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 V.13 No.25 | June 17 - 23, 2004 

Book Review


Enslaved by Ducks

Bob Tarte
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

In a way, I can almost understand why certain people relate better to animals than to other humans. Climb a rung or two up the evolutionary ladder above the lowly clam, and you'll soon come into contact with creatures of astonishing behavioral complexity. Except for parrots and an occasional gorilla with a yen for sign language, animals also have the added attraction of being unable to talk. You can spend all day long dumping all your pent up emotional baggage onto your favorite hound or kitty, and you never have to return the favor by listening to their annoying problems.

Even so, truly animal-obsessed people are a little peculiar, aren't they? This is true whether you're talking about a lonely old lady with 37 cats; or a yuppie couple who've converted their five-bedroom house into a tropical bird sanctuary; or a sweaty, beady-eyed teenage boy who's a little too friendly with his eight-foot python.

Actually, my wife is a bit of an animal kook. She's actually told me that if I hadn't placed a two-cat limitation clause in the domestic animal acquisition contract we both signed when we got married, she'd have turned our tiny house into a zoo long ago.

City slicker Bob Tarte wasn't born an animal lover. He turned into one after he moved with his wife to a rural area in Michigan. Not being blessed with my iron authoritarian will, Tarte allowed his wife, Linda, to begin acquiring animals as soon as they moved to the sticks. First, she wanted a rabbit. Then a parrot. Then ducks, doves, cats, turkeys and geese. The next thing Tarte knew, he was enslaved by ducks.

This memoir is Tarte's often amusing account of 10 years of animal acquisition. Over the course of the memoir, he slowly transforms from a skittish urban greenhorn who's deathly afraid of bunnies to a veteran animal caretaker. By the end of the book, he knows every veterinarian within a 50-mile radius, he's acquired enough animal medication to stock his own pharmacy, and he's become a certified expert in the construction of outdoor animal pens.

Most amazing of all, he's stopped being a grouch and learned to accept and even appreciate the constant endless squawk and chaos that comes with operating your own personal zoo. Tarte bonds with several of his animals, especially with a hyper-intelligent, transgendered, occasionally violent African Gray parrot named Stanley Sue. His attachment to this animal, and Stanley Sue's attachment to him, perfectly illustrates why humans bother to go through all the trouble of housing high maintenance pets in the first place.

Enslaved by Ducks is a light and somewhat fluffy read, but for animal enthusiasts it's fairly enjoyable. Tarte's jokes are often funny, but they're just as often real groaners. Even so, for those already obsessed with animals, or for anyone interested in the repercussions of expanding their collection, this book should be considered required reading.

Caveat emptor.

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