Lemon the Duck

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Duckling with disabilities inspires students

By Christine McCall
Daily News staff


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PORTSMOUTH — From afar, Lemon looks like a typical Pekin duck, but a closer look reveals an animal in need.

Lemon was one of four ducks hatched April 11, 2006, in Laura Backman’s kindergarten classroom at Hathaway School.

“We knew right away something was wrong,” Backman said.

Lemon didn’t have good coordination or balance and couldn’t walk. Backman took Lemon to several veterinarians and it finally was ruled that Lemon’s problems are neurological and cannot be fixed. Many ducks with neurological problems like the ones Lemon suffers from typically do not survive for more than a day in the wild.

When Backman and her students learned that Lemon would never walk on her own, they were determined to give the duck the best quality of life they could. Backman and her students brainstormed ways to help Lemon become more mobile.

“They’re just very interested in her,” Backman said. “They want to make sure she’s happy and healthy.”

After experimenting with a few different ideas, a student brought a dog’s life vest into the classroom. The life vest eventually was attached to a scooter made out of PVC piping. The device allows Lemon to stand upright and scoot around.

Though Lemon will never walk without assistance, Backman said there is no need to feel bad for the popular duck. She describes Lemon as a feisty but friendly duck who loves to be cuddled and petted.

Backman, who now is a reading specialist at Melville Elementary School, brings Lemon back and forth to school every day. Lemon has made quite an impression at the Hathaway and Melville schools, as she makes occasional visits to many of the schools’ classrooms.

Lemon visited Robin Perry’s Melville classroom this week to socialize and spend time with four students in an intensive classroom. Perry said the students have slowly warmed up to Lemon and are getting more comfortable with the duck each time she visits the classroom.

Preston Barron, 9, sat down next to Lemon and, after a few minutes, started blowing her kisses and petting her on the head.

“(Lemon is) a school friend that (the students), in their own way, can communicate with,” Perry said.

Backman said many of the children constantly ask about Lemon and some of them even like to draw their own versions of Lemon and write her letters.

At home, Lemon is just another member of the Backman family. Whether Backman is watching TV or reading a book, Lemon is never too far away, usually finding a comfortable spot on Backman’s lap.

Lemon eats lots of greens — kale, chicory and escarole — but her favorite snack is cherry tomatoes.

Because Lemon lives inside the house, she wears a diaper that is changed six times daily.

“I bring her pretty much anywhere,” Backman said. That includes the grocery store, mall and outdoor concerts and on camping and canoe trips. Backman also takes Lemon for swims and rides in a baby carriage.

“Usually, people are very receptive and interested in her,” Backman said. “It’s brought a lot of joy to people.”

Lemon typically makes a monthly visit to the veterinarian, but if Backman notices any changes in Lemon’s behavior or energy level, she immediately takes the duck in for an appointment.

“I’m kind of in tune as to how she’s feeling,” Backman said.

Not only has Lemon brought personal joy to Backman’s life, but Lemon also is teaching students about the importance of accepting an individual’s differences.

“She is a wonderful, safe way to talk about disabilities,” Backman said.

Backman has written a book called “Lemon the Duck,” which details Lemon’s story and will make its debut in bookstores in the fall.

For more information about Lemon, visit www.lemontheduck.com.

Send reporter Christine McCall e-mail at Reporter@NewportRI.com.


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