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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Urban wildlife

When I leave work, I’m usually in a hurry to get in my car and drive home.

But the other night, I paused as I made my way across the parking lot.

There, feeding in the grass that edges the woods behind the office, were two deer. They glanced at me, their faces curious and watchful, their eyes bright and alert and unafraid. Not everyone lives and works in such close proximity to wildlife, and I marveled at my good fortune.

During the summer, I lost my temper one night while walking at Empire State Plaza.

The reason: a group of preteens throwing garbage at the ducks. The ducks are one of the season’s highlights. The adults take up residence in the spring; soon after, they give birth to fluffy yellow ducklings that learn to swim in the reflecting pools. Wooden ramps, strategically placed on the sides of the pools, make it easier for the ducklings to climb in and out of the water.

In my mind, the ducks are something to be celebrated.

I like living in the city, but urban life comes with certain sacrifices. I live near some pretty nice parks, but nature itself often feels like it’s at a distance. I see squirrels and mice from time to time, and on one of my evening strolls an opossum darting out of an alley caused me to jump in fright. Years ago, I was treated to the unexpected sight of a trio of beavers swimming in the ponds and ambling along the banks of the Corning Preserve. But such wildlife sightings are few and far between. When I walk, I expect to see pavement, parking lots and multibuildings. Not animals.

Which is too bad, because I like animals, and I’m always yearning for more opportunities to see them.

I was jealous of all those people in southern Saratoga County who got to see a moose last week, although I felt a little sorry for the animal — getting tranquilized by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and relocated to the Adirondacks doesn’t sound like much fun. I also read Gazette reporter John Enger’s story about the birth of a 6-foot giraffe at Adirondack Animal Land with great interest, and a report about a woman who stabbed a threatening bear in the Adirondacks with a knife with unease. I like bears, and I never want to be in a situation where I feel like I have to stab one. And I have enough sense to know that bears do not belong in the city.

But ducks?

Ducks do belong in the city.

At least, I think so.

That’s why I was so appalled by the kids who were throwing garbage at the ducks at Empire State Plaza. I wanted to scream at them. (Actually, I did scream at them.) The ducks had found a way to coexist with the pavement and people of downtown Albany, and the kids seemed determined to ruin it. What exactly was the matter with them? Confronted by an angry adult, the kids moved on.

Later, I realized that I had behaved in a similar fashion a couple years ago, when a group of teenagers were permitting a dog to chase and snap at the rabbits who live at the Corning Preserve. Apparently, nothing sends me around the bend quite like watching people torment animals.

As someone who believes that animals have a place in the city and can make living there more interesting, I’ve been amazed at the controversy surrounding the movement to legalize the ownership of chickens in the city of Albany. The movement got its start in the Mansion Neighborhood, where I live, when a couple had their chickens confiscated because they were in violation of an ordinance that bars residents from owning farm animals.

Mayor Jerry Jennings ultimately vetoed legislation that would have allowed people to own hens (but not roosters), but the controversy raged on. It was a big topic of discussion at an Albany mayoral forum I attended, where some candidates insisted that chickens have no place in the city, and might have contributed to the primary day defeat of incumbent city council member Lester Freeman, who voted against the legislation.

Personally, I believe it’s possible for city residents to live peaceably alongside chickens, partly because it’s already happening. Educational institutions are permitted to have chickens, and the Albany Free School, which is around the corner from me, has a coop. I also live near the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, a nonprofit organization that raises rabbits and fish in a greenhouse, as well as chickens and geese. The idea, according to founder Scott Kellogg, is to teach city dwellers how to raise and grow their own food, and serve as a model for environmentally sensitive urban living.

I don’t have any plans to follow Radix’s lead and build a greenhouse, but I enjoyed looking at the animals when I visited over the summer, and happily bought a couple of tomato plants. The ducks and rabbits and chickens and fish are a welcome addition to the neighborhood. To some, their presence might seem radical and strange, even problematic. But to me, it feels like they belong.

Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at

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