An Ohio village may deny a veteran his therapeutic ducks. Iraq war veteran Darin Walker began keeping the ducks in March to deal with his back injury, depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He says the ducks give him a reason to get up, go outside and keep moving each day,
Walker has 14 ducks in the yard of his home: 10 white Pekin Ducks and four colorful Mallard ducks. They reside within a fenced area with plenty of room to roam and a few kiddie pools in which they bathe, splash and swim. In May the village of West Lafayette, Ohio sent a notice to Walker telling him to get rid of the ducks. The village passed a law in 2010 banning fowl and farm animals; only dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, birds, guinea pigs and mice can be kept as pets. On June 23 the village charged Walker with a minor misdemeanor for noncompliance and fined him $150.
Walker feels that the ducks have given him a new lease on life and is worried that he will be forced to give them up. He has a letter from Veteran’s Affairs recommending that he keep the ducks for therapeutic purposes. He will have a chance to plead his case before a judge on Wednesday.
Walker served one year in Iraq in 2005. Although he was not wounded, he says he returned home with a back injury and severe pain. The VA determined he was eligible for surgery and paid for the operation in 2012. However, they did not provide follow-up physical therapy for recovery or mental therapy for the depression that developed as a result of the pain.
Finally, Walker had the idea of getting ducks. He claims they are mild-mannered, amusing animals and require just the right amount of care to keep him active. Walker is not the first veteran to use ducks as therapy animals. Paul Wilkie served 22 years as a bomb disposal officer with the United Kingdom’s Royal Engineers in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan. He witnessed many horrors during his tour of duty, including children being blown up by mines as they played. He still suffers from nightmares and flashbacks, especially from his time in Bosnia 18 years ago. Wilkie claims his ducks have helped him recover from war. He often takes his ducks Hesco and Bastion on walks around Guildtown, Scotland. He also goes outside to sit with them when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Wilkie says, “They’re therapeutic for me – they keep me sane.”
Many soldiers, even those who served shorter enlistments, return home from war with PTSD. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder occurs when the body cannot comprehend that it is no longer in danger. Events that cause high levels of fear and stress actually change the cells in the body. The memories of these event become so ingrained that rather than diminish over time, the experiences are repeatedly relived. A person with PTSD is usually tense, on-guard at all times and easily startled or frightened. Most treatments involve drugs or therapies to help the patient relax.
Walker and Wilkie have both discovered that what helps them relax are their pet ducks; but in West Lafayette, the village may deny the Iraq War veteran his therapeutic ducks. There are a couple of differences between the cases of Wilkie and Walker. Wilkie has two ducks compared to Walker’s 14. Also, Wilkie is not disobeying any local ordinances to keep his ducks as pets. Walker’s story could be framed as a pitiable veteran whose rights are being unfairly trampled by an indifferent, authoritarian government. It could also be framed as another instance of a person knowingly breaking the local law to do what he wants without regard to his neighbors.
On Wednesday the courts will decide if Walker’s ducks are a necessary therapy or a public nuisance. If the Ohio village denies the veteran his therapeutic ducks will it prove that no one is above the law, or will it show that the law cares for no man?
By: Rebecca Savastio