A freshman into his second semester at Auburn last year, Jonny Bradford had no idea what a friend, a phone call and $10 would come to mean for him.
His friend walked into Tractor Supply Co. in Opelika in January with the intention of buying a beanie but was drawn toward two ducklings he saw there instead.
He left the store short $10, with two animals and a lingering confusion with his decision. Trying to think of someone who would take a duck, he called Bradford.
“He called me, and I didn’t believe him,” Bradford said. Still, he said yes to the offer.
Bradford, now a sophomore in aerospace engineering, kept a duckling in his dorm for less than two months until he realized keeping it came with consequences.
The day his friend bought the ducklings, which Bradford estimated were just a few days old, they were half the size of the palm of his hand and boasted bright fuzzy yellow feathers. He picked up his duckling from his friend's house the same day they were bought.
A first-time pet parent, Bradford walked back to his dorm, opened the door — duckling in tow — and was greeted by roommates he hadn’t consulted before adopting the new member of their living space. He had called one of his roommates after agreeing to take the duckling and said he was supportive.
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“At first they loved it,” he said. “It was wallowing around. We put it in a duck boot.”
For about the first week, Bradford didn’t have the proper equipment to care for a duckling, which added difficulty to taking care of Stan, the name he gave it, which squeaked all night.
“It was literally like having an actual child,” he said. “It was sleepless nights.”
But in retrospect, Bradford said ducks are easy to care for. He went to Tractor Supply Co. and bought a duck starter kit to help it mature in the beginning. It doubled in size about every week, he noted.
After about of month of the duckling’s squeaking, one of Bradford’s friends did some research and found that females will continue to squeak after several weeks early on. Stan could no longer remain Stan. Bradford decided to rename the duckling Caitlyn — after Caitlyn Jenner — though he continued to call it Stan on a regular basis.
As he continued to raise his new pet, Bradford said he feared Residence Life would discover it.
“We were on the third floor, and as soon as you came in the stairwell, you could hear the duck,” he said. “So every day when I would leave to go to class, I would kind of freak out a little bit.”
His neighbors knew about the duckling, coming over to play with it, but Residence Life, to his knowledge, never found out about it.
People frequently dubbed him and his roommates as a modern representation of Joey and Chandler from the TV series “Friends.” One roommate comes home with a chick, and when the other goes to return it, he comes back with a duck too.
“We pretended it was a baby, and so we tried to teach it English and how to do everything a baby would do,” Bradford said, adding that he tried to teach it to fly but without success.
After the duck imprinted on him, Bradford realized that it would soon become completely dependent on him, forcing him to keep it for its entire lifespan. But if they parted ways, it would have a better chance of surviving with less human interaction.
Aside from that, his roommates also started to dislike the smell and mess more and more. So Bradford opted to give the duck to a friend in Beauregard, who has a farm with several ducks, in March 2016.
“It was a rough day,” he said. “[I cried] a little bit.”
In retrospect, Bradford realized the duckling gave him an opportunity to make new friends and meet other people.
Their most memorable moment together, he calls, was when he was walking from his dorm to the Student Center for a meeting, with the duck tittering behind him, a result of the imprint.
A Tiger Transit driver saw the duo, pulled over and asked them if they needed a lift. Somewhere on Twitter, there’s video evidence of the interaction, he said.
He hasn’t gone back to visit the duck, unsure of whether it would still have the imprint on him. He's also uncertain that he would recognize Stan among the other ducks if he visited.
Now a year after caring for his first pet, Bradford said he misses Stan. The experience taught him responsibility and how to juggle priorities as a freshman who had to take care of himself and another being.
"It taught me how to grow up," he said.
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