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.



Up before dawn.

I rolled over and checked the clocked at 4:22 am.  My alarm was set to go off at 4:30, but I had been lying in bed awake for some time.   I will never understand why my internal alarm is so “on it” for early mornings, but if I want to get up at 7:30, I had better set an alarm or I absolutely will not wake on time. This time though, I was fortunate.  My phone charger wasn’t connected quite right and the battery had drained down to 6%.  It’s more than likely that the 4:30 alarm wouldn’t have gone off at all.

As I rolled out of bed, I heard a less-than-half awake Jeremiah roll over beside me.

“Wha time ‘sit?”

“It’s about 4:30, love.  Go back to sleep.  I’ve got this.”

“You sure?”

“Yup.  Go back to bed.”

He did so without ceremony, muttering a thank you as he pulled the covers up. Under normal circumstances, Jeremiah is infinitely easier to get out of bed than me, but he had only crawled under the covers after midnight.  The day before, he had been on the road for an obscene number of hours, shoeing horses 5 hours away in Columbia.  He deserved to sleep.

I wandered into the bathroom, trying to keep the doors and the dogs quiet.  Throwing on yesterday’s barn clothes without a sniff check, I dressed quickly and made my way into the kitchen.  Only then did I flip on the lights, punching the power button on my Keurig and waiting for it to warm up.  Lights in the kitchen wouldn’t stir the dogs in their kennels to go outside, and 4:30 am is way too early to even think about bothering the neighbors.

I rustled through the cabinets looking for one of my travel cups only to realize that the only ones still at the house had been half-moved; their lids were at the ranch…somewhere.

I was too tired to care, and for the first time I was thankful that my Keurig doesn’t actually brew enough coffee at once to fill a large travel mug.  The somewhat anemic fill power gave me two inches of buffer between my hot beverage and the likelihood of a spill.

As quietly as I could, I made my way out the front door and into my car.  I turned it on, set the seat heater, and took off toward the ranch.  It was just before 5am.

I know that there are certain people who are always up by 5am; I am not one of them.   I was first introduced to 5am, and earlier, during high school when I would regularly drag myself out of bed in what I considered the middle of the night to compete at a llama show.  L and I would load animals in the dark, grab breakfast at some nondescript interstate McDonald’s, and spend the day fluffing wool, cleaning dirty knees (they always get dirty knees), and prancing our prized pasture poodles in front of judges who often liked them almost as much as we did.  Later, when halter classes were done, Minnett and I would throw grooming to the wind…sort of…and head into performance classes where he would prove that he was just about willing to follow me through fire.  (Don’t worry, there was never actually fire at the shows, but you try convincing an adult male llama to follow you up and down steps (one at a time), under tarps, and into tunnels, and then tell me it isn’t sort of the same thing.)  I always loved showing, even considering it’s early wake up time.

I haven’t been to a show since undergrad, but I have had plenty of cause to wake up at 5am.  Whether catching an early flight for my job or tagging along with my husband on one of his shoeing runs (which almost never start after 6am), I still set my share of 4:30 alarms.  (In an effort towards full disclosure, I really do try hard to avoid anything that makes me get up before 5am…)  Still, this time, I wasn’t up early for any of those things.  This time, I was meeting the vet.

Some of you might remember back in June when I was on vacation with Jeremiah and our stud got out with the girls.  (Ah vacations…)  It was determined that he had probably been out with them for 12 hours or so… I can’t say I know for a fact what he spent his time doing, but I have some very strong suspicions.

I got to the ranch about 20 minutes before the vet, flipped the lights on in a barn, and was greeted with some very sleepy, and very familiar, expressions.  (Llamas have this uncanny way of asking why on earth you would disturb their slumber at such an unholy hour without saying a word.)  Six of our females were shut up in a stall.  In truth, any female in the herd could be pregnant, but those six were the “concerning” ones.  I had two maidens, one that has a hard time keeping weight on, and three with genetic issues.

They watched as I got things set up, pulling the ultrasound out of the tack room and setting it up in the aisle.  I haltered each of the girls, finishing about the time the vet pulled up in his diesel truck.

“Good Morning!” I yelled from across the barn feeling oddly chipper; I sometimes go through that phase when I’m stupid tired.  No way it would last

“Morning.  Thanks for coming out so early.”

I responded with a quick “no problem,” even though I would never have come out this early by choice; our llama vet only makes farm calls before dawn or in an emergency.  I’d take the former over the later any day.

Without much ado, we pulled the girls out of the stall.  By now I should know that it is worthless to try and predict their behavior.  I apologized for one girl in advance; she had been born on the farm but come back as a rescue and could be very scared.  She, of course, was perfect.  I deemed another an “old pro” before we started.  She was the only one of the group to spit.

In quick succession, they were pronounced “not pregnant,” and I breathed a sigh of relief.  For the females with genetic concerns, a pregnancy would have meant a termination, and that is a serious deal for llamas.  The vet explained that the drug could make them hypothermic.  For the other three, it would have meant a lot of fuss and worry, especially come next Spring.

The vet turned off the ultrasound.  I let the girls back outside.  Everything was said and done before dawn.

“Well,” I told myself as I ran through barn chores after he left, “that’s one less thing to worry about.”

In truth, I will still be watching for baby bellies and udders come late May of next year.  The possibility of a pregnant female is still reasonably high (and if there is a cria–cria, by the way, is the proper name for a baby llama or alpaca–next year, I’m still planning to name it Orlando), but all of my high risk girls are happily baby-less right now.

And that, my friends, is one less thing to worry about.