Unbreakable bond helps shelter pets find new homes
By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette
From a writing standpoint, interviewing a dog is not easy.
Fortunately, Erin Abay, office manager of the Humane Society of Navarro County and all-around “Dog Mom” chose to field questions while Ducky the shih tzu was content to snuffle about in the background, pausing briefly to chew on a scarf.
“He’s so weird,” Abay laughed.
Ducky (known formally as Ducky Buster Fredricksen Abay) is an eight-year-old internet celebridog in Corsicana, having featured in publications such as People Magazine. Ducky has belonged to Abay and her husband Mike since 2012.
Abay has been a part of the HSNC since December of 2014, working alongside Marsha McAlister, the organization’s president. The humane society primarily assists the community with its low cost spay and neuter program.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abay has mostly been working from home, having been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease which has compromised her immune system since childhood. Abay does breathing treatments three times a day and exercises regularly to keep her condition stable.
While Abay always held a love for animals growing up, her college years began on a very different path. She studied criminal law at A&M Commerce, having earned a Master’s Degree in Criminology.
“I remember making a joke with my parents when I got my Master’s Degree and I said: ‘What if my heart’s in volunteerism and I just don’t use this degree?'” Abay recalled, smiling. “And that’s just exactly what I’ve done.”
Regardless, Abay remains a fan of true crime podcasts, and has no regrets in her detour in the workforce.
“Animals are definitely where I’ve found my passion,” she said. “I’ve always loved animals, but because of Ducky, I’ve definitely made it my career, what I want to do, and what I want to focus on.”
She turned and looked over to Ducky, who held his own focus by on chewing on a box.
Ducky was a graduation present from her parents when Abay turned 21. A lifelong dog owner, Ducky was her first “solo” pet, selected from a breeder.
“Back then we weren’t as educated on rescuing and adopting, so we just did what everyone has done at some point,” Abay said. “I wish he had a great adoption story, but because of the fact that he was a bought dog, we made it our mission to help dogs that are in need of rescue and adoption, or whatever the case may be.”
Abay quickly realized how photogenic her puppy was, and started taking photos of her companion. Over time, the quality of her work became more professional in nature.
“He was way too cute not to get really good pictures of,” Abay said. “A cell phone wasn’t going to be enough.”
Ducky has had hundreds of thousands of photos taken since, becoming the subject of his own Facebook page called “Ducky’s Doings” during the 2012 Halloween season. Photos ranged from a variety of colorful costumes to the shih tzu’s daily activities.
The social media pages began to grow in followers and popularity, featuring seasonal series such as the “13 Days of Halloween,” the “Family of Duck,” and his dog show birthday parties. Ducky has also since become a mascot for HSNC.
Ducky’s trunk of endless disguises are wide ranging, where the little dog has morphed into “Animal” from The Muppet Show, “Sam” from Trick r Treat, and “Garth” from Wayne’s World.
Just recently, Abay has started making the costumes herself for her willing photo subject to pose in, and she complimented his willingness to go along with any situation.
The many faces of Ducky. – Courtesy photos
“He’s just a natural at it, and I think part of it is he enjoys it, but he’s also one of those dogs that he is obsessed with me, and I am his world,” Abay said. “I think he knows that’s what I want him to do, and he’ll do it.”
For all his experience, Ducky’s payscale remains affordable through a few pieces of cheese.
Though the set pieces have allowed Abay to explore and develop her own photo skills through her furry creative outlet, she always keeps consideration of her muse’s well-being.
“None of it would be worth it or good or interesting if he wasn’t into it,” Abay said. “I’ve taken pictures of dogs that just hate the camera. You want them to be comfortable. You want them to be happy, and I understand some of them just don’t understand it, and that’s fine.”
The little dog’s creative antics have helped Abay meet people in the Corsicana community, and connect with other animal lovers in town. With the COVID-19 pandemic still present, Abay continues to connect with people through her photography and shelter work.
Ducky is the host of Friends of Ducky on the Navarro County Gazette, where each week he introduces a new and local pet currently available for adoption. With a large number of pets in need of homes around Corsicana and Navarro County, it’s Abay’s hope that the feature will bring more attention to the animals in the local shelter.
“Pets in need of a home aren’t in need of a home because something’s ‘wrong’ with them,” Abay said. “My goal with Ducky has always been to promote a pet/parent relationship, and how much I’ve gotten out of it, and how much he’s gotten out of it. With Friends of Ducky, that pet that we feature is someone else’s ‘Ducky.’ You can have a ‘Ducky’ from your local shelter. You can adopt a ‘Ducky.’ You can rescue a ‘Ducky.’ You can find a ‘Ducky’ on the side of the street.”
Abay said while she cherishes the special relationship she has with her dog, every pet has the capacity to do that for someone. The current pandemic has forced situations where pet owners are no longer able to care for their animals, and many dogs and cats have ended up homeless and on the streets.
Abay wants to showcase the personalities of these available animals so people can see who is adoptable and make a connection with them online.
“You can go to your local shelter and walk down the aisles of kennels and I guarantee you one of them will turn your head, and make you think ‘Hmm, I wonder what it would be like to have that dog or cat or whatever in my house?'”
“Opening your home to a pet is a big commitment, but it is so worth it,” Abay said. “In 2020 with people being home more, especially people like me with health problems, having that little furry companion is huge, and to some people, it’s a lifesaver.”
As Ducky continued to root around in the background, he wore a look sharing that sentiment.
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