Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Llama Drama

I'm finally in a place where I can tell you about our llama drama of a few weeks ago. This is going to be a long haul so get your energy drink, a protein bar, and some Kleenex.

So remember when I was so excited because I'd finally gotten a girl llama to..ahem.."straighten" out our brokeback llamas? I named her Dolly and abruptly fell in love with her friendliness, her nose in my face, and her very stinky llama kisses. But then remember how one day last summer the wind blew just right, the fur parted, and I discovered we'd been living a lie and that Dolly was actually a Wally? I didn't love her/him any less of course, but it did explain why we hadn't had a llama baby. I then determined that we needed an ACTUAL proven girl llama and GI Joe surprised me with one, the romance is still alive. We named her Loretta Lynn Llama and renamed Wally to Conway (as in Twitty) because they fell in love and were going to have a beautiful, baby llama filled life together just like the epic country love of yesteryear. Oh wait, the original Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty didn't leave a legacy of llamas behind? Huh, weird.
Conway formerly known as Wally formerly known as Dolly is quite the looker, no?

Our llama legacy plans were foiled when on Christmas Eve Day, GI Joe discovered that coyotes (or something, mountain lions? cougars? bears? ok probably not bears since this is Iowa and all but maybe one of the others, however we're still leaning towards coyotes) had gotten one of our brokeback llamas, killing him, and had maimed Loretta Lynn Llama so she was just barely alive. She had no chance of survival so GI Joe humanely put her down, don't ask me how because I don't want or need to know those details. It's always sad when we lose animals and we'd already lost the other brokeback llama to unknown causes last fall, but it wasn't ugly cry sad because neither one of those llamas had ever let me give them hugs or take pictures with me, so I wasn't bonded with them. I was just relieved that Wally/Conway was still alive and unharmed, because him? I was totally bonded with. For those of you who don't think animals have feelings (GI JOE I'M TALKING TO YOU), Wally was heartbroken. He hung around the place where his beloved had died for days, weeks even, as if he was waiting for her to come back. She was at the top of a hill way behind our house in the back 40 and it made us really nervous that he was hanging out there because we knew coyotes (or bears?) ran that area and didn't want him to fall victim next. Every day I would go to our back fence and scan the hilltop for him and could always spot him just hanging out so I'd yell his name, he'd look at me, and I'd go about my merry way. Finally, he started wandering further from that place and resumed normal grazing on safer pasture with the horses but would still return to that spot at night. We were happy that he was wandering further and figured he'd eventually move on and hang out up near the barnyard and our house like he had before.

Until one morning, I couldn't spot him on the hill and I couldn't see him anywhere in the pasture. I had a sinking feeling and resolved that as soon as I got home from work I was going to go check on him. But I knew something was wrong. When I got home that night (GI Joe was working late...of all nights), I put on my pretty pink Carhartts for their maiden voyage and dragged the kids out with me. The weather was mild and it was actually an enjoyable walk to the back 40, well except for the "why do we have to walk so far to check on a dumb llama?" and the "why can't I just stay inside and draw?" and "it's YOUR llama anyway". Children are a blessing I tell you, except for this night. Oh and did I mention that they had killed the battery on the four wheeler the day before so it wasn't usable.  A blessing, I tell you.  :) Normally, when I yelled for Wally, he'd come running or at least come to where I could see him so he could determine if it was worth coming all the way to me. We yelled and yelled and as we made the trek up the hill near the spot where Loretta Lynn had met her demise, my sinking feeling got worse. Just over the hilltop a little ways further back from where we'd found Loretta, we found Wally. He was laying on his side with his head down and when we first saw him I thought he was dead. The waterworks started but then I got over to him and we discovered that he was still alive! I looked him over for injuries, blood, evidence of foul play but could find none. He lifted his head just barely at me but that was as much as he moved. This was bad, this was very bad. From our experience with llamas, usually by the time you know a llama is ill, it's too late. But I was slightly encouraged that he was still able to move his neck and that there wasn't any blood. I cried (alot), pet him and then devised a plan. Oh and then I got REALLY ticked off at the kids and yelled at them (and I'm not sorry) because their behavior and insensitivity was completely disgusting. We left him there and made our way back to the house. I left the kids in the house because frankly at this point, it was better that we have our space, and they went about their merry business of playing Wii and drawing, as if it were just another day and OUR LLAMA WASN'T DYING. Oh yes, mama was HOT. I filled my Prairie Princess Pink Carhartt jacket with feed and filled a bucket with water to take to him and made the trek back up and over the hill.  He was hungry so I hand fed him everything I had stashed in my pockets and tried to get him to drink a little.  I was encouraged that he was hungry so I decided there was still hope.  I made another trip back to the house to get some antibiotics I knew we had from when Holy Cow had been ill when we first got him.  And then I, city girl turned country, walked back to Wally and gave him a shot using a giant livestock syringe and needle.  Oh and did I mention I HAD TO DO MATH TO FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH TO GIVE HIM?!?  I did.   Who am I and when did I get to be such a farmgirl?!?  I'm proud to say that my shot giving abilities were perfect and I didn't draw blood and he barely flinched.  I think this means I'm basically a veterinarian (again).  I had no idea what was wrong but figured, in my professional veterinarian opinion, that whatever it was antibiotics couldn't hurt the situation.  I think I made 7 trips up and down that hill, you guys it's a HUGE HILL, and across about 20 acres that night and each time I approached him I was sure I'd find him dead but he was still alive every time.  On my last trip up there for the night I took an old comforter from our linen closet and covered him with it.  I did this for 2 reasons..1) I hoped the human scent on it would deter any predators from coming near him.  I have no idea if this has any scientific bearing but it sounded logical.  2) That it would keep him warm.  So yeah, I tucked my llama in for the night in the back 40 covered in a hunter green and navy comforter circa 1998.   The only bright side of the night, besides getting rid of that hideous comforter, was that since I had logged a lot of miles and my legs were basically jello from all the exertion I figured I was entitled to chocolate chip cookies cookie dough guilt free.  Woo hoo! 
The next morning GI Joe was on llama duty as I couldn't bear the thought of finding Wally having fallen victim to coyotes.  GI Joe waited til I got to work and then went to check on him and discovered that he was still alive, much to our surprise.  We decided that as soon as we got home that evening we would implement Operation Llama Rescue.  I should've excused myself to a dark conference room at work to rest up because I was going to need it. 
That night GI Joe tried jumpstarting the 4 wheeler as our best option was to take the 4 wheeler up there with our 8 foot rescue toboggan hooked up to it and load him on that to take him to the barn.  Of course, he could not get the 4wheeler started...awesome.  And we couldn't take the truck back there because there's a creek that stands between our house and that hill and the crossing was way too muddy.  So we did what any level headed hillbillies would do, we decided we'd just have to push/pull/drag him down the hill into the barn using the rescue toboggan.  A great plan...in theory.  Except that Wally weighed about 350 pounds and there wasn't any snow on the ground to help the toboggan move smoothly.  And this is when I realized for the 1000th time what a stud my husband is.  He wrapped the rope that was attached to the toboggan "world's toughest man" style around his chest and back and PULLED.  Meanwhile, I was on my knees at the other end of the toboggan pushing.  Blade was holding the flashlight because of course it got dark quick, and making sure Wally's head stayed on the toboggan.  GI Joe would pull 5 feet or so and then we'd stop for a break because I'm not sure if you're aware or not but dragging a 350 pound llama on an 8 foot rescue sled over muddy ground is a bit draining.  I thought I was going to die and I wasn't even doing a tenth of the work, it was insane.  It took us about 45 minutes to drag/push/pull Wally over the hill, down the hill, and to the creek crossing.  And then we couldn't pull him any further, he was stuck. 
Move llama in a rescue sled can now be checked off of my "things I never thought I'd do or see" list

As we were standing there, both GI Joe and I bent over with our head between our legs, trying not to puke, and barely able to catch our breath GI Joe looked at Wally and then at me and said, "You need to lose some weight mama!"  I looked at him incredously, unable to mask my fury as I UNLEASHED ON HIM.  "HOW DARE YOU SAY THAT AFTER I JUST HELPED YOU GET HIM ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HILL TO HERE...ON MY KNEES?!?  AND YOU KNOW I'VE BEEN TRYING TO LOSE SOME AND I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU WOULD EVER SAY THAT TO ME BUT ESPECIALLY NOW AFTER ALL THE WORK I JUST HELPED YOU DO?!?"  And yes it really was all in caps, I was THAT mad.  I mean THE NERVE.  And then he looked at me flabbergasted and said, "I said, you need to lose some weight LLAMA!  LLAMA!  As in it wouldn't have been so hard for us to haul him all this way if he didn't weigh 350 stinkin' pounds. Wow."
Oops.  And then we laughed, or tried to laugh but it's kind of hard to when you can hardly breathe and are waffling between throwing up and passing out at any given second. 
Since we couldn't move Wally any further, you know since I'm such a heavyweight and worthless when it comes to manual labor and all, GI Joe decided to go tinker with the 4 wheeler and try to get it started and running just long enough to pull Wally into the barn, which at this point was a mere 50 feet away. 
And it worked!  We got him pulled in there and set up with a nice warm straw bed, more food, and another shot of antibiotics.  We really thought when we left him that night we would come down the next morning and he'd be up walking around. 
But that was not meant to be.  He didn't make any changes, good or bad, for the next 2 days. We hand fed him, watered him by syringe and I gave him Pepto Bismo.  That's right Pepto Bismo because I thought he had something like what horses get called colic where their stomach can't digest something and it makes them miserable and unable to move around much until it gets better or is treated.  Hey, if I can cure a turkey with cayenne paper I thought Pepto BIsmo was a reasonable idea.  Finally, we decided that maybe it wasn't certain death and it would be worth a vet visit.  By this time we thought it was probably pnuemonia and that he probably just needed some stronger antibiotics and some steroids for the inflammation.  We both arranged to take that Friday off and got him an appointment with the farm vet near us.  We decided we would load him up and take him to the vet clinic to save the expense of an expensive farm visit as we thought that money would be better used for his treatment, and besides at this point after our very strenuous llama workout, we were basically made of steel and muscles and would just pick him up, throw him over our shoulders and set him down gently in the horse trailer. 
We got him loaded without any problems or pulled muscles (ours not his) and made our way to the vet's office.  We were sure it would be as simple as a shot to cure him right up.  We were wrong.  Really wrong.
It suddenly turned into WORST DAY EVER.  The vet didn't yell at me at all when I told him what all we'd given him (ie: calf antibiotic, followed by an even stronger antibiotic, and of course the Pepto Bismo).  He was very nice and sympathetic when he broke it to us.  And he had to very clearly spell it out for me because I was not getting it and kept waiting for him to say, "I'll just give him a shot of this here drug and he'll be as good as new after a few days rest and plenty of fluids."  But he never said that, instead he told us that Wally had a parasite that comes from oppossums that ultimately and quickly causes paralysis and death.  It's specific only to llamas and there's no real prevention or cure for it.  And it still did not register with me.  Until, GI Joe said to the vet, "I guess our only option is to put him down isn't it?"  *Insert Prairie Princess ugly cry here* and he responded with a solemn, "yes, it's the only option and the most humane thing."  Humane for Wally maybe but notsomuch on my heart.  This was my llama, ya'll.  I'm tearing up just reliving it for this blog post. 
The vet left GI Joe and I alone in the horse trailer with Wally where we pet him and whispered what a sweet sweet boy he was in his ear and told him how much we loved him and how much we were going to miss him.  And then the vet quietly came back with the supplies he needed to carry out the inevitable or at least I think he did I couldn't really see given the sheets of tears falling out of my eyes. GI Joe and I stroked Wally's head while the vet gave him an injection and we slowly saw the life leave our llama.  It was absolutely heart wrenching and awful, but I knew we had done everything we could do for him and that there wasn't anything we could've done differently.  No regrets, except I wish I would've taken more pictures with Wally and given him more llama hugs.  But I'm thankful for the ones I have and that we had the chance to own and love such an incredible, special animal.   This is the second time in our marriage that we've had to have a vet put one of our animals down and it was just as horrible this time as it was with our dog, Buddy.  If you've never been through that I hope you never do, I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.  I hope all your animals live long and healthy lives and then just pass away in their sleep. 
As for Wally, I think he had a happy life and knew he was lovedMan, I miss those disgusting llama kisses. 
While nothing could ever replace Wally and completely fill the hole in my heart left by him, there was one thing that could turn my frown upside down.....
To be Continued


  1. So sorry you had to go through that and I can totally empathize. I couldn't even go to the vet when we had to have our labs put down (different times) - my husband had to do it. You're a brave girl and Wally sure does look happy in that last picture. :)

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