After living a long life beyond the average years of many others like her, Secaucus’ own Chatter, the Toulouse goose, passed away on Jan. 21 at the age of 34. Her life was one of relative calm in the care of owner Nancy Doyle, who has had Chatter since she was a gosling. However, when Hurricane Sandy swept through and flooded the family’s home on Mill Ridge Road, Chatter took quite a beating and was simply never the same.
“Although she survived Sandy, the storm took quite a toll on the old girl,” said Doyle in a written account of what transpired that night.
According to Doyle, on Oct. 29 the night the storm hit, Chatter was returned to her coop after she had a meal of dandelion greens, Boston lettuce, cob corn, and grain. As a goose that couldn’t fly, she usually spent her days sunning herself in the backyard, swimming in her kiddie pool, and keeping watch on the homestead honking at passersby.
“After eating, it was normal for her to ‘settle in’ in the interior portion of her coop atop wood shavings and straw for the night,” said Doyle.
“It’s hard to remember when this silly goose was not in my life.” – Nancy Doyle
She headed out her front door with her two-year-old Golden Retriever Willow, and made a beeline for the side of the house with the intention of opening the coop door so Chatter could swim free and avoid drowning should her coop flood to the top.
Doyle never got to Chatter, however, because with the water levels rising above five feet, “the officer demanded I exit [the] property.”
“The water level literally was rising by the minute,” said Doyle. “I reluctantly left the area and crossed the street to stay with neighbors.”
Lost to the storm
Doyle was distraught. The Walshes, neighbors who provided Doyle with shelter, took notice. In an attempt to save Chatter, Joe Walsh went out in waders and released the latch on the coop.
“We did not know if Chatter swam out or if she remained trapped inside,” said Doyle. “I prayed that my goose floated out of the coop.”
The area where Doyle lives by the Hackensack River severely flooded during Sandy from a tidal surge that rose up to six to seven feet above the five feet high river banks, which is much higher than the roof of Chatter’s coop.
The next day, Doyle’s niece Rebecca searched the yard for Chatter and called her name but never heard that familiar honk.
Then, she spotted her.
“Rebecca found her near death wedged between coop and fence tangled in debris,” said Doyle.
“My crying niece brought her to me saying ‘Chatter needs to hear your voice....she's almost dead.’ ”
Doyle and her niece wrapped Chatter’s “lifeless, soaked and ice cold body in a blanket.”
“I held her close to me for two hours to give her warmth,” said Doyle. “In time she raised her head which was resting on my forearm.”
Chatter began to show signs of life. She slightly moved her foot. She drank water that Doyle offered her. Doyle’s excitement grew.
“As weak and exhausted as she was, Chatter made it!” said Doyle.
By evening she was walking.
Chatter arrived in Secaucus in 1979 from a Hunterdon County farm where Doyle’s sister lived. While Chatter was originally slated to be sold because the family planned to leave the farm, Doyle’s niece Rebecca became attached to her.
In recent years, Chatter showed signs of old age. She had cataracts and hadn’t laid eggs since she was 25. But Sandy caused a dramatic change in her behavior.
In the weeks following the hurricane, Doyle noticed that Chatter slowed her step, slept longer, and spent less time in the kiddie pool.
“Her active daily routine of patrolling ‘her’ yard and honking at passersby ceased,” noted Doyle. “Often Willow and I kept her company in her indoor living area, where she preferred to rest with her head tucked under a wing.”
Three days before Chatter died, she stopped eating. Doyle placed her indoors because she felt cold to the touch, but all the goose wanted to do was sleep, and she did.
According to Doyle, “Chatter passed peacefully and comfortably.”
Doyle has fond memories of Chatter in her garden. She followed her owner around, sat next to her, and poked around in whatever Doyle was up to.
“It’s hard to remember when this silly goose was not in my life,” said Doyle. “My heart has always been in the country although I live in Secaucus....having a wonderful farm pet was truly a joy. I loved her to pieces.”
Doyle signed her written statement as "Mother Goose."
Adriana Rambay Fernández may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.