By Sharon Chin

SAN ANSELMO (KPIX 5) — A group of North Bay senior citizens who encountered plenty of red tape when trying to bring back a beloved bird which had been lost are teaching people a lesson in perseverance, among other subjects.

Three years ago during Christmas week, residents Bello Gardens – an assisted living facility in San Anselmo, welcomed home its most famous fowl: Juanita the duck.

Today, Bello Gardens’ most recognized resident waddles down the hall into the facility’s dining room as part of a unique educational project. Juanita has been showcased in almost two dozen wildlife lessons in the last year.


Recently, Juanita delighted first-graders from St. Anselm School. “I think she’s cute and pretty,” said student Megan Parente.

“She’s got a good place to live,” noted Dr. Jim Cunningham, Dominican University ornithologist.

The orphaned duck made the news three years ago when she escaped from her home at Bello Gardens.

She was found but couldn’t return to her adopted family of senior citizens, because it’s against the law to keep wild animals as pets.

However, the residents at Bello Gardens didn’t give up.

“We had 11,000 signatures in two weeks on,” recalled Bello Gardens administrator Neysa Hinton.

Their congressman, Rep. Jared Huffman, was among those who hatched a plan to bring Juanita home. Bello Gardens has kept up its end of the bargain: it’s maintained a special permit to use Juanita as the centerpiece of a wildlife education program.

So students come to the assisted living center for field trips organized by Dr. Cunningham. “This gives them an opportunity to see something that’s a little bit different, a little unusual,” he said.

Megan agreed. Seeing Juanita in person is so much better than reading about ducks. “You can actually see her. Not in the pictures, because in the pictures it doesn’t really show the colors,” Megan said.

Fellow first grader Matthew Warmby learned something, too. “How she blends in with the other colors in the trees. So she can protect herself,” he said.

To keep Juanita here, Bello Gardens has to renew the permit every year, showing proof of her care and educational role.

“We need to show the hours of her care and the hours to maintain her lifestyle,” administrator Hinton chuckled.

In fact, she logged 300 hours last year caring for the feathered celebrity. That includes a special diet, visits to the vet, and maintenance of her backyard living space. Her habitat got a $2,000 upgrade three years ago one of the conditions of her homecoming.

Today, the mallard is the facility’s mascot and best buddy to residents like Ed Meagor. “Lot of people do have relatives come over and a lot of us don’t have it, but we got Juanita to be here, and she looks at us and gives a quack every once in a while,” said Meagor.

As for Juanita herself? She is now almost five years old, and bird experts say she could live another 14 to 16 years.

Food service manager Walter Paredes knows her best. “She like to be with the people,” he said.

And the seniors at Bello Gardens love to be with her. For them, home is where their duck is.