When Phoenix Came to Stay

 

“So…There’s this horse…”

I was lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon-a weekend in early May of 2016-feeling extraordinarily lazy, and watching my ceiling fan spin circles above me.  I held my phone to my ear and listened as Jeremiah began to explain the plight of a unfortunate four-year-old desert bred Arabian gelding who had been injured in a pasture accident.  The injury was deemed “career ending” for the young gelding, once an exceptionally promising and talented performance prospect, and the decision was made to put him down.  He was three-legged lame, currently residing in a stall awaiting his appointment for euthanasia after x-rays revealed that he had torn much of the connective tissue in his lower right front leg.  He only had a few days before the vet would be back out.

Through an unlikely chain of events (involving the horse’s previous owner, an unexpected shoeing appointment, and a brief conversation with the consulting vet), the gelding, named Phoenix, had made his way onto Jeremiah’s radar.  Jeremiah had known Phoenix’s mother and was the farrier for Phoenix’s previous owner.  He was just connected enough to the horse to be interested, and he started making phone calls to get to the bottom of the situation.

His conversation with the vet led to his conversation with me.  He explained that Phoenix had an excellent shot to recover to pasture sound (pain free but unridable), a decent chance of recovering to trail sound (noncompetitively ridable), and a very, very slim chance of recovering to performance sound, but that, in any case, he would require a lot of time and a lot of money.  His owners weren’t willing to make that sort of investment in an almost definitely noncompetitive horse with such an uncertain future.

“What do you think?” Jeremiah asked.  “Should we bring him home?”

If you’ve been following this blog for any time at all, you will know quite well that sad creatures are my kryptonite.  I have barely bought myself a new pair of jeans in the past four years, but my creatures are well-stocked with their own comforts.  However, the fact is, as much as I would like to try, I cannot save them all.  My resources are finite, and every animal requires hay and time and space.  All of those things have their limits, even out here on 100 acres.   I try to be very aware of those limits because at my core, the space in my heart drastically outdistances the space in my pastures or leeway in my pocketbook.  That could get me in trouble really quickly.  Not to mention, as you might guess given my last post on my divorce, Jeremiah and I weren’t on terribly solid footing ourselves just then…

I paused before responding. “It’s probably a terrible idea…and we might just be bringing the poor thing up here to euthanize in a few months if things don’t heal…”

“I know.”  Jeremiah sounded resigned, another horse, especially an injured one, would be a huge responsibility to add to already chaotic and complicated lives.

“It’s good that we’re in agreement on that…” I inhaled deeply. “But I think we should do it anyway.”

I cannot save them all, but, as I’ve said before, sometimes you have to choose between logic and compassion. When pressed, choose compassion.  Also, I believe in fate, and it seemed like this particular sad creature was supposed to cross our path.  I steeled myself for a potential loss–I already knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t be able to save him–and started clearing a space in my barn for another sad animal.

Jeremiah spent the next week getting Phoenix set to travel while I got the barn ready to accommodate a seriously injured horse.  Jeremiah shod his uninjured front hoof in a fancy set of composite shoes for extra support.  We had a vet in Southern Illinois cast his injured leg, and we had radiographs and records sent to our vet up here.  By the time he loaded onto our trailer to travel three hours North, he had already required a significant investment in vet bills and hoof work.

I had been sent a few photos of him, but when I agreed to take him in, it was sight unseen, so when he stepped off the trailer, I was surprised by a few things.  First, Phoenix was stunningly beautiful, and TALL, much taller than I had expected given his Arabian Heritage.  Second, with his lower limb in a cast, he was fairly ambulatory, not nearly as lame as I expected.  (I had been under the impression that we were bringing home a half-dead horse with a slim chance of survival, but he was in far better shape than I had imagined.)  Third, he was taking his trailer ride and new surroundings mostly in stride.  He seemed nervous, but obliging.  All of that was encouraging.

Phoenix early on
If you look closely, you can see his cast peeking up on his front right leg.
I got him settled in to an empty stall on the far edge of the barn and began a routine that we hoped would make him better.  The vet came out regularly to administer Ozone Therapy.   We found someone locally who could administer pulsed magnetic wave therapy.  We tried to limit his movement, control his pain, and give him any sort of edge we could find to give him.  He was underweight when he came, so in addition to hay, he was also fed grain twice daily.

I was basically already running the farm by myself at that point, with Jeremiah away for weeks at a time, so Phoenix and I spent a lot of time together, especially early on.  I cleaned his stall; I fed him; I held him for his treatments; I kept him clean, and fed, and as happy as possible.  I planned to remain somewhat distant with him, not wanting to get overly attached if we were to have to put him down, but he had one of those difficult to resist personalities.  My sister-in-law took to calling him a “puppy horse” due to his tendency to follow us, demand attention, and cuddle.  It wasn’t long before he wiggled his giant self right into my heart.

For several months, things went very well. Better than expected, in fact.  The combination of treatments seemed to be working splendidly.  Phoenix moved into his second cast without a hiccup, continuing his treatments each step of the way.

 

I started planning for his future with us.

Despite offers from a few of Jeremiah’s clients to take him once he was sound, I decided he would stay.  As far as I was concerned, he would always be something of a time bomb for the wrong owner: High spirited and athletic but with potential for a re-injury.  He was built like a jumper, and I was afraid that would be his undoing in the wrong hands.  Also, if I’m being terribly honest, it bugged me a little that plenty of people wanted him sound, but no one else was willing to take the chance on him or spend the required money on him when his fate was uncertain.

And somewhere along the line, between my initial resolution to keep emotional distance from him and the day Jeremiah came home to remove his second cast twelve weeks later, I had unconsciously decided that he would get better.  He had gone from being a anonymous horse we were going to try to save, but would likely have to euthanize, to a member of my herd with a future, his own personality, and a place in my heart.

He stood patiently as Jeremiah removed his cast.  The leg underneath was atrophied from under-use, but we expected that.  Jeremiah asked me to lead him away, and Phoenix followed me obligingly…completely unable to bear weight on his injured leg.  I had so thoroughly convinced myself that Phoenix would be sound out of the cast that those first few steps shocked me to my core.

Jeremiah watched him walk and shook his head, lips pursed, brow furrowed.  I had seen that look so many times, usually as he tried to decide how to tell a client that things didn’t look so good for their horse.

“Did we expect this?” I asked, hoping he knew something I didn’t.

“No,” he said simply.  “But, maybe it will take him a few days to get used to it.”

I put Phoenix back in his stall.  He settled in, refusing to put weight on his hoof but otherwise paying it no mind.  I fed him, just as I had done every day since Jeremiah brought him home, and Jeremiah and I walked back down to the house.

Both of us were despondent, but I think I felt more defeated.  The uncertainty, defeat, fear of loss–those emotions, that vulnerability–are the true cost of what I do out here.  The sacrifice of time or of money is easy by comparison.

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Phoenix waiting in his stall.
The next few days showed little improvement.  Phoenix seemed happy enough, but seldom put any weight at all on his injured leg, hobbling around pathetically on three legs instead.

The vet needed to come out again; this time to x-ray the affected leg and determine where Phoenix was at.  Had the leg been reinjured?  Had the tears healed?  Was he developing rapid early arthritis (a concern from the beginning)?  I needed to know whether or not he was getting better and whether or not I could offer him a good quality of life.

I needed to know whether my baby boy–you know, the one I wouldn’t let myself get attached to–would make it.

The vet wasn’t able to come out for two more weeks.  Jeremiah went off on another month long trip and I stayed, feeding Phoenix twice a day (along with everyone else), cleaning his stall, and studying his every movement, looking for improvement…hope…

When our vet’s farm truck rolled up two weeks later, my stomach was in knots.  It had already been decided that we would only keep going with treatment if it was fair to the horse, and his state at that moment, still not walking on the injured leg with three months of rehab behind him, made me desperately afraid that I would have to schedule his euthanasia before Doc drove away that afternoon.

I brought Phoenix out of his stall, and he stood calmly as the vet went about his business.  He was used to being poked and prodded by then. 

The vet was able to pull the x-rays up on his laptop within minutes.  He viewed them side-by-side with the x-rays of the initial injury.

“Oh, ok.  These look good.  See here?  This is much better.”

That knot in my stomach melted, and tried to pay attention as Doc explained all the intricacies of the x-rays we were looking at, but all I could focus on was that Phoenix was better.  Things would be ok.  I could hardly believe that things would be ok.

I watched him drive away with a sense of relief.  He wouldn’t be coming back to help me give a unrecoverable horse a kind end.  Instead, Doc told me that the muscles had atrophied in the cast, that Phoenix needed time and space.  Those things, I could give him.

I opened up his stall to a small run that day.  I moved him into his own small pasture within about a month.  Then, this Spring, I walked him down the lane and introduced him to the other horses, moving him into the big field where he could run and play to his heart’s content.


I watched the horses munching their hay tonight as the sun set behind us.  Phoenix stood in the field with everyone else, sound and a true-blue member of the herd, and I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering again just how miraculous that was.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Adventures of Kahn

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Kahn was someone’s house cat once.  I’m almost sure of it.  Feral cats don’t come to humans to ask for help, which is just what he was doing when he and I first met.  It was the coldest, darkest part of winter, more than a year before we took over at the ranch.  I was helping to keep an eye on things while the owners were away, doing evening chores and hanging out with a friend, Katie, who had come along to keep me company.

The night was quiet, so we heard the his cries from outside the shut barn door.  Katie slid it open to find a battered-looking, black cat standing just out of reach.  It was snowy, and he was cold.  His inky fur was rough and made him stand in stark contrast to the snow.  He held one foot above the cold ground, obviously wounded and infected.  His right eye was swollen nearly shut, and despite his size–Kahn is a big cat–he was desperately underweight and looked very small.  He continued to cry as we looked on, but skirted us.  Nervous and scared but pleading for help. Continue reading “The Adventures of Kahn”

Oh Honey.

We pulled down the lane to sprawling pastures, rustic buildings.  There was a pen full of horses to our right.  The horses were screaming and running around like lunatics as two young handlers seemed to be working to catch them, or maybe just calm them down.

“That doesn’t look encouraging.”

Jeremiah shook his head no, exasperation apparent.

“Part of me just wants to turn around and leave now.”

We had just pulled into the drive at a local summer camp.  A new client of Jeremiah’s, they had called for trims earlier in the week.  He scheduled with them–seventeen local trims in an afternoon is nothing to sneeze at–but he was vaguely nervous about the whole experience.  He last experience with summer camps had led him to a corral full of ill-behaved horses with completely green handlers.  (And by that I mean that they literally had never worked with horses before.  Ever.)  He was concerned that this one would be the same, an accident just waiting to happen.

I came along just in case.  If no one there knew how to hold a horse for trimming, I was there to pick up the slack and try to keep Jeremiah safe.  I would be able to manage vaguely naughty animals, but if they were truly dangerous, we would leave.

They were screaming and carrying on as we pulled up next to the horse barn and parked alongside a beater truck that probably belonged to the camp.  As we climbed out, we were introduced to the director of the equine program at camp.  She was on the shorter side with long, dark hair.  Only twenty years old, a fact that she kept apologizing for, she was the one in charge of the seventeen horses in the corral and soon to be in charge of all the children who would ride them.  As we made introductions, I watch another girl, her helper, climb out of the horse pasture carrying a fawn.

The director glanced over.

“I’m so sorry about the horses.  They were spooked by the fawn just a few minutes ago and took off running.”

I think Jeremiah may have breathed an audible sigh of relief at that.  When spooked, even good horses sometimes behave badly.

I watched the helper carry the fawn to the shade.

“How’s Bambi?” I asked.

The director shook her head.  “Bambi got trampled by the horses, and I think she has a broken leg.  I don’t think she’ll make it.”
Continue reading “Oh Honey.”

Tough Decisions and Heartbreak (A post I’ve been trying to not write…)

A few weeks ago, I spent most of a Saturday building a turkey playpen in the yard.  You guys remember our little turkey peeps, don’t you?  The three little misfits my husband brought home around the middle of April?

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I’ve been amazed by these little guys.  They are remarkable social birds, both amongst themselves and with us.  They decided early on that we were pretty awesome (probably because of our apparent never-ending supply of mealworms), and they call and coo for us when they see us nearby.

Well, a few weeks back, I decided that they were big enough to spend some of their time outdoors, especially while I cleaned their brooder, so I set this up in the front yard.

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Nothing fancy.  Just four panels with chicken wire and garden netting, held in place by zip ties.  I would haul the turkeys out of the basement in a cat carrier and leave them in their playpen for the afternoon while we did work around the farm.  But honestly? They liked it best when I sat with them.  They would prance around, but coming running back to me peeping when frightened, such as when the barn cat seemed to think they’d be tasty.

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I really grew to like the turkeys, but one of them, named Igor, became an easy favorite.  He came running when he saw us.  He liked being picked up.  When he was frightened, he not only came running back peeping, but he tried to jump into my lap as I sat, legs folded, in the grass.

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I named him Igor because of a slight limp.

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At first, the limp seemed quirky.  I had a chicken with a similar issue, and she did just fine.  She sort of waddled like a duck when she ran, which was actually kind of endearing and cute.

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But, unlike my hen, a heritage breed chicken, Igor started growing really fast.  And the limp got worse.

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I remember sitting in the playpen with the turkeys and noticing that when Igor ran, he tripped, occasionally falling.  I thought maybe it was an issue with the un-level ground.  We called the vet to ask if there was anything that could be done.  Maybe the leg could be splinted?    Perhaps there was something lacking in their diet?

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Jeremiah and our vet had a lengthy conversation about turkeys.  (Our vet is good for lengthy conversations.)  Among other things, we were informed that our peeps were not, in fact, the native turkey species of our area.  Rather, they were a genetically modified variant bred to look like the native species.  Our guys were created to be fast growing, quick to move from brooder to supper table.

Therein lay the problem.  My poor Igor, never destined for the supper table, was growing more size more quickly  than his bone structure could support.  His leg was splaying out from the hip.  And the vet said there was nothing at all that we could do to help him.  The leg couldn’t be fixed.

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We held off doing anything for a couple of days.  Then one day Jeremiah noticed that Igor couldn’t stand up in his brooder or on the cement basement floor.   And it sucked so hard, but we knew when he couldn’t stand that the kindest thing was to put him down.

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I walked in to check on our chicks before bed, and I realized that there were only two turkey peeps in their brooder.  Moment later, Jeremiah walked in, gun in hand.  He didn’t say anything, but I knew straight away what had been done.

He didn’t tell me first, but I can’t blame him for that.  It took everything in him to end things for Igor, even if it was the only kind thing to do.  And, I helped make the call. The responsibility rested on both of us, but he was the one who had to pull the trigger, and I don’t envy him that.

I was sad about it for days.  Both of us were.

Our two remaining turkeys moved into the chicken coop a few days ago.  They have mostly adjusted, even though our rooster was a bit of an ass about it, and they are generally doing well.  They still run to greet us, and they happily eat from our hands and allow us to pet them.

I like them.  And they may be Jeremiah’s current favorite creatures.  But I haven’t named either of them.  I’m not sure why.

And here’s what I’ve been thinking ever since: A few weeks ago, we had to shoot our pet because his body couldn’t quite withstand the way people had genetically modified his species.

And it made me think about the way we tinker with nature.  Halter horses bred for such a dished face that they can’t breathe properly.  Bulldogs that can’t give birth without a C-section. Turkeys and chickens that grow too big, too fast and can’t walk for the meat weight they carry.

And I’m left wondering, what on earth makes us think we have the right?

Author’s note: I know a lot of people have very strong feelings on this sort of thing.  Feel free to express your opinion…politely.

Here on the Island of Misfit Toys…err…Critters…

There are days when our little corner of the world starts to feel like the Island of Misfit Toys…except, instead of toys, we have creatures, and they don’t really seem in a hurry to leave.

Still, just from where I sit in our sunroom, I see a one-time alley cat who hates outside, a one-time barn cat who was literally too dumb to survive in the barn, and a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia and allergies to pretty much everything (like me!).  Out in the pastures, I have two mini-ponies rescued from New Holland, an off the track thoroughbred who wasn’t nearly fast enough, and more rescued llamas than you can shake a stick at…  And, in my basement…Turkeys.

Our latest misfits are Turkeys.  I am now officially sharing my home with large poultry (but only until they’re big enough to go outside).

My husband brought them home…

You see, my husband…

Well, some of you are familiar with him…

Let Him Eat Cake!
Let Him Eat Cake!
Kilt Man
Kilt Man
Pilot in Command...
Pilot in Command…

He’s…different…

Erm…I mean complex.

On the one hand, he’s a former professional firefighter, former cop, trained farrier, trained sniper who has been in more intense situations than anyone else I’ve ever met.  (Jeremiah once called me to let me know that he had gotten in a fistfight with a professional boxer who had been beating on his girlfriend…SWAT ended up being called in that day.)  On the other hand, he’s a total goofball and one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known.  (Such aspects of his personality are lesser known; this post is totally going to mess with his image…)

A few weeks ago, while I was at the office, he was charged with running to the feed store to pick up some of the farm necessities that we always seem to be running out of.  While he was there, he wandered over to the chicks.  All they had were turkeys, and three of them were separated out from the rest.  Apparently, those three were picked on by the other, bigger turkeys, necessitating their move.

As he was speaking with the clerk, a big guy in camo wandered by.  Upon hearing that the little ones in front of him got picked on, he interjected.

“Oh, that’s easy.  If they get picked on you just kill ’em younger.  Makes good eatin.”

And that’s when my firefighter, cop, sniper, farrier husband who forges his own swords said, “Nope.  They’re mine.  I’ll take them.”

Moments later, he posted this photo to Facebook

“Cherity left my unsupervised and they looked sad… I have peeps!”

I’m not sure what we’re going to do with our turkey friends once they get bigger, but I do know they won’t end up on our dinner plates.  This trio is safe.

For now, they’re living it up in the basement…

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Shakin’ their tail feathers…

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And discovering the joy of mealworms.  These guys think Jeremiah is pretty great; they follow him around with enthusiasm when given the chance.

And really, when you have 50+ animals, what’s three more misfits???

P.S. – Welcome to all of you recent subscribers.  I’m so glad to have you here!

Because God Put Him in my Way…

My husband is prone to mayhem.  I’m not sure why (though I do have a theory that’s loosely based on the Percy Jackson novels) but weird things happen to him, or around him, almost daily.  (Want an example?  He’s been dead three times…)  Nothing surprises me anymore.

So, Monday morning, as we drove out towards the highway on our way to Wildlife Prairie State Park with an injured Turkey Vulture in the backseat, I found myself in a state of disbelief that this felt so completely normal.  And when the vulture sharted on my backseat cover, I just took another sip of my coffee.  We rolled the back windows down.  And we kept trucking.

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We called the Turkey Vulture Dante.  Jeremiah had nearly hit him with my Jetta the day before; the poor thing had been stumbling around a road, nearly blind and dazed by a brush with an automobile.  Jeremiah had watched him in the rearview mirror for a few moments before stopping the car and going back for him.

I found out about Dante when Jeremiah posted this on his Facebook business page:

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Dante the Turkey Vulture

“Well, sometimes God puts obstacles in your way that are rather hard to avoid. Like, you will take out the ditch trying to avoid them kind of obstacles. Everyone, I would like you to meet my obstacle of the day, the injured and blind turkey vulture that wandered out into the road. His name is Dante, and we will traveling together today.”

He gave Dante his lunch and they began the drive back to the ranch together.

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Dante with Jeremiah’s lunch

On the ride home, Jeremiah learned some new vulture facts.  For example, when a vulture poops in your car, the only course of action is to evacuate the vehicle…and wait.  Also, vultures (or maybe just Dante) grow agitated when listening to Taylor Swift, but they chill out and jam to Johnny Cash.  (They listened to Johnny Cash all the way home after making this discovering, because no matter how much you enjoy listening to “Blank Space,” it isn’t worth an agitated vulture in the backseat.)

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Dante during the Jetta evacuation

Jeremiah planned to find a rehabilitator or rescue for Dante, but it was Sunday evening, so the search had to wait until the next day. In the meantime, Jeremiah laid down some straw in our feed room, hooked up a heat light, and gave Dante some food and water.  We left him there through the night, basking soundly in the glow of the heat lamp.

Dante basking under the heat lamp
Dante basking under the heat lamp

I know this may sound strange, but I’m a fan of vultures.  A few years ago, I attended a information session about birds of prey that featured some rehabilitated birds.  Though not nearly as striking as the eagles or the owls, the turkey vultures stole the show.  They were funny and interactive and seemed to really enjoy showing off for the people.  Vultures get a bad rap, but they serve a vital purpose in the ecosystem.  Rather than kill prey, these birds feed on what has already died.  Their digestive systems sanitize what they eat, preventing the spread of disease throughout a population.  They are nature’s clean up crew, and they really are very cool animals.

The next morning, Jeremiah began the search for a rehabilitator, planning to look locally first, then start to work through a list that my blogger friend over at Day by Day the Farm Girl Way sent me.  Fortunately, Wildlife Prairie Park (less than an hour away) agreed to take him, so we loaded him up in the backseat and drove out.

We pulled around at the front entrance where they were expecting us.  They had a small kennel set up for Dante, where he would wait until their bird keeper picked him up.  We made a small cash donation towards his care and left, feeling grateful that someone was willing to give him a shot.

Unfortunately, Dante had to be euthanized later that day.  He had more injuries than we knew, and he went into seizures.  I was saddened by the news, but glad that Jeremiah had picked him up off the road, that the old guy hadn’t died slowly on the side of the highway, scared and confused.  The night Dante spent in the barn, it had brutally stormed.  Trees came down; thunder crashed so loudly that I woke halfway through the night.  And I was glad that the old guy was tucked in safe and sound and warm.  Even though no one could have saved him, we helped make his last night far more comfortable, and that is something that all God’s creatures deserve.

I emailed my blogger friend when I found out that Dante was euthanized.  I knew I would post about it, and I wanted to tell her via email before she read about it on my blog.

I wrote, saying,
“I plan on posting about this whole experience, but I wanted to let you know first.  We got an update from wildlife that they humanely euthanized Dante yesterday.  He was apparently very old (the zoologist used the word ancient) for a vulture, and he had a head trauma.   By the time she saw him, he was having seizures.  There was nothing they could do beyond give him a peaceful end.

I wish it would have turned out better, but I’m glad he didn’t die alone, terrified, and confused by the side of the road.  There was a massive storm across the Midwest the night he stayed with us, and he got to spend it in a dry room with a heat lamp instead of dying in a ditch.

Thank you for your help.  Thank you mostly for your reassurance that we did the right thing.”

Her reply was sweet and thoughtful.  I asked her permission to share it with you.
“Cherity, I’m so sorry. I had a feeling he might have been old by the looks of his head. I’m also not surprised at his injury. Many large birds are hit while feasting on roadkill. Especially this time of year when parents are looking to feed their young. Forrest and I have transported many male owls and hawks to WildCare during the spring and summer months… hit by vehicles. I suspect since the males do most of the feeding of the young and the female (after the eggs hatch), they are very busy looking for meat to feed all of those mouths!

Dante was a magnificent bird… and you and Jeremiah are fortunate to have shared in the last of his life’s experience. You are the benefactors, and his life was not lived in vain (not that it would have been in vain at all – we are all here for the experience of knowing God/Universe). When you write about him, and your experience, you will have made his life all the more influential on humans. It was his gift to mankind to be a cleanser of the earth all of his life… and in the end, he was a gift for all of us, to understand showing kindness to those who need our help.

I believe that animals/birds/all life forms, read or sense energy. Dante knew the kindness of humans. He felt your touch, and your energy. Wouldn’t that be the best way to have the ending of life here on planet Earth? To know the kindness and love of another? Gentle hands placed on you with soft words and a sense of being cared for? When Jeremiah removed Dante from the chaos and terror of the pavement, he had to have known or sensed that something greater was happening. He probably knew his end was near… and death was imminent, but because of the kindness of you and your husband, and the people at the wildlife rescue, he knew goodness and kindness.

I am so proud of both you and Jeremiah. Thank you for including me in this experience. I look forward to reading your blog post about Dante. It is a beautiful story that should be shared with others.”

My husband was asked why he bothered to pick up a wounded buzzard. Jeremiah simply replied, “Because God put him in my way.”   I think God puts opportunities to show kindness in our way, and I think Dante was one of those opportunities.  And no kindness is ever wasted, even if it is just shown to a wounded buzzard.

Lessons from the Llamas (or, First Class’s story)

The scrap of metal against cedar shingles and the crashing sound the shingles made as they hit the ground outside of my living room told me that Jeremiah was still hard at work on the roof.  He had been stripping that section for most of the day, an effort to get a watertight tarp over the leaking part before our near-week of rain began on Monday.

I didn’t want to bother him for evening chores, so I pulled a sweatshirt over my tank top and wandered out to the barn on my own to fill hay nets and otherwise attend to things. I walked into one of the stalls on the young side of the barn and untied a nearly empty net.  The barn was mostly vacant, but First Class, a younger, white gelding, stood alone in the next stall munching hay.

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First Class chillin’ in the barn.

First Class was born at the ranch.  He was a cute as a button as a cria. (Cria, by the way, is the appropriate name for a baby llama or alpaca.)  He used to be one of our most trustworthy, easy llamas.  When he was younger, he accompanied us to nursing homes and preschools.  He seemed to really enjoy that job, staying calm when other animals would have been thoroughly freaked.

He went to a new home when he was an adult.  A very nice lady with a couple of goats and sheep bought him as a herd guard.  She was new to llamas, but I worked with her myself for well over a month, teaching her to handle him properly.  They were getting along splendidly.

Then she left for vacation.

When she came home, he was like a completely different animal.  He ran away from everyone.  He kicked.  He spit.  Suddenly, this gelding, who had been so good, was acting like an abuse or neglect case.  It was as though he had been chased or threatened, and I wondered if teenagers (or someone) had spotted him from the road and slipped into his pen “to pet a llama” and that things had devolved from there.  (And yes, when you have livestock, these are the sort of scenarios that you have to worry about…)  All of that is really just supposition, but I was, and am, nearly certain that some kind of traumatic event occurred while she was gone.  We tried to fix it, but he was scared or angry and she was timid and afraid.  The combination made my efforts with them completely fruitless.

Eventually, once it became apparent that his behavior (fear, anger, whatever) was beyond his owner’s capabilities, L did what many breeders refuse to do and offered to take him back.  He’s gotten somewhat better since then, but he still hates to be handled.  I have my suspicions that with a lot of daily work he might be able to move past whatever hang up he has.  At this point, I don’t have that much time to spare, so he is largely living the life of a lawn ornament.  We really only mess with him when we have good reason.

Unfortunately, it was getting to be one of those times.

I’ve known for a while that his toenails desperately needed trimmed.  (What law of the universe is it that ensures that the animals who like being handled the least end up needing it most often?)  They were over long and starting to curl a bit.  Typically, we keep the llama toenails trimmed regularly, and they never look like that, but First Class has a talent for turning a simple chore that should be done in roughly three minutes into a three ring circus.

I’ll just say that has a way of making us a bit lax getting his toes done.

But I was there, and he was there, so I shut the stall door, haltered him, and grabbed my trimmers from the feed room.

Usually, my very talented farrier husband does the toenail trimming around here, but, unlike the horses’ hooves that I wouldn’t dare touch, I am capable of trimming the llamas and alpacas.  He quicker than me, and he tends to be able to trim shorter than I am able–I use hand shears; he uses nippers–but I’ve been doing that particular farm chore since well before he and I met.

Working as quickly as I could, I was able to trim three feet before First Class really started to get pissed.  But at that point, he was kicking at me and spitting a warning in the air.  That last foot wasn’t going to happen the way things were going.

I left him in the stall (to chill a bit) and wandered down to the back of the house where Jeremiah was working on the roof, asking him to give First Class a shot to calm him down a bit.  He obliged, and I waited.  In fact, I trimmed and wormed three other llamas (who wandered in to check on dinner) waiting for the shot to kick in.

Except it never did. Sometimes, with difficult llamas, their adrenaline and sheer force of will can trump lower level sedatives.  I should have known First Class would pull off that trick.

But he was still there, and we were still there, and the damn toenails were still there with the very real capability of making him lame if we waited too long to trim them.

So I held his head, and Jeremiah pulled out his nippers.  First Class spit.  He tried to kick Jeremiah in the head.  He laid down in the middle of the process, tucking his legs squarely underneath him.  Basically, this llama pulled out every trick in the book to prevent us from completely a very basic task.  When the llamas and alpacas stand as they should, it’s a task that literally takes two minutes.  He was going on closer to twenty or thirty.

Pissy Face
Pissy Face

By the time we finished trimming First Class, everyone involved was upset on some level.  Jeremiah was irritated.  First Class was still mad.  I was emotionally exhausted and smelled faintly of llama spit.  And it’s strange, because I was simultaneously upset with the adult gelding in front of me whose behavior was so antagonistic and sad for the cria I knew who had had such potential.  And I wished I understood more what had happened to turn the one into the other, and I wondered if the cause mattered when either way I was left to deal with the effect.

But honestly, somewhere along the line, his issue boils down to the same issue that so many rescues have: at some point, a human failed him.

I have a friend halfway across the country dealing with the same issue with a horse she used to own.  The mare had been sold young.  She met her again years later.  In the meantime, there had been trauma.  (In the case of this mare, likely repeated and intentional trauma.)   My friend bought the mare back, paying more than the animal was worth, to save her.  For quite some time, she deemed the mare so dangerous that she wouldn’t allow anyone else to even pet her for fear that she might hurt them.  (Of course, horses are capable of being far more dangerous than even the worst llama; my friend’s actions take far more bravery than mine, which mostly just require patience.)

In the days since the toenail incidents, something occurred to me: For all the drama that First Class still provides, a few years ago, it was worse.

Those first three toenails I managed on my own?  That never would have happened.  A few years ago, he had to be completely knocked out by the vet to be shorn and have his toenails trimmed.

And I guess I had hope.

Whatever happened to him, I think maybe it’s slowly working its way out of his system.  Granted, it won’t happen quickly, and I have no doubt he will spend several more years making things more difficult than necessary, but I’m beginning to think he’ll come back around again.

My friend’s mare is slowly coming around again as well.  We both occasionally see flashes of the animal we used to know, reminding us why we keep trucking along.  For both of us, for both of the critters, there’s a solid chance we’re looking at a long road, but, now that I think about it, sometimes long roads are the path to the very best of destinations.

First Class, who for all of his issues, is still basically adorable.
First Class, who for all of his issues, is still basically adorable.

Edie

Edie

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.

Introducing the bitty babies!

September 4th was our four year wedding anniversary.  Let me tell you, we are not good at anniversaries.  They always begin with the best plans, and somehow, by the end of the night, something has gone sideways, creating a day far different than imagined.  For example, this year, we ended up taking care of emergency shoeing stops in Columbia, MO, five hours from home.  Our anniversary dinner was especially romantic: Steak n Shake…drive through.  We at burgers and fries and drank milkshakes while laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Despite all of this, I must say, my husband knows me exceptionally well: he bought me a perfect anniversary gift.

Little Violet.  Happy Anniversary to me!
Little Violet. Happy Anniversary to me!

Meet Violet.

Violet is a yearling mini mare who was originally rescued by Guardian Oaks from the New Holland Auction with her mama when she was only a day old.  She is tiny, barely standing past my knees, and is very sweet.  Jeremiah adopted her for me.

Keep in mind, Jeremiah has often claimed that the four horsemen of the apocalypse will ride in on mini ponies.  As a farrier, he’s dealt with some monstrous ones.  Why?  Because they’re small, and not intimidating like a bigger horse, minis are often owned by people who don’t know the first thing about horses: People who try to treat them like big dogs…which they are not.  They often end up mishandled and difficult.  (He is usually not a fan of minis, but he knows I like them, so he found one for me.)  This little girl, unlike many of her breed, has been appropriately handled since the beginning, and it shows.

Oh, and did I mention we brought home an extra?

Slash
Slash

His name is Slash, and we brought him along as company for Violet.  Right now, he’s a foster pony, but one of Jeremiah’s farrier friends may have a home for him.  If she doesn’t, well, we’ll probably just send in his adoption fee and keep him ourselves!  Isn’t he adorable?

We brought these little munchkins home on Tuesday–had to literally pick them up and place them in the trailer as they are both too small to make the jump–and they seem pretty happy with us.   I haven’t decided whether or not to rename Violet yet.  I can’t quite put my finger on the perfect name.  In the meantime, I call them my bitty babies.

 

The bitty babies!
DSC_1336The bitty babies!

DSC_1325 DSC_1324 DSC_1321

Bonus?  Check out the llamas checking them out.

DSC_1343

Once we move back to the farm and I have more time, I’m hoping to really work with Violet so that someday I can have her certified as a therapy animal for use in nursing homes, etc.  (I have my eye on a couple of my llamas for the same purpose.)  In the meantime, aren’t they just as precious as can be?

More of the bitties.
More of the bitties.

 

Feline Alarm Clocks – Introducing Dobby.

When you have as many critters as I do, there is no need for an alarm clock.  They will usually wake you at around the same time everyday, regardless of what time you went to bed.

Meet my alarm clocks.

Dobby
Dobby
Sontar and Draco
Sontar and Draco

As much as I, or my husband, or the dogs, would like to believe otherwise, these three rule the roost.  Every morning, usually between 6:30 and 7:30, these three begin singing the songs of their people outside the bedroom door, reminding us that an unacceptable number of hours have passed since their food bowls have been refilled. Continue reading “Feline Alarm Clocks – Introducing Dobby.”