.
For $150, families get a duckling for each child, food, supplements and a manual on how to care for the waterfowl until they have to be returned to Woolley's farm. The fee also includes phone support for neophyte duck owners unsure of how to care for their newly rented birds.
Woolley said should the ducks meet an untimely demise while in a family's care, which in the past has included being crushed underfoot by a child or eaten by a hungry raccoon or hawk, she will happily replace the duck with another of the same age, free of charge.
The farm has a number of duck breeds, which include pekin, call ducks and indian runner ducks, not all of which are bred for their meat. Still, Wooley said she can't guarantee to families the birds they've taken in won't end up as a meal.
All ducks return to the farm, no exceptions
"At the end of it, they have to come back to the farm," she said. "Some people are just trying to keep their babies alive and we got wind of this through social media."
Woolley said in response to the uproar, her farm has changed its policy and now all of the ducks it rents out to families must be returned to her farm with no exceptions.
"Originally we offered a buyout option," she said, adding the farm changed the policy to stop animal rights activists from smearing her business and to spare animal sanctuaries from a deluge of phone calls.
"[It's] so people aren't being harassed and calling people randomly they don't know looking for a place for the ducks because they've become attached to them," she said. "I think the benefits that people have from this program far outweigh anyone who wants to say this is horrible."
"It's important to know it's livestock and it's a great experience. There's an end to it, that's why moms like it. It's a short-term experience."
"If you were to get a cat or a dog right now it might not be the wisest choice for a family because when everything starts going back to the new normal, I'm praying that the shelters aren't full of dogs and cats that are all of a sudden aren't being taken care of well because life's gone on."
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