San Anselmo seniors demand return of their pet wild duck

- Dozens of senior citizens are facing off with state and federal wildlife officials over their pet wild duck named Juanita the seniors have been raising since she was just days old.

But Juanita has been in the care of a wildlife facility for the past two weeks after she left the yard of her home, perhaps never to return to the people who love her.

At the Bello Gardens Senior Living facility in San Anselmo, an important member of the family is missing.

"Everybody loves her here. But I didn't realize it until then that she was such a people person," said resident Rita Wardner, referring to Juanita the duck.

Juanita was adopted nearly two years ago by this community when she was found days after hatching.

"She loved everybody. And she was part of the family," said resident Norma Manning.

But a couple weeks ago, Juanita disappeared during a storm. Someone found her and brought her to Wildcare in San Rafael, which cares for animals that are injured or otherwise cannot survive in the wild.

"She's getting along famously with...we have her in with another duck. And she's been swimming around. She seems fine," said Melanie Piazza, the director of animal care at Wildcare.

Piazza says returning Juanita to Bello Gardens is just not possible.

"So, the law is that nobody can keep a wild animal as a pet," explained Piazza.

The seniors argue that they miss Juanita.

"[She] likes to play around us, was not afraid of any of us. And you could talk to it, and it would understand what you were saying. Or we thought that way anyway," said Manning.

The seniors at the center have asked for her return, to no avail. But they are not giving up.

They've made up signs and created a petition to send to the governor asking for an exception so Juanita can be returned home.

"I'm signing my signature, hoping they'll bring the duck back," said Wardner.

Juanita spent much of her time in an enclosure that includes a small house where she slept and a pond where she could splash around. Staff at Bello Gardens Senior Living shared video with KTVU showing just how happy she was in her pond.

But then she left.

"She's lucky that she was saved by a person who knew what to do with her and she wasn't hit by a car or caught by a dog. And she wasn't ducknapped, she was rescued by a caring good citizen," said Piazza.

State wildlife officials told KTVU by phone that Juanita is still a wild animal, so it's illegal to keep her as a pet. Wildcare says the seniors will be welcome to visit Juanita anytime.

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