This is Edie. When she was rescued by Southeast Llama Rescue, she was already older, into her teens. Her life had not been easy. She wasn’t treated well until her first rescuer brought her home. She originally came to Eagle Ridge from another rescuer who was having a hard time keeping weight on her. L fell in love with her, and she found her forever home on this property, first with L and her husband, then with Jeremiah and I. Every rescuer along her path fell in love with her. I fell in love with her.
She had a unique presence on the ranch. Always calm and composed, she would observe us as we went about our duties. She was unexpectedly sweet and seemed to understand that she had been saved. She enjoyed every bit of her life after rescue, first with her rescuer, then with L, then with me.
Jeremiah, who has a heck of a time with the llamas’ names, nicknamed her unicorn.
About a week ago, Edie “went down.” First, we noticed that she started tripping, then falling, then, finally, she couldn’t stand up on her own. We never had a vet properly diagnose why this happens, but we often find that a llama will lay down and be unable to stand again just before they pass. As long as they seem comfortable, we will let nature take it’s course. If they are in pain, we will call for euthanasia.
Edie went down about a week ago. She was still happy, and we were hoping for the best. She enjoyed petting and scritches. She got WAY excited when grain time came. She was calm and comfortable. On rare occasions, llamas who go down can get up again. Edie did not.
We had her on pain killer, just in case, but I was hoping that she would pass naturally or stand up. But she didn’t. Two days ago, when she didn’t want grain, I knew it was time to help her along. The number one rule of keeping animals is that you NEVER, EVER let them suffer. She was ready to go, but her body was lingering.
I put a call in to the vet.
The office knew about Edie, that she had been down, that we were hoping not to, but that we might need the doc to come out and euthanize her sometime soon. As a rule, if something is going on at the farm that might require off hours farm visits, I let them know.
I spoke with the desk staff first–they are fantastic people–and they put me on hold to check with the vet. I told them it wasn’t urgent; I could keep her comfortable until he had an opening. I asked that he come out sometime that day or the next.
When the desk staff came back on the phone, she told me to bring Edie to them.
Obviously, I thought, they don’t understand.
“Well, she can’t walk. She’s been lying down.” (And, sidenote, if she could walk around and load into a trailer comfortably under her own power, I can’t imagine I’d be euthanizing her.)
“Oh, she’s not walking? Let us talk to doc, and we’ll get back to you.”
We hung up, and I was satisfied that I would get a call soon.
Except I didn’t get a call. A few hours later, I called back.
When the new desk staffer answered the call and realized who I was, she told me that the plan was for us to bring Edie to them. They would be cremating her there anyway, so that would be easiest.
I reiterated that she couldn’t walk. The staffer passed the phone to the vet. They still didn’t get it, I thought.
“Cherity? Just drag her on in here.”
“I can’t. She can’t walk. And she definitely can’t load into a trailer.”
“She doesn’t have to walk. Just drag her out.”
And that was when I understood that he knew exactly what he was asking.
I was calling about an animal I loved. I was asking for help to give her a dignified end. I wanted to end her pain.
He wanted it to be convenient for him.
“I can’t do that. She’ll be terrified.”
In my head, I couldn’t help but picture how his request would unfold. She’d be sitting comfortably in her stall, still alert. We would have to come in and drag her out of the stall onto the concrete. She would try to stand, but wouldn’t be able to. She wouldn’t understand what we were doing. She wouldn’t understand why her people were hurting her, why her old knees were being scraped against the ground. She wouldn’t understand why she was being pulled onto a child’s sled and being drug out of the barn and away from her friends. We would clumsily try and lift 300 pounds of scared llama into our trailer, and once that trauma was over, she would ride alone in the back of a trailer wondering where she was going and why she was alone. And she would hum and cry. And the safe place she finally found in her old age wouldn’t be safe. And then an unfamiliar person would come at her with a needle…
No. A million times no.
The vet was still trying to convince me to drag her in. I told him three or four times that she would be terrified. He tried to convince me the logistics wouldn’t be that problematic. I tried to explain to him that the logistics weren’t the issue. I would not put her through all of that.
Then he got pissy with me. I kept saying that she’d be terrified, that it would be kinder to let her pass naturally than to do “drag her.” I kept trying to get off the phone, and he spoke over me. Finally, saying I needed to talk to L and Jeremiah, I basically hung up.
I was nearly in tears by the time the conversation ended. I have known this man since I was fourteen. We have occasionally butted heads over animal care, but I never expected him to try and bully me like this.
I briefly spoke to Jeremiah before calling L. He and I agreed that a bullet would be far kinder than his plan, that his way had nothing to do with her comfort and everything to do with his convenience and unwillingness to make a ten minute drive to our ranch.
For a moment I was concerned that I was overreacting. Perhaps this had been done before, but recounting the conversation to L, I was relieved to find that she was as horrified as me. I asked if I could call a different vet—I loved Edie but she was still L’s llama so she has the final say—and she told me to call whoever I needed.
I had Jeremiah call our horse vet, a man who we only switched to for the horses after the regular vet blew off a major emergency when our horse needed nearly two feet of stitches down his side after catching himself on a gate…the normal vet wouldn’t answer his phone for over two hours.
Our horse vet answered his phone right away, despite the fact that he was off for the day, and was out to put her down just a few hours later. He was kind with her, even diagnosing what caused her to go down in the first place (right-side heart failure). Her condition (which causes the heart to pump much less) meant that she required more sedative, which he was prepared for and administered without comment. She passed easily, sweet as ever, still calm and dignified. And I cried, but not much. Her end was peaceful and easy and that makes it better.
The next day, Jeremiah brought her to our other vet, because they always cremate L’s animals for her.
The vet met him in the lobby, yelling.
“You get out of here, and take her with you. She’s your problem now. I’m not touching any animal you had another vet work on.”
So, Jeremiah left. We called the kind vet who put Edie down for us, informing him that he could have the farm account if he were willing to take on the llamas, and asking him if he knew of anywhere that will cremate a large animal. They did, and we drove Edie about an hour away to a very nice man who cremates companion animals. He was kind and respectful, inquiring about her name and gently removing her body from our truck.
I’m still a little in shock that a near 20 year working relationship can go so quickly south so fast, but a little like ripping off a bandaid, I’m thankful it’s over.
Once I thought about it, he was never easy to work with. On the rare occasions that we had to work with another vet, for example when his office was closed, or he was on vacation, or when he wasn’t willing to provide a service (such as giving us an oral sedative so we could catch a feral barn cat without getting attacked) he got angry. Even if he was gone, even if we tried him first. He felt as though we owed him our unfailing loyalty, but we didn’t. Mind, we stuck with him a long time out of loyalty, even when it became clear the loyalty wasn’t expected to go both ways. But, in the end, my loyalty is to my animals first and foremost. My obligation is, and always will be, to them.