MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. — Who could forget Homer the duck and the neighborhood dispute that arose over its quacking?
Neighbor Jan Dawson was irritated by Homer’s quacking. Her complaints led to Homer’s owner, Lou Smith, being charged with violating the town’s noise ordinance.
After one court session and failed mediation at the Neighborhood Justice Center, Smith eventually was acquitted of the charges against her.
Now Smith is mourning the Fourth of July death of the blueberry-loving Homer, a rare golden brown duck with a tufted feather head.
“I’m so upset,” Smith said. “She really was a wonderful pet.”
Smith adopted the female duck in August 2000 as it was being released in a Colorado Springs pond by its original owners, who had raised Homer from an egg.
Adopting Homer was a natural for Smith, a 28-year Manitou resident and retired marketing executive.
She is an animal lover who makes and sells pet bandannas and climbs the hill behind her house almost daily to fill bird feeders. She has had a variety of pets.
She took the duck to her home on Via Vallecito in the northeast corner of Manitou, where Homer soon settled in with Smith’s two cats and became a neighborhood attraction.
Children came to play with Homer and feed the duck blueberries. Neighbors sat on a bench by its cage and visited. And, of course, Homer quacked.
After the first court appearance, Smith moved Homer’s pen down the hill from Dawson’s house, separating the two by 185 feet of thick scrub oak, pine trees and juniper bushes.
And she got Homer a companion — a large, male duck she named Gerard. Turns out Gerard loved Homer.
“That darned Gerard was a sex maniac,” Smith said. “He wouldn’t leave Homer alone.”
Smith said Gerard was particularly amorous lately and left Homer with an injured leg. She took Homer to a veterinarian July 3.
“The next morning when I brought her out of her cage, I could tell she really wasn’t feeling good,” Smith said.
Neighbor Roberta Ringstrom held Homer while Smith put a heating pad in Homer’s cage.
“I held her to my chest and she died in my arms,” Ringstrom said.
Another neighbor helped them dig a grave and they buried Homer with a handful of blueberries.
“That duck was a hero,” Ringstrom said. “He brought the neighborhood much closer together. And he brought a lot of joy to people. The story of his trial was picked up around the world.
“Lou was interviewed by CNN, the BBC, Paul Harvey. In the wake of the 9-11 tragedy, he gave people a ray of happiness. Something to laugh about.”
The news left Dawson stunned.
“I’m shocked and sad,” Dawson said. “I didn’t dislike the duck. Just the noise.”
And she expressed concern for Smith.
“I feel sorry for the loss of her animal,” Dawson said. “How’s she doing? She loves animals. She’s got all kinds of wild animals around she takes care of. I lost my favorite dog a year ago; I know what it’s like losing a pet. I’m really shocked and sorry for her. It doesn’t make me happy.”
Smith said she appreciated Dawson’s reaction, then turned to decorating Homer’s grave, which is next to the cage.
She planted flowers amid the rocks marking the grave and is planning a small headstone.
And she’s trying not to blame Gerard.
“He’s missing her terribly,” Smith said. “I went down yesterday and had lunch with Gerard. He was so happy. He’s very happy when people are around. He’s a very social bird.”
Homer’s spirit may live on, Smith said. Ringstrom’s sister-in-law, a schoolteacher in California, recently visited and took home one of Homer’s eggs. Her plan was to incubate it and let her students study the egg.
“I found out today the egg is fertile,” Smith said. “It should hatch in about a week.
“Wouldn’t it be neat if it’s another girl? Homer would live on. She was so special.”