USF senior Katelin Kaiser has always loved animals. All types of dogs, hamsters, mice and rats were her pets when she was a child. At age 8 she started riding horses, but a serious car accident took away her equestrian dreams when she was 18.
Maybe that’s why she has emerged as a leading advocate for duck safety on the USF campus.
When Kaiser was 18, she was a passenger in a fatal car crash. Along with head trauma, she broke her neck and had to wear a “halo” for about seven weeks.
“I was originally in St. Joseph’s Hospital for about a week and then was transferred over to Tampa General’s Pediatric Rehabilitation program for about three months,” Kaiser said. “I basically had to relearn everything: walking, putting clothes on, feeding myself, tying my shoes.”
Her 10-year equestrian dream ended, which was tough for an animal lover who grew up riding horses. She created a strong bond with these animals and connected with them on a different level.
These days the animals she advocates – at least in the public eye – are the baby ducks wandering through the USF campus.
Kaiser had just left a meeting on campus when she witnessed a duckling stray away from its family and walk straight into a storm drain. She ran over to the drain as the duckling cried for its mother. She knew she had to do something.
“I called a good friend of mine, Susan Taylor. She’s a huge supporter of animal rights,” Kaiser said. “I told her [that] there’s a baby duck trapped and I had no idea what to do. She said she would be right there.”
Once Taylor arrived, the pair began to call places for help: USF’s Physical Plant, Campus Police, the Humane Society—all of which said to call the other.
After a few more calls, the Physical Plant sent out a worker to come help with the issue. A couple hours later, the worker arrived and tried to reel the duckling out with a stick contraption.
“She tried, but this didn’t help the situation. She told us it happens all the time, that it’s not a big deal, it’s just ducks,” Kaiser said. “They apparently get calls about this often, so it seems to be a reoccurring problem.”
Finally, one student decided to take matters into his own hands by lifting the metal grate, which slipped out of his hands, just missing the duckling. Startled, the duckling went into one of the drain’s pipes.
After about three grueling hours of attempting to get the duckling out, even with Taylor climbing into the drain, the day ended without a rescue.
Kaiser is a member of Students Protecting the Environment and Animals through Knowledge. She took a course at USF on ethics that had a two-week concentration on animals, which sparked her empathy for the well-being of all animals. It also led her to become a vegetarian starting her freshman year.
“This all clicked with me and made sense,” Kaiser said. “If I wanted to live a life of respecting animals and treating them kindly, it seemed wrong I would be willing to eat them without a problem.”
She has not eaten meat in four years and feels great about the decision as her way to support animal rights. Even her 17-year-old sister recently became a vegetarian.
Kaiser makes it a point to respect everyone’s opinion and not push her views of vegetarianism on people. When you push someone into doing something they have no care, desire, or emotions about, the results are not the same.
When she witnessed what was happening on campus with the ducklings, she wanted to spread awareness to those who share her love for the ducks on campus.
Kaiser told her friend and fellow USF student, Lindsey Smith, what had happened. Smith then created the “Save the USF Baby Ducks” Facebook page.
Yet, one particular post on the page claimed the ducks are an invasive species that pollute the area and should be killed off either way.
This commenter was highly outnumbered by the many supporters of the ducks. One courageous supporter passionately rallied the group by posting in all caps, “We shan’t let them fall. United, we will stand up for our weaker feathered brethren.” This was amongst a flood of posts of support, such as photos taken by students of these ducklings around campus, along with people documenting the culprit storm drains.
Surprisingly, the ducks are technically an invasive species in Florida. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforces rules that control the population of these migratory birds, specifically the Muscovy ducks often seen around campus.
USF professor and ecological physiologist, Lynn Martin, said that although he’s no duck expert, he would not describe these ducks on campus as “invasive”, but instead as an “introduced” species. Introduced species are non-native and do not necessarily have a negative impact on the ecosystem.
“It makes sense to control them, but not in this manner,” Martin said. “Because it’s a live organism, there are mechanisms in order to remove such species in a more humane way.”
For Kaiser, whether they are an invasive species or not, these ducks deserve to have a chance to live.
She enjoys seeing the ducks around campus and believes she’s not the only one.
“I just think all of the animals on campus are a part of USF. Seeing the support so far shows [that] people do care about the ducks and other animals on campus. They even have a USF squirrel page.”
Since the Facebook duckling page was created on September 7th, the members have steadily climbed over 1,000. Another USF ducklings page clocks in over 1,300 fans and the USF squirrels page reaches over 4,000 fans.
“I think of an animal, no matter what type, as sentient species that feel pain and can think,” Kaiser said. “Maybe not in the way that we think and communicate, but we still should have respect for these animals.”