LOS ANGELES - A fluffy duckling might seem appealing next to a basket of Easter eggs, but shelter officials and animal welfare experts want gift-happy parents to picture something else: Poop.
The average domestic duck relieves itself once every 15 minutes, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That's why very few people have ducks for pets - except at Easter.
Yet millions of people have or will celebrate spring and Easter by getting their children a duckling, figuring they can release it in a pond when it gets too big to keep.
"We usually get tons of calls right after Easter," said Susie Coston, national shelter director for the Farm Sanctuary.
Duck diapers are readily available online, but it takes more than that to raise a duck, said Carol Chrysong, the 56-year-old founder of The Lucky Duck Rescue & Sanctuary in Los Angeles. The sanctuary is home to 120 of them, including a drake and two hens that Chrysong keeps as her pets, and the cleanup is exhausting, she said.
"I do a massive amount of work every day before and after work. I am pretty exhausted," Chrysong said.
The upsides to keeping a duck as a pet include their surprisingly doglike behavior, which has them greeting owners upon arrival (Muscovy ducks even wag their tails), learning tricks and being extremely loyal, she said.
The downside is cleaning up after a diaperless duck that also likes to get into water or puddles and splash - then walk around, Chrysong said. An indoor duck would have to sit on a poop mat and sleep in a playpen full of shavings.
Chrysong added ducks are in heat up to 10 months out of the year, so "if you don't want to have the sex talk with your child, don't get a duck." Experts say most ducklings sold at Easter are drakes, so parents hoping for fresh eggs are out of luck.
Coston also discouraged ducks as pets, especially because they can live 20 years or more. She noted it's unlikely a child could take the duck to college.
Parents often assume they can set a duck free at a local pond once it outgrows its duckling stage, but "domestic ducks are not equipped to survive in the wild like their wild cousins," she said.
They can't fly, their colors don't match the environment and they don't know how to act in the wild, "so they fall prey to many wild animals, dogs and, sadly, even people," she said. In many cases, territorial ducks at a pond will kill newcomers.
Lydia Yasuda, a photographer from Diamond Bar, Calif., volunteers weekly at Chrysong's rescue after Chrysong took in her daughter's duckling. He had followed the girl around at a lake, and "we thought he could grow up and we could take him to the pond," said Yasuda.
Then the Yasudas started to read about caring for ducks. Her husband said no and they live in an apartment, so Benji went to the duck rescue.
Chrysong, who also keeps two horses and a dog on her half-acre of property in a rural area near Los Angeles, said she fell in love with ducks at age 8, when she and her sister received ducks as Easter gifts. "Those two ducks followed us all over Inglewood. They would wait outside when we took them to the store," she recalled.
When the ducks were 5, her parents released them at a pond, she said.
"It was devastating for me. They kept following us to the car. Eventually, my father said, 'Let's go,' and we left them there in the parking lot. I never got over it," Chrysong said. "Now I know what happens to them. That's why I am so aggressive about the work we do."
When she got a home in San Fernando Valley 27 years ago, she got a few ducks and people gave her the occasional bird before she decided to open a shelter. She gained charity status in 2008.
Then "the tsunami of ducks started coming my way. And I mean wave after wave of them," she said. "I would have 10 million ducks here if I took all the ducks."
She places ducks only if adopters will take a group. She doesn't want one duck dying of grief because it lost its flock, she said.
Cities could help prevent parents from giving ducks as temporary pets by barring the sale of lone ducklings, she said. Most major national pet store chains have stopped selling chicks, bunnies or ducklings - all popular Easter gifts - so almost all sales are made online, at feed stores or independent pet stores.
Parents who have children who want a duck for Easter should visit a pet store or zoo instead, she said. That'll be less messy and a lot less work, Chrysong said as she recalled her experiences.
"The duck lady is starting to show serious signs of wear," she said.