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. Continue reading “When Phoenix Came to Stay”→
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.”→
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.
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.
“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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”→