Amazing duck overcomes challenges, inspires children

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PORTSMOUTH — Lemon is one lucky duck.

When the tiny duckling was hatched two and-a-half years ago, everyone doubted the little creature would live more than a few days, but Lemon has beaten all the odds and become a big happy duck that inspires and brings joy to everyone she greets.

“She just reminded me of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie,” begins Laura Backman, the swimming bird’s owner and the author of a new children’s book entitled “Lemon the Duck” that chronicles the delightful creature’s amazing life and quacky adventures.

Backman is a member of St. Anthony Parish, where she has worshiped most of her life.

“She was a beautiful shade of lemon when she was born,” the animal’s owner recalls adding, that her grandmother Lorraine Lapointe’s trademark dessert was the same color as the little duck.

Lemon is a “special needs duck” and suffers from neurological issues which prevent the animal from balancing, standing or walking normally. The light yellow-colored bird is a crested Pekin duck, a domesticated breed developed from imported Chinese Mallards and used for meat and egg production.

While most Pekins end up surrounded by orange slices on a dinner plate, don’t ever expect Lemon to be served for dinner. She is a family bet destined to become a celebrity.

Backman, an elementary reading specialist in the Portsmouth, RI public schools, says that most veterinarians who have examined Lemon attribute the duck’s condition to neurological damage caused by a large crest.

Lemon was one of four ducklings born during a classroom hatching project. Backman and her students realized within a few days that while Lemon looked and quacked like a duck, the tiny bird couldn’t move around like her siblings.

“She kept falling over,” Backman remembers, adding that the students took turns watching Lemon at recess time while the little duck played in the grass. The teacher says that the children worked together to help the duck thrive.

By caring for Lemon, the students shared in her triumphs and defeats, and learned about love and acceptance. Most important, the children discovered that disabilities and differences don’t make a person or animal less special or valued.

Backman reveals that caring for her late father Richard Backman, who was disabled by multiple sclerosis, has helped her care for the duck. He died in 2005 and served as the inspiration for Backman’s book.

“My dad was the inspiration for the philosophy in this book — life is a gift from God — respect and help when you can. And the time to learn this is in childhood,” Backman says.

“It’s important that she’s clean and that she’s not forgotten,” Backman emphasizes, adding that she gets up an hour early on school days to care for the duck. Lemon’s daily routine begins with a bath, followed by time for preening and drying off in the sun.

“Taking care of my father prepared me to take of her,” Backman says, glancing as the duck moved across the floor with the help of an adaptive scooter made from PVC pipes with four coaster wheels. Lemon is placed inside the rectangular device, which allows the bird to gain balance, stand and walk a few steps. The scooter was made by a family friend, in response to advice given to Backman by an animal rehabilitator.

“That’s her Lemon-mobile,” adds the duck’s owner, laughing.

Lemon also wears “duck diapers” which are specially made according to the bird’s measurements and usually changed five times a day.

“It’s impossible to potty train a duck,” Backman says, smiling.

At night, the duck sleeps in a doggie bed placed on Backman’s bed. The duck stretches and places her head on a comfortable neck pillow. Lemon usually hits the sack at sundown and gets up with the birds at dawn.

Backman reports that she feeds Lemon a diet consisting of duck pellets and greens, with small servings of watermelon and grape tomatoes. The duck gets exercise by swimming in the Sakonnet River, near her owner’s home.

Lemon, despite her many limitations, mostly enjoys good health. She develops reproductive infections three times a year when she lays eggs, and must be treated with medication. The duck is cared for by an avian specialist.

“She’s part of the family,” Backman notes. “She goes to yard sales and she’s been to doctor’s appointments, the supermarket and to an outdoor concert.”

Caring for the duck has also become a family project.

“When I’m here, I’m available to watch her, “reports Jan Backman, who shares her daughter’s love for the delightful duck.

“Lemon likes to listen to conversations,” the busy grandmother continues. “When we talk, Lemon always wait a few minutes and then she’ll quack. She has to add her two cents to the conversation.”

A few weeks ago, Lemon visited Shake a Leg’s “Confidence is Cool” Camp in Newport, a sailing program created for young people with spinal cord injuries or other physical challenges.

She hopes to take Lemon to visit special needs classrooms and patients in nursing homes and hospitals.

“Her message is: “Even though we have challenges, we still can have a happy life with the help of our friends,” Backman concludes.