“They love me,” says Claire Butcher as she approaches the edge of Flax Pond in Lynn, Mass. “Can’t you see that they know me?”
Indeed, before Butcher has taken out her bag of bread crumbs, the ducks move toward land as Butcher slowly makes her way to the shoreline.
“This is my life,” she says with a laugh, as she throws the first crumbs to the gathering ducks, “and they’re trying to take it away from me.”
"They" are the town officials in Lynn who have been recently trying to enforce a “no feeding” wildlife ordinance within city limits.
In fact, Lynn has already charged the 80-year-old grandmother and is now threatening her with 30 days in jail if she doesn’t stop feeding the ducks.
“She’s making a mess out there,” says city attorney Vincent Phelan. “The neighbors have been complaining for years.”
Phelan says duck poop is “making it impossible for people to enjoy” the park.
“She is bringing a lot of food out there,” he says.
Butcher says she’s been feeding the ducks in Lynn for more than 45 years.
“When I first moved here in 1966,” she recalled, “no one would complain. Now we have these new people moving onto the pond who don’t like it. They want to control the pond. I can’t understand it.”
Butcher says she migrated to Lynn after her mother's suicide.
“I turned to the animals to console me,” she says. “And they do.”
“They are the reason I get up in the morning,” she continued as the ducks surround her. “ They get me out of bed. I know they are waiting for me.”
Phelan points out this is not Butcher’s first brush with the law concerning the city ordinance that was passed in 2006.
He says they have warned her many times and even brought her before a judge last year.
“It’s a public health issue,” he says. “We want the park clean so everyone can use it.”
Butcher admits it will be hard for her to stop.
“Of course I am afraid,” she says. "I don’t think I would do too well in jail.”
Still, she says she's more afraid of life without her birds.
“Their love is unconditional,” she says. “They fill that emptiness in life.”
“Maybe,” she says, “if we had more love in the world, it would be a better world to live in.”
Butcher’s next court date is January 13, when a judge will decide whether to send her to jail for feeding the birds.