Juanita the Duck stirs feathers in Calif. town

SAN FRANCISCO -- In a locked pen at a wildlife hospital near San Francisco, a duck named Juanita is tied up in red tape.

Meanwhile at Bello Gardens Assisted Living Center residents are campaigning to win her freedom.

"It doesn't seem right. I want that duck back," says Norma Manning, a Bello Gardens resident. She misses having Juanita in the back yard.

"She was just a nice pet and everybody loved her."

Juanita arrived two years ago as an orphaned duckling. Bello Gardens cook Walter Paredes fed her back to health and she quickly became part of life at the assisted living center.

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A young Juanita the duck Bello Gardens

Bello Gardens administrator Neysa Hinton made sure the duck was as comfortable as any other resident, building her a pond and waterfall.

But one day in September Juanita wandered out of the backyard. Someone found her a couple of blocks away and took her to WildCare, a local animal hospital. That's where the red tape started.

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Juanita the duck

"Wildlife is considered in the public domain," says WildCare worker Alison Hermance. "So she gets checked into WildCare and all of a sudden, she belongs to the state of California. Not to WildCare, and unfortunately in this situation, not to Bello Gardens."

Hermance insists that simply giving the duck back would be a federal offense with dire consequences.

"We would lose our license to operate," said Hermance. She told CBS News the federal government would close WildCare down if they gave Juanita back to the senior center.

WildCare is helping Bello Gardens apply for a permit that would allow them to keep a wild duck as a pet. The residents also get to visit Juanita from time to time, trying to make the best of situation that is all fouled up.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.