SHREVEPORT— Shreveport veterinarian Dr. Gia Morgan bent over the swollen foot of a one-legged goose on a chilly Saturday afternoon when frost still lay crystallized on the ground.
The goose had been rescued from the East Kings Highway Park, better known as the duck pond. The goose's remaining leg had been caught in and then cut by discarded fishing line.
A concerned citizen had phoned after spotting the goose hobbling on shore. A volunteer with Morgan's wildlife rehabilitation nonprofit had journeyed to the pond, twice, before catching the injured animal.
The goose, which was released two weeks ago with its sole leg intact, was one of dozens of injured waterfowl Morgan and her volunteers with Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation of Louisiana Inc. — better known as WERLA — have nursed to health over the years.
Many of those injuries could have been prevented by discarding fishing line properly and, in general, being more conscientious and compassionate, Morgan said.
"I've had instances where people will fish and accidentally hook a duck or a goose, figure their line is shot, and they'll cut the line and leave," Morgan said. "The No. 1 thing is keeping that fishing line out of the duck pond."
But the animals also face other dangers, including being hit by cars, ingesting deadly plastics and other litter, and even getting shot in the head with arrows. To address those dangers, Morgan and WERLA need your help.
Morgan said alerts often come from families with children.
"The kids will say, 'Can you fix it?' and I tell them we will do all we can," Morgan said. "They will name them, then call to check in on them. They get very concerned. People do care."
For Shreveport resident Amber Sistare, seeing legless ducks has put a damper on taking her young children to the pond, which runs along East Kings Highway on one edge of the Shreve Island neighborhood.
"We have noticed quite a few of the ducks missing one of their legs. It is such a sad sight," Sistare said. "It only takes a second to pick up after yourself, and I don't see why more people don't do it!"
Wil Brown, a Shreveport resident who both fishes and kayaks at the pond, said it isn't difficult to be a conscientious fisherman.
"We take any trash (that includes line we get out of trees and banks) that we create back out with us," Brown wrote in a Facebook message. "The worst I've seen is all the yard waste. . There are parts of the duck pond that have so much yard waste that the bottom of the kayak drags."
Morgan acknowledged that trash thrown carelessly into the pond is a problem. But she also has rehabilitated animals that were victims of blatant cruelty — including a duck shot through the head with a homemade arrow.
Janette Armstrong, an independent wildlife rehabilitator in Shreveport, saw the white American Pekin duck that had been shot through the head during an evening excursion to the duck pond.
She had received a call about the animal and tried to rescue it during the day. But "a bunch of people" had already tried to catch the duck, sending it in a panic, she said.
"So I waited until evening," she said. "I took some chopped apple and salad and went out there with a small group."
Slowly, Armstrong lured the injured bird onto shore, then stationed other rescuers holding blankets between the duck and the water to form a barrier. Armstrong's daughter then pinned and held the duck in a blanket during transport to an emergency vet.
"We were so afraid to hurt her, even though we were trying to help her," Armstrong said. "Thankfully, the arrow just missed the brain."
'They are not just nothing'
After weeks of rehabilitating the duck in a playpen in her home, Armstrong returned the duck to the pond for a reunion with its mate.
"Her mate was waiting for her. He was so happy to see her," Armstrong said. "They form long-term relationships. They bond and have feelings. They are not just nothing."
Christy Chapman, the WERLA volunteer who captured the one-footed goose, also said releasing the bird back to the pond was heart-warming.
"When I let her out, her mate came out of the pack from all the others," she said. "They honked at each other, then crossed necks."
In need of help
With the approaching spring, Morgan cautioned drivers to slow when nearing the pond to avoid hitting mother ducks, which will be followed by their ducklings.
"We'll get calls where something happened to the mother, and then we have 12 babies scrambling around," Morgan said. "They are very difficult to rehab without their mother."
Armstrong said mother ducks often roost in nearby trees but will come back for their babies.
"When people find a baby duck, they should try to leave it and watch for the mothers. The moms will come back," she said. "If they (people) take the baby to the duck pond and throw it in, it will likely die."
Morgan said some birds are wild, including the mallards that strut around on the shore.
But most are not.
"Many are ducks and geese that were bought as chicks around Easter, then dumped when people no longer wanted them," Morgan said. "A huge number of them are domestic breeds. We rehabilitate wildlife, but we also will help when no one else seems to be able."
Morgan encouraged residents not to buy ducklings or goslings as pets, which become extremely messy as adults. She also encouraged residents to feed birds cracked corn, which she said is "safer, healthier and better for their digestion" than bread.
The public also can assist in rescuing animals if they feel comfortable doing so, Morgan said. Injured ducks and geese often head straight for water when strangers approach, making it difficult for volunteers to catch them.
"That's when we need the public to help us, because they (the birds) know the people, know there will be food and so will come onto the land," Morgan said.
Those interested in supporting WERLA's efforts to rehabilitate injured wildlife can donate funds through the agency's website or give needed supplies.
Financial Donations: Financial donations to Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation of Louisiana (WERLA) can be made online at werla.net or through Paypal at www.tinyurl.com/werlainc.
Donated Supplies: WERLA accepts donations of wild bird seed, cracked corn, applesauce, Purina Cat Chow Complete, Dawn dishwashing soap, paper towels, unscented laundry detergent, garbage bags, gift cards and more.
Visit the WERLA website for the complete list, call (318) 405-2282 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.