Administrators looking out for campus fowl

MSU University Police (MSUPD) is working together with the dean of students office to step-up protection for campus ducks. Citing recent abuses such as a duck being struck with a blow dart at the end of January, both entities expressed a need to strengthen deterrents and increase enforcement.

Currently, campus birds are protected under Montana Code, which criminalizes animal mistreatment or neglect. But according to Chief of Police Roger Puterz, enforcement has been lenient at best — with no citations written for duck mistreatment in the last four months. “But we’re generally allowed quite a bit of flexibility in how we interpret the laws,” Puterz explained.

Specifically, Puterz cited 1(c) of the 45-8-211 animal cruelty code, which requires people provide food and water “of sufficient quantity and quality” to keep the animals healthy. “We have people going out [to the duck pond] giving the ducks expired food,” said an exasperated Puterz sitting in front of a 30 inch by 40 inch painting of a mallard in his office.

In order to keep the animals healthy, the police department — and the university — need to ensure that the ducks are receiving proper nutrition, “Not any of that Wonder Bread garbage,” added Puterz. In an attempt to protect the health of the fowl, MSUPD has been working with the veterinary program and MSU Health Promotions to assemble a list of acceptable foods and brands. “I really like the WholeEarth 42-Grain Low-Carbon Omega-3. It’s lower in cholesterol and supports avian digestive health,” explained June Hart, director of MSU Health Promotions. Hart, with advice from the veterinary program, has built a list of approved breads that MSU police have agreed to enforce.

But it’s not just what you feed the ducks, “it’s how you treat them, too,” added Dean of Students Matt Shares. “It’s time the university took an official stance on it’s feathered residents.” In addition to the student code of conduct, the university has its own collection of bylaws. Shares has authored a new policy item that outlines comprehensive expectations for MSU faculty, staff, students and visitors in regards to the ducks and their habitat.

Shares’ policy item includes a section on psychological torment of the animals which forbids imitating the birds. “The ducks likely find imitation very degrading,” explained Shares, sitting on a bench by the pond with Webber, his favorite duck, on his lap. “Plus, it’s simply unnecessary, and you look silly.”

While the university could administer sanctions on those that infract on the policy, Shares hopes that it won’t come to that. “Any rule that we make — whether it’s in the controversial student code of conduct or university-wide — is made as a deterrent. We don’t want to have to come down on people for this. We just want our smaller residents to be more comfortable here,” said Shares laughing.

The policy measure sponsored by Shares has yet to reach its executive officer, Provost Mariel Potted, but is expected to have a decision rendered on it by mid-April. However, MSUPD has been a bit more aggressive. “We’ve put a higher priority on the duck pond for patrol starting two weeks ago,” Puterz said. The pond will be visited at least once an hour from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. by a police officer to make sure that the birds aren’t enduring any unfair treatment. “We’re probably not going to write any citations just yet. As police, our goal is to ensure safety and comfort, not just write citations,” Puterz elaborated.

MSUPD is ensuring that education is at the forefront of their activities, at least for the first few weeks. “More than trying to shackle up everyone we can, we want people to follow the rules and we’re going to do that by talking to people and making sure they know what they can and can’t do at the pond,” Puterz clarified.

Puterz says that the new restrictions, namely the bread list, will be posted around the pond for visitors to the duck habitat and that enforcement will likely start in two or three weeks. “Do the ducks live in terrible conditions?” asked Shares. “No, of course not. But can we make things better for the living icons of our campus? Probably. And I think the time to do so is now.”

“Editors note: this article appeared in the March 26, 2015 edition of the Exponent, the “Excrement”. The edition is the annual April Fool’s edition of the paper. All articles are satire. For questions and comments please contact editor@exponent.montana.edu or (406)994-2224.”