Season of Gray

 

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The woods are lovely dark and deep

December 27th, and it’s gray.  The Midwest has a way of graying out during the month of November and staying gray until February.  Days like today, it looks mostly the same outside at 8:00 am that it does at 4:00 in the afternoon.

I’ve been feeling as gray as today’s sky.  I think we all have times like this, times when each day is just a push from morning to night, an effort to get from the start of your day to the finish in one piece.   If I’m being completely honest, 2015 has been one of the most difficult years on record for me.  I’ve felt in chaos more than I’ve felt safe, and more days have proved a struggle than I care to admit.   It’s easy to get lost in that, forget that everything with a beginning eventually has an end.

But, right now, I’m just in the middle of my chaos, and I’m feeling a little lost. Continue reading “Season of Gray”

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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.

Amelia’s Misadventure.

When you have as many animals to care for as we do, it seems like there is always something.  Usually, that something is fairly little: horses need worming, llamas need toenails trimmed, one of the barn cats has an owie, and by the way did I notice that one of the chickens was walking funny?

It can get overwhelming at times, and I’m not always as on top of it as I should be, but generally, we keep up pretty well and nothing too catastrophic happens.  Until…well…

Meet Amelia

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Amelia is one of my two dogs.  A rescue of mostly unknown origins–we were told a lab/shepherd mix, but there is more going on there than that–she is my “puppy,” only a few years old.  She came home with me as an itty bitty baby from a local animal shelter.  Since then, she has grown taller than our full-blooded German Shepherd.  I have seldom met a dog with a sweeter disposition or higher energy; I have never met a dog with less natural grace.  She is a big, bumbling oaf, but everyone who meets her loves her for it.

Amelia when shortly after she came home with us.  Itty bitty baby dog.
Amelia when shortly after she came home with us. Itty bitty baby dog.
For half a second, her ears thought they might stand up like a shepherd.
For half a second, her ears thought they might stand up like a shepherd.

Tuesday night of last week, however, something was very, very wrong.  Amelia was slow to stand up and generally looked miserable.  When she and our other dog, Piper, came in from outside, she stumbled into the bedroom and parked at the foot of the bed (see below).  Then she gave me a puppy dog look that can only be translated as “Mom, I don’t feel good!”

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Amelia with her poor, pitiful, sick puppy face.

I assumed that she had a stomach ache–she is known for eating things she shouldn’t–so I gave her a bit of Pepto and hoped she would feel better.  She didn’t like that and went to her kennel for the rest of the night.  She refused to eat (which is not at all like her).  I briefly considered taking her to the emergency vet, but she didn’t seem in dire pain, so I decided to wait to see how she was in the morning.  (After all, if I had a stomach ache, there is no way I would immediately run to the ER to treat it…)

The next day, Wednesday, she was worse.  Not only was she moving even slower, her face was majorly swollen and pained.   I called the vet as soon as they opened, making the first available appointment.  About an hour later, I loaded Amelia into the car and drove her to see her doctor.

It’s remarkable, if you think about it, how much dogs trust their people.  Amelia felt horrible, and she hopped into the car, followed me into a strange place, and let a strange man with latex gloves poke and prod her all over, all because I said it was ok.

But anyway, the man with the latex gloves started exploring around her face; it was obvious at that point that she had a mass infection in her face and throat, one that hadn’t really been there the day before.  When he lifted her tongue, he saw a pretty good cut.  From there he began feeling around for foreign material stuck in her mouth.  (Apparently, the tongue is pretty good at cutting open, then sealing back behind, foreign material.)  He didn’t feel anything to suggest that anything was stuck inside her mouth; rather, it seemed that something had cut it pretty deeply (chewing on a stick maybe???) then it had become infected by some of the bacteria that is already pretty pervasive inside a pup’s mouth.  Let me tell you, it smelled miserable (and I am no stranger to questionable smells).  I felt terrible for my puppy, but I was happy that it was something that was easy to treat.

They sent me home with antibiotics and pain killers for her, with an appointment to check in again on Friday.

For the next day and a half she seemed to be improving very slowly.  The swelling in her face went down as the antibiotics did their work.  She still wouldn’t eat–even though the vet had prescribed a diet of cooked chicken and rice–but she was slightly more active.  She hated getting her medicine though.  I couldn’t coax her to eat it in pill pockets, or peanut butter, or cheese, so I had to manually open her mouth and stick them down her throat.  She looked at me like I had kicked her and started running away whenever my hands reached up to the cabinet where we kept her medicine.   That was vaguely weird, as I had given Amelia sea-sickness meds as a puppy anytime we went on a car ride, and she had always been pretty good about it. (She had a habit of vomiting in the car if we went too far, but didn’t want to be left at home).

When Friday morning and her appointment came around, I decided to forgo medicating her, hoping that the vet would be willing to give her fluids and an injection of medicine instead.

We waited our turn in the “dog” waiting room (to be distinguished from the cats’ waiting room on the other side of the building), heading in to see the vet once they called her name.

When the doctor came in, he and I spoke about Amelia’s progress for a  few moments.

“How’s Amelia doing?”

“She seems better, but she still won’t eat or drink.  I was hoping you could give her some fluids again?”

“That shouldn’t be a problem.  Let’s take a look.”

And, with that, he opened Amelia’s mouth, just like I had done the night before, just like he had done two days earlier.

Guys…there are no words…

Right there, in the center of her tongue, something was sticking straight out, something that definitely shouldn’t have been there.

“Holy cow.” The vet looked about as shocked as I felt.

“That wasn’t there last night!  I would have noticed.”

I kind of felt the need to jump to my own defense; I had been medicating that dog twice a day…if that had been there, I would have seen it.

“I looked for something last time…there was no indication…but either way, we’ll need to keep her for a while.  I’ll have to sedate her and remove this, then take an x-ray to make sure everything is out.

The vet tech scooted Amelia away in a flurry of paperwork and consent forms.  I arranged pick up for her, as I had plans to head out of town for the afternoon with Jeremiah.  She was in exceptionally good hands.

Later, in the car as we drove along the interstate, I got a phone call from the vet.

“Amelia is in recovery.  She will be fine.  We ummm…well it was the strangest thing, but that little bit you saw was really just the tip of the iceberg.  We pulled a chunk of wood out of her tongue that was about three and a half inches long.  It just kept coming.”  Then he added, “I thought my vet tech was going to pass out.”

Yup.  Best we can figure, she had been running around the yard with a stick pointed straight out, and she hit something.  That impact drove the stick under her tongue and it broke off.  And the  tongue, being remarkably resilient, closed back up behind it in a matter of hours.

They photographed the surgery, which I considered having them email to me so I could share it with you, but then I realized that many of my readers haven’t been around livestock for twenty years and that many of you probably wouldn’t appreciate how cool it was.

But they saved the stick to show me.  And I saved it to show you…

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That was inside her tongue.  Ouch.  No wonder she didn’t want me to open her mouth to give her medicine.

Given the depth of the foreign object, and the surgery required to remove it, the vet suggested we leave her with them overnight.

The next morning, I picked her up, paid one of the bigger vet bills I’ve ever seen, and she came home.  Since then, she’s recovered nicely, enthusiastically eating her antibiotic laced peanut butter and charging around the yard as though nothing had happened.

The vet confided that it was the strangest thing he had seen in all his years of practice, but Amelia has always been an overachiever.

So, for all of that, we have a happy ending and a healthy pup.  If the stick had gone in at a different angle, it might well have killed her immediately.  If I had waited to take her to the vet, the infection or dehydration might well have killed her.

But neither of those things happened.  She is lucky, and I am grateful.