Jeffery's Magic Boots, a Cria Who Get's Ill on Our Farm
Jeffery visiting Tess the horse
Jeffery’s Magic Boots
By Ellen Karman
I am sure every breeder has experienced one of these animals in their lives, no matter what type of livestock you are raising; if you haven’t it’s probably a matter of time before you do. Life and death are a part of raising livestock and living on a farm. I’ve been pretty good at maintaining a practical attitude about it up until a few months ago when I and everyone involved here at Red Coach Alpaca Farm were blessed to have a little alpaca named Jeffery take a short journey through our lives. It was a privilege that I am compelled to share.
I sit on the barn floor wrapping Jeffery’s front legs in colorful vet wrap while He quietly rests in the sling I made for him. His muscles have Weakened due to whatever mystery illness afflicting him is. He watches me wind the bright orange tape around his little fetlocks so they don’t knuckle over on him when he exercises in his sling. When I finish, he spends a few minutes examining each Day-Glo orange wrap reminding me of a little boy on the first day of school that can’t stop admiring his brand new shoes.
Besides Paloma and her newborn cria, who watch us from a stall across the aisle, we’re the only ones in the barn. The rest of the herd is out in various paddocks but in a few minutes it will be time for them to come in for dinner and a once over from me. I open the gates and quickly walk back to Jeffery so I can see his face when his little playmates come in and see him in his sling and at eye level for the first time in some time. Since he’s been down and living primarily in the medical room, they’ve taken no interest in him at all, periodically coming by to sniff him. He started to get increasingly depressed and isolated from the herd. For him to have a chance at life, he not only needs physical strength but also he needs to mentally want the chance, this being the prime motivator to build his sling.
See, his Mum never takes to him. The first few weeks it doesn’t seem to affect him or maybe it’s just that he knows no different. Every couple hours Ted or I would hold his mother still to allow him to nurse. At three weeks of age, I switch him over to goat’s milk. At this point, he does really well. He and his mother share a paddock with two other crias all born within a week of each other. Most days he spends playing with the other two chasing butterflies and investigating their new world. I hoped his mum would learn how to be a mother through observation and she gets a little better, When he is sleepy, he snuggles up to her and has a nap; This is okay with her. She allows any contact that he initiates with her but; seldom does she initiate any herself.
However, even this comes to an abrupt stop the morning I find him in the paddock lying all by himself; I run out, scoop him up, and know right away he is in a crisis. Anyhow, that is the beginning of this whole ordeal.
Jeffery gleefully greets some of the older crias as they make their way from outside into the barn for their dinner of alpaca crumbles, minerals and Orchard Grass. Jeffery is so excited, pushing with his back legs as hard as he can, to get his sling to move so he can reach them nose to nose. I have to laugh as his superman diapers are scrunching through the webbed part of his sling.
In minutes, he is eating his dinner on an upside down bucket smack in the middle of everyone, graciously sharing. Then, suddenly, in a big commotion, all notice his bright Day Glow leg wraps and run from him and turn and stare at his orange boots, I can see he’s over whelmed and a bit embarrassed, as they continue to stare. I quietly walk to the middle of the commotion and sit next to Jeffery who is now also staring at his bright orange leg wraps. I speak out to the herd, who are now starting to move in closer to where I am sitting next to Jeffery and I begin “Listen up everyone, let me tell you a story about Jeffery’s magic boots. See, these boots will one day very soon teach Jeffery to fly. That’s why he’s in this sling as well; this is all readying him for a very important flight.” My voice is cracking as I go on with the story, making it up as I go along, thinking, “Please God cut this little guy some Slack;” I realize it is not my storytelling that relaxes the herd, but the tone of my voice and the calmness it brings. Soon, all go back to eating and Jeffery seems quite pleased and I’m not sure, but I think he’s a little proud too, of his magic boots.
After dinner, it’s time for Jeffery to come out of his sling and have a bottle. Kara and her little friend, who’s sleeping over, ask if they can spend the night in the barn. Before I know it, they’re setting up house in “Jeffery’s room,” as they call it, for a sleep over. They have the following items all stuffed around Jeffery. Two sleeping bags, teen magazines, one radio, nail polish to paint his nails, two cans of coke and one bottle of freshly warmed goats milk. At this moment in time, even though I have no idea why or for what reasons; I do know we’re all witnessing something special.
Three days later, Jeffery gets weaker despite the constant, care, physical therapy and love we give him. He’s now requiring more and more IV fluids to keep hydrated. The Vet has been to the farm at least every three days since this health crises has begun and I’ve now driven him into the clinic a total of five or six times - three of which are to have new lines placed in his jugular, two for ultrasounds, a couple x-rays; I think 3 blood cultures; one abdominal tap oh yeah, and a few to pick up medical items. All tests prove negative for disease or congenital deformity.
Last night, I ran out of my last IV solution bag. Well, more accurately, I forgot to shut off the valve after I took the needle out of his Heparin-Lock. It dripped out all over the floor and by the time, I noticed this, its 9pm, on a Saturday night. Kindly, one of the vets drove to the clinic and left by the side door, a goody bag of assorted medical supplies, including more IV bags. Kara and one of the dogs drive the fifty-minute ride with me. Constant fog, rain and forty mile per hour winds swallow up the white lines on the edges of the road, my neck, kills me as I sit bolt upright in an effort to see the narrow road and to keep from driving right off of it. Wouldn’t you know it, on the way back from the clinic; the truck broke down. Okay, okay, that statement is slightly misleading, this being the fifth straight night without sleep, caring for Jeffery, somehow I neglected to check the level of diesel in the tank and it just ran plum out of diesel fuel. God was with us though, because for about a twenty-mile stretch on that road, there is only one gas station and we are lucky enough to break down right in front of it. Though, I still couldn’t get the fuel to prime up to the injectors after purchasing a five-gallon can and five gallons of diesel; even though that model of F-350 has this capability.
Some poor fellow minding his own business pumping fuel into his own Ford F-350 diesel Pickup helps me try and start my truck for about an hour in the pouring rain; alternating between under the hood to on the rain soaked ground under the engine. When the truck refuses to start, this stranger drives my daughter, our two and half pound toy fox terrier pup and me - the forty-five minutes home to our farm, through the same weather! Too tired to feel stupid but not too stupid to know how blessed this really is, to witness a wonderful person, do a wonderful thing for us, for no particular reason. The first very kind favor of the night was committed by the Vet, whom I am sure was busy or if he wasn't, he surely didn't want to go out in that weather.
Almost a week later: Today, to boost Jeffery’s spirits I drive Jeffery in the golf cart out to see his brother and the rest of the boys who live on another part of our farm. He has his coat, a hat and of course, his magic boots on as I take him on a tour of the farm. He is immediately fascinated with the dogs chasing the Canadian geese in the pond. We spend over an hour at the pond as he watches Millie, our German Short Haired Pointer, round the pond, stop and twist in mid-air as she changes directions to get closer to the geese and occasionally making a giant leap and splash to swim toward them.
Then I take him to see his horse friend Tess, a Morgan that lives here at Red Coach Alpaca Farm. Tess has made her duty to love each and every alpaca as if each were her very own foals. I first noticed her tweaked interest in him while carrying him by her while, she was out in a paddock and her head was over the fence. I stopped and she leans down to smell Jeffery and she squeals the gentlest whisper like sound I have ever heard a horse make until then or since and probably will never hear again. After that, Jeffery makes daily trips to Tess’s stall for special nuzzling from her. Today they both enjoy their visit.
Still, a day or two later, Jeffery takes a turn for the worst around 7am on a Friday morning. Our vet called me back to tell me he spoke with Ohio University and they would be waiting for us if we chose to bring him down. Now, this drama has been going on for three maybe four weeks. Thousands upon thousands of dollars has already been spent on little Jeffery, breaking the guidelines we set up as breeders.
People came out of the woodwork to help with him. These people weren’t doing this because I asked them or they had nothing else to do. Jeffery had touched their souls, all in different ways, just as he touched mine.
Anyway, our farm assistant manager, Chris, drives the truck as I hold Jeffery on my lap with his head hanging on a gradual slope toward my feet so he can’t choke on any accumulated fluids. Within five miles of the Ohio University Veterinary Hospital, he repeatedly stops breathing. Each time he stops, I give a breath to him and he comes around. We pull into the bay they assign us and as soon as the truck stops a team of Vets and their assistants, take him from my arms and within a minute have him intubated and hooked to a ventilator.
Chris and I stand in silence watching the doctors and nurses work on him through a window. Three hours go by as they try to figure what his chief problem is. Finally, the doctor came out and explains they still don’t really know and that so far no alpaca has lived longer than twenty-four hours on a ventilator. But, they would certainly continue, were that what we wanted. No, I say. He’s in agony now and I can’t see keeping on. (I know what it’s like to be on a ventilator and to have all these frightening medical tests and the pain that invariably goes along with them, my sympathies are with little Jeffery.) The doctor graciously agrees with my decision though I share none of my own experiences with her. I know Chris knows what I endured after my three and a half month coma followed by a few more months awake while hooked to the ventilator. He say’s nothing, Words are not needed between he and I and none are said.
I walk in to where he is lying, all hooked up to lines, wires and tubes. When he hears my voice, he tries to get up and inadvertently rips out the line they placed in his leg to monitor his blood gasses. I bury my face to his ear, tears dripping onto his soft, curly fiber. I whisper to him “Jeffery, now is the time, you’re going to fly little friend. You won’t need your magic boots or sling. You’ll be free. Thank you for allowing me to be and in your life, it is the most privileged honors I’ve had in my life. Fly away………………. you are free. You are free.
Jeffery and the girls having their sleep over.
Giving IV fluids to our little alpaca Jeffery
Jeffery's Magic Boots
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© 2012 Ellen Karman