Animal Photos Index

78. Monkey & Kitten

77. Mr. Waddle

April 2006. Bill Lytle and Mr. Waddle, a goose that befriended him, commune Wednesday along the shore of Fernan Lake during one of Lytle's daily walks. The goose began following Lytle shortly after the 73-year-old was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last fall.

An ailing man finds solace in a wild bird's friendship

FERNAN LAKE -- On a balmy spring day, there are a great many ducks and geese splashing through the chilly green waters of Fernan Lake.

But only one paddles its red webbed feet through the brush and over the rocks when he hears Bill Lytle's soft voice.

"Come on, come on," Bill coaxes, his voice frail and his 73-year-old body bent from a sudden and ferocious battle with pancreatic cancer.

Amazingly, the goose responds and waddles its way on shore, where it wraps its body around Bill's legs like a cat winds its tail around its own. It rubs its furred head against Bill's outstretched arm, and preens from the attention.

It's a beautiful creature, about 30 pounds with a red beak to match its red feet, and a sheen of gray feathers over its chest.

It's also rather crabby. Its been known, says Bill's wife, Myrna, to snap at the pants of anyone else who gets too close -- including their daughter and Bill's hospice aide.

"Bill scolded it," Myrna says. "It turned its head and looked at him. It listens to him."

The dance between man and fowl began late last year, after Bill's diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He began taking walks away from his Fernan home and down to the lake.

There were other geese and ducks rambling around the wooded water, but only one took a shine to Bill.

"Sometimes he walks around me, sometimes he walks beside me," Bill says. "I rub his neck, and the top of his head and down to his back. Every time I came down, he just kept coming out.

"I think it's pretty nice, that he'd always come to me."

But only to him. The goose, named "Mr. Waddles" by somebody down the lake from Bill's house, has a reputation around the area as the goose that bites. But it also has a reputation as Bill's unique and, on occasion, annoying pet.

"One day I got in the car and turned to the dock and I saw the goose in the parking lot," Myrna says. "And I thought, 'After 52 years of marriage, you're going to try and upstage me?' So he walks around the car.

"Bill got in the car and he pulled out of the parking lot and in the rear-view mirror I could see the goose chasing the car. In the past, sometimes, Bill's had to shove the goose into the lake to keep it away from us."

But the goose is also keeping Bill's spirits up. He spends most of his time lying on the sofa with a blanket wrapped around him, and those daily strolls and near-daily meetings with the affectionate goose are part of what keeps him going.

"I take my walks for him," he says. "He's a nice little guy. It's a nice break in my day. I've never seen anybody else pet him."

"He comes waddling down the ice in the winter," says Myrna. "If Bill speeds up, he speeds up. If Bill slows down, he slows down. And somebody's always walking with Bill anyway. He's like the Pied Piper of Fernan.

"I wonder," says Myrna as Bill pulls the blanket even closer around him, "why would that one goose attach himself to Bill? I think he knows he's sick. I think animals can sense that."

Bill has always liked to walk. A two-time state legislator and former mayor of Pinehurst, he was used to walking seven miles.

Then, last fall, his skin changed. "He turned yellow," says Myrna. "Overnight."

His energy sagged.

The diagnosis was quick and brutal: Pancreatic cancer. His doctor immediately ordered him to the hospital, and he knew full well what that meant. He wasn't expected to make it past December.

"Now I'm waiting for the next December," he says.

A former project manager for the Bunker Hill mining company, he and Myrna moved to Coeur d'Alene after he retired. One of the founding members of the Lake City Striders, Bill's seven miles have become a closely monitored two, but he still walks.

"I have to keep walking," Bill says. "I have to keep walking, or I won't make my next December."

A few things keep Bill Lytle, the diminutive man with the alert brown eyes, going. The 24-hour hospice care, where aides take him golfing even as they monitor his increasing pain. Cards and letters from literally dozens of friends. Walking companions.

But on a brief walk around the property, his hidden fear comes out.

"I'm 73," he says. "And I'm not ready to die."

The goofy attention of a fine-feathered goose keeps him wanting to get out of the house, even when he feels badly.

"I just recently noticed he had a girlfriend," Bill says, and when asked if he's jealous of the attention Mr. Waddles lavishes on his new love, he just laughs.

"No. I'd like for him to have a family. I'd like to have a family of goslings."

Lynn Berk can be reached at (208) 664-8176, ext. 2016

A northern Idaho man diagnosed with terminal cancer says a usually cantankerous goose that befriended him on his walks has helped him live past doctors� predictions.

Then last fall his skin turned yellow overnight, and doctors diagnosed pancreatic cancer, giving Lytle only months to live. But Lytle continued his walks, having to cut them down to two miles at a nearby lake, where he met the goose who has inspired him to keep going even when he wasn�t feeling well.

The goose, called Mr. Waddles, is a feral domestic goose, a biologist with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said, offering no explanation for the relationship that has developed between the goose and Lytle. Myrna has thought about that as well.

The goose, about 30 pounds with a red beak and red feet, approaches Lytle when he calls and rubs its head against his arms. But it snaps at anyone else who gets too close, including Myrna, their daughter, and Bill�s hospice aide.

I am in awe of the magical, silent communication between man and beast in situations like this. What draws a normally bitchy goose to a man whose days are slipping so fast? There is no way to know, exactly. Recent studies show that dogs can smell cancer on patients� breath.

And perhaps this is the reason the goose has chosen Mr. Lytle, he can sense the sickness. But that is only half the equation. The half that science can�t explain is why the goose is being kind, showing him affection. Why allow a human, who he normally would snap and honk at, to touch him? Why snuggle this man, and chase off all others?

You can tell me animals don�t think. You can argue that they don�t form thoughts or have logic or abide by human morals.

But you can�t tell me they don�t feel, and that they don�t experience and show affection and love.


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