Duncan found the duck head on Thursday.
It was laying in a gravelly, oil-slicked puddle in the parking lot on the far side of the complex, forgotten but impossible to overlook. It was swollen with winter water, grey and sandy, its color somewhere between green and asphalt, and its eyes were gone, as though they'd never been there in the first place, and the beak tightly shut like the thing was trying to hold its breath.
We've been working (and working and working) on Duncan not eating things he finds on the grounds. A neighbor has been known to throw entire pans of lasagna outside for the vermin, pizzas, too, and once I found half a bag of raisin English muffins. As soon as I figured out who it was I politely asked them to stop as we don't want foxes and coyotes coming onto the property, and I especially didn't want any of the dogs eating the raisins. I have tried numerous tactics with Duncan to stop him from downing whatever he finds, but some days are better than others. On this particular day, The Day of the Head, I spotted it before he did and tried to steer him around the puddle where it lolled, wishing it had eyes to stare at the blue sky. If I hadn't been so vigilant he would've had it in his mouth faster than the bunnies he chases can duck for cover.
But Dunc wouldn't have it. He pulled and pulled (another thing we've been working on, although I fear the root of the problem may be his father, who lets him get away with that kind of behavior on their walks) and I finally relented enough to let him lean in and investigate. He inched his nose as close I would allow, then leaned even further, pulling his entire weight against the leash until his front legs were no longer touching the ground. I jerked him away but he looked up at me with those big, brown doleful eyes and I knew there was nothing more he wanted than to bring the head home to play with while I was busy working.
Needless to say it didn't happen.
The next morning the head was still there, although the water had evaporated, leaving only the finest crust of ice around it, a white ring of crystals and sand, a sad little grave even for a head missing a body. Again Duncan looked up at me, pleading with raised eyebrows and the saddest look a Golden can muster. He wanted it. Wanted it bad. And me, being the softy I am, agreed. I picked it up quickly, without looking, and stuffed it into my pocket.
And now, washed and sanitized, Duncan has made it his new favorite toy. It hasn't been out of his sight for more than a few minutes a day, and when he sleeps at night he keeps it tucked under his paws, nestled down against his big fluffy pillow and the blanket my mother knitted for him three years ago.