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A Duck's Best Friends Are These Volunteers : Good Samaritans Battling Bureaucracy to Feed Animals at Marina del Rey Pond

December 19, 1985|SUSAN VAUGHN | Vaughn is a Beverly Hills writer. and

Sometimes, one person can make a difference. For the geese, ducks, roosters, rabbits and chickens that live at the Marina del Rey "Duck Pond" on Washington Boulevard it's Leigh Rae Platte.

On a hot August morning in 1982, Platte, now 42, jogged past 10.7 acres of county-owned land cluttered with weeds, garbage and rusted drainage pipes. It was then that she first recognized the animal problem. "Some were lying dead, others were pressed against the fence crying to be fed," she said. Alarmed, Platte sprinted home to collect food scraps for the animals. It was the beginning of a three-year relationship.

Complaints Ignored

Platte called the Department of Beaches and Harbors to alert them to the animals' plight. According to Platte, her complaints were ignored. "I was calling twice a week, but they just didn't seem to want to deal with it." Undeterred, Platte began scaling the 7-foot fence surrounding the county property to feed and tend to the abandoned animals that languished on the grounds.

"These were once all somebody's pet," said Platte. "Most are tame--they were raised in somebody's backyard. But the people didn't want them anymore and left them here to die." During the course of her daily visits to the Duck Pond, Platte met roommates Irene Ashby, 64, and Betty Liegel, 77, of Mar Vista. The two women had also been complaining to the county about the starving inhabitants of the Duck Pond. "Unfortunately," Platte said, "nobody listens to you when you're in your 70s."

Ashby and Liegel approached local health food stores for carrot tops, pellets and day-old bread. Though both live on retirement income, they paid for the foods out of pocket. Platte examined the starving animals for signs of injury and disease. Ailing birds and rabbits were gently loaded into her car and driven to the Wilshire Animal Hospital in Santa Monica.

Platte paid for each animal's veterinary care, medication and food supply with money earned from her regular job as a sales representative for a Fortune 500 pharmaceutical company. During 1982 and 1983, according to Platte, her out-of-pocket expenses exceeded $2,000.

Granted Volunteer Status

By mid-1983, county officials from the Department of Beaches and Harbors realized that Platte, Ashby and Liegel were not going to go away. With help from Department of Animal Care and Control attorney Brian Berger, Platte was granted permission to serve as a county volunteer. Ashby and Liegel were also later granted volunteer status.

One of Platte's first official acts as a green-jacketed county volunteer was to persuade Boys Market managers to give her discarded boxes of lettuce, carrot tops, and greens. At Platte's urging, Boys Market representatives visited the Duck Pond to meet its residents. Now, each morning at sunrise, employees from the supermarket pack boxes of lettuce, carrot tops and collard greens for Platte to pick up on her way to the Duck Pond.

Upon Platte's arrival at the pond, more than 200 geese, chickens, rabbits and ducks vie for position near the designated feeding areas. Platte no longer needs to scale the fence; county officials gave her a key to the entrance gates. She unloads several boxes of feed from her car, then tosses hand-outs to the waiting animals.

"The population changes here from day to day," Platte said. "We get new animals left here by their owners, but we also lose animals to poachers and stray dogs." Last year, Platte said, two dogs climbed over the Duck Pond fence and killed 104 animals. In 1982, Platte caught a man and his two teen-age sons trying to catch and kill a duck. When she confronted the man, he threw the duck to the ground, breaking its legs. The duck had to be destroyed.

This year, Platte has found homemade darts lodged in the skin of chickens and rabbits. She has also found evidence of rabbit traps and hunting parties. "I guess it's some kind of sport," she said, "though I'll never understand it."

Both Platte and Ashby occasionally sleep overnight at the Duck Pond to ward off stray dogs and poachers. Platte still crawls through bushes and brush, checking for traps.

After finishing her feeding rounds, Platte sweeps away debris and attends to injured animals. Badly hurt pets are taken to Dr. Frank Lavac at the Wilshire Animal Hospital. He charges the county only $25 per visit, no matter what services are performed. One rabbit, suffering from a recurrent abscess, underwent three surgeries and required extensive medical care. The total cost to Lavac was $900. He billed the county $25. "Leigh is an incredible person," he said. "I'm only glad I can be of some help to her--and to the animals."

Inspiration to Others

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