Taranaki teacher Evie Batten wanted a dog, but ended up with a duck who has turned out to be everything she’d hoped for in a pet.
Pippi, a 2-year-old muscovy she raised from a duckling, goes out for walks, sleeps on her bed and wags his tail excitedly when she gets home.
Muscovy ducks are larger than other breeds, with distinctive red faces. They don’t quack, although the drakes hiss.
Their quietness makes them a good town pet, but not many get to live the life Pippi has – he’s made it to social media as Mr Pip the Tahi T-Rex on Facebook, with a worldwide following of duck enthusiasts, and even has a girlfriend in Brazil.
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Pippi has more accessories than many cosseted handbag dogs.
He wears special nappies attached to a harness Batten imported from the United States, has a ladybird raincoat for wet days, and neoprene shoes to protect his feet from a condition called bumblefoot that poultry can get if their feet are injured.
And like many pet dogs, Pippi dresses up for special occasions, including Christmas (this year he got fairy wings to match Batten’s own).
She takes him on outings in a bright pink pet pushchair, because although he’d rather walk (on his leash), he insists on going at a very slow meander, with plenty of stops.
The pushchair means they can get to places faster, and Pippi sits patiently through visits to the hairdresser, beautician, farm supplies store and other places where a duck wouldn’t usually go.
“A lot of people think there’s a baby in the pram, adults just walk past, but kids are more observant, they’ll say ‘there’s a duck’,” says Batten.
“He gets a good reaction from everyone.”
He’s always a hit when Batten introduces him to children.
Batten, a former journalist, retrained as a primary school teacher and is in her first year of teaching at Kakaramea School, in South Taranaki.
She has just shifted back to New Plymouth and has been taking Pippi out during the school holidays.
At Pukekura Park on Thursday morning, Pippi flapped his wings excitedly at seeing the other ducks on the lake, then happily wagged his tail as some came to share the grain mixture Batten scattered for them.
It’s better for them than bread, she said.
“Bread is like McDonald’s for ducks – literally in Pippi’s case because when I take him to McDonald’s, I give him the bun and I eat the burger,” she said.
She doesn’t worry about losing him as his wings are clipped, and he doesn’t like swimming much.
Pippi has a condition called wet feather, which means his feathers have no waterproofing and lack buoyancy, and he sinks.
If he gets really wet, he can quickly get cold and hypothermic, so Batten spends a lot of time drying him with a hairdryer, even though he doesn’t like the noise.
“I just love ducks, they’re amazing, amazing creatures,” she said.
“I wanted a dog, but instead, God gave me ducks.”
Her first duck was a tiny mallard duckling, which she rescued and cared for after it turned up alone in her backyard.
But she knew Bubba Dumps would leave once she became an adult, and one day, she did.
“It broke my heart when she flew away,” Batten said.
Her next duck Rimu, who was Pippi’s father, was a special pet, but he died of poisoning after eating lead pellets, and his mate was killed by a dog.
Their duckling, Pippi, hatched on Batten’s birthday in September 2020, and she raised him by hand after his parents died.
At night, Pippi slept in a box in Batten’s bed, and spent his days perched on her shoulder. As he grew, he liked her sitting under her legs, and followed her everywhere.
Now, he has a female muscovy named Miss Poppyseed for company at home, and spends about 85% of his time outside (he has an insulated shelter in the backyard).
But Pippi is still Batten’s faithful friend.
“He’s very caring, very aware, and quite protective of me as well, that’s what I love.
“He’s just so chilled, he inspires me. I get quite nervous sometimes and he really calms me down.”
Pippi snuggled up with Batten when she had Covid a few months ago, and enjoys watching movies with her (Jurassic Park, with dinosaurs, is her favorite).
Batten also has a cat, called Needles.
“They sleep on the bed together, but the duck is the boss.”
And Pippi is always excited to see Batten when she arrives home from work.
But the duck is still able to surprise her, and showed his wild side in the park as the stuff interview ended, when he marched up to a black swan twice his size and chased it into the lake, appearing to forget that he doesn’t like to swim.
His bravado vanished as his feathers got waterlogged and he panicked, struggling to find a way out of the lake.
He was swept over a small waterfall and flushed along a rocky drain, before this reporter waded in and fished him out.
His latest social media post tells the story, ending:
“So here I am, wet through safely at home. Now I know what Mummy means when she says I’m a silly boy!”
Next summer, Batten plans to go on kayaking adventures with Pippi.
“I’ve already bought a kayak, and I’m getting him a life vest so if he falls off, he will float,” she said.