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Friday, May 9, 2008

In Rememberance of the Llamas

This by far the longest entry I have ever made in this blog, but sometimes emotions run deep.
This September will mark the 8th Anniversary of LLAMAS in our lives. There have been moments of GLORIOUS joy and HORRIFIC sadness that have been a part of it.
But in the deepest of reflections I would not change a moment of it, and just cannot like many llama owners, imagine a life without them embedded into my soul. And yet, eventually as we age, and our llamas age there is an underlying piece of my mind buried and hidden that knows this day may come to pass. I suppose what triggered this more than anything was the fact that yesterday marked the 6th anniversary of the first born llama on our farm, Royce's King Aslan
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Born May 8, 2002, died October 2003 he was with us for just a short brief blip in the grander scheme of things, but was the epitome of ALL THAT IS GREAT AND WONDERFUL about llamas. His soul and spirit truly reflected his namesake, Aslan from the Narnia Chronicles and rarely does a day pass, that I don't think of him, or pause at his special resting place here on the farm. His death has a left a void to this day that is hard to explain.

And from there the melancholic mix of emotions kept building as I looked out in the pasture and saw the animals that have come to us from situations ranging from sad, to horrific. It built more as I saw the shadows of those who unfortunately have died in our care as we tried to bring them back from illnesses suffered at the hands of others.

My mind kept wandering in the wee hours of the night and I found myself sitting at the computer and looking at the photos of the llamas who have come through our lives. In one way or another there have been more than 200 that have crossed our paths, through situations ranging from the simplest things like owners needing help with shearing or toe trimming or handling, to the worst of the worst involving starvation, cruelty and neglect.

And then I found an article I wrote back in November 2002 for some of the llama magazines and llama associations. I started reading it, and remembering all that made my life with llamas rewarding and filled with sorry all in the same breath. And so below is the article written in what seems to be oh so very long ago:

I was recently approached by a national llama magazine to write an article about 13 llamas removed from a custom slaughterhouse in Sumner WA. I spent quite some time trying to think of a way to make this a story that would twist the soul, and bring tears to the eyes of every reader. I thought about preaching about why llamas should not be part of the meat industry in this country. I thought about talking about which rescue group is best, which one does the most good, which one is right in their approach. I thought about hyping my participation with Llama Rescue Net, or the work done by Southeast Llama Rescue, or Central Oregon Llama Association, or the Montana Sanctuary, or the WVLF or Stillpointe Sanctuary here in Washington State, just to mention a very, very few.

I decided instead to tell you a tale about a little boy.

He grew up on a dairy farm, complete with cows, and pigs and chickens and mules for plowing and an outhouse and a wood cook stove, all run by his grandfather. The animals were respected for the role they played in sustaining our existence. We were responsible for the dignity of their lives and as children we too were required to recognize and accept that responsibility. We were taught at a very early age, that deserved or not, humanity had achieved the role of stewardship of this planet, and with that came black and white rules of behavior.

Animals that were too sick were humanely destroyed, and their passing was always treated quietly and with the understanding that all creatures great and small come and go and we must accept this a part of our commitment to them.

Abused or mistreated animals at other farms nearby were taken from their owners, sometimes at gunpoint, by consensus of the community. It wasn't a simpler world, just one where people still understood that all life, human or animal, had value. These animals were added to the herds at local farms.

Time marched on. The outhouse gave way to indoor plumbing; the wood cook stove was replaced with an electric range. The mules were replaced with a tractor, and lived the rest of their lives with us as honored parts of the family. The boy grew up and moved away, and the farm was eventually sold.

But the tale continued.

As time went on, I remembered the days on my grandfather's farm and waited to return in some small way to that time as a boy. We have owned llamas for just less than 3 years now, making us new to the world of llamas. We originally intended on purchasing sheep for use by my wife and daughter in the spinning and weaving crafts and offsetting some of the expenses by selling the excess wool. We encountered a llama owner, and her llamas and of course the rest is history. Anyone coming in contact with the royal grace and dignity these animals are capable of can't help but find the experience overwhelming.

We purchased 3 llamas with grand temperaments, and wonderful fiber and our world has forever been changed. We acquired a female of the old classic line as an additional companion for our lone female. A local llama owner, getting up in years wanted to make certain that her llamas had caring and loving homes. She met with us many times, came out to visit our facilities at least twice before she allowed us to have her animal. She still comes and visits regularly, and has become an integral part of our extended family. Her commitment to her llamas reminded me strongly of the days I had spent on the farm with my grandfather.

And all was well with the world.

There was an ad in the paper for two llamas, must sell, $250.00 for the pair, and our world changed again. This time the grace and dignity was gone, and the underbelly that is part of EVERY animal industry showed itself not much more than a stone's throw from our quiet little corner.

Two llamas, male and female in enclosures not more than 20 x 30 feet each, both with halters and leads dragging, pastern deep in their own excrement, tucked away in a corner of a small farm operation supposedly to be 'guard llamas'. The fencing was hog panels, barbed wire, and pallets, filled with chunks of metal sticking up out of the ground. We bought the llamas. Oreo [named by our daughter] was supposedly pregnant, the male was intact, the man who ran the farm was old and senile and couldn't even remember where or when he first got them, but it "wasn't all that long ago, cause the grass was still green, and these animals aren't worth a hoot as guard animals, the coyotes are still getting my chickens!" These animals were so parasite infested you could literally see the worms in their feces. The male had halter sores and toes so long and soft that they flopped when he walked and his pads were rotting. Within two days the female went down in the middle of her quarantine area. After four weeks of continual care, including numerous vet visits and hospital stays we were able to get the female stabilized and eating. It's been 9 months now, no cria, and in her world humans are to be avoided at all costs. Buttons, the male has become a great companion animal for the rest of the male herd and for me.

Then another ad appears. This time, a single llama "found" in Idaho, brought over to Western Washington on a lark "cause everyone knows you can sell llamas for big bucks over there". Pheasant breeding pen of chicken wire with cement floor for shelter, adequate pasture, no water, no minerals, and "oh by the way she is a little wild ever since we lassoed and hog tied her to get the porcupine quills out of her hind quarters last winter". Dahli lives a quiet life with us now as we try to teach her still that people don't need to be feared. It's been 6 months.

Then came Henry. Henry was up for auction in Woodland Washington, as "the perfect slaughter animal, that will be made freezer ready for a minimal additional charge". He was bought for $25.00 by a 16-year-old boy living in downtown Portland Oregon and taken home. The boy explained to his father he couldn't stand the thought of so graceful an animal being ground into hamburger. A week later, a call went out via emails. Henry has had an abscess on the inside of his leg, and what should be done to clean it up. It has maggots crawling inside the wound, and the backyard is too small to keep the animal. Over $400.00 was donated by dozens of people across the US for his care. Henry was transported to us. The wound was the size of a cantaloupe on his inside thigh, maggot ridden, and a solid hard mass. He was immediately taken to our vet, X-rays were taken and surgery to clean the wound was scheduled. Further examination of the X-rays and consultations with Oregon State and Western State Universities, showed the infection had eaten away at the tendons and ligaments of his leg, and was eating into the bone. Henry would never be able to use that leg, and would need to spend the remainder of his life on penicillin and other antibiotics to keep the systemic infection under control. Henry was euthanized and our world became sadder for his passing.

The more we did, the more we looked, the worse things seemed to be. Beneath the quiet wonderful world of llamas was this other horribly ugly world full of discarded, unwanted, neglected, forgotten llamas spun from a world of greed, or ignorance, or both. Sometimes it was breeders dumping on unsuspecting customers who saw them only as cute and loveable, but forgot to mention the cute little 1 year old turns into a full blown adult with different temperament and needs, and would live for 20 or more years. Then the backyard pets have babies, because 'babies are cute'. And two begets 3, which begets 5, which begets 10. Sometimes the animals in need were the result of true human tragedy. The single man killed in a car crash, the wife who died of cancer, or the 4H child struck with paralytic meningitis.

I encountered groups who struggle quietly and desperately to clean up the mess. There are formal organizations scattered across the United States dedicated each in their own way, each with their own philosophies focusing on trying to salvage the forgotten, or educate the public about the realities of llamas. These volunteers operate on shoestring budgets, minimal donations of funds and supplies, and struggle to clean up the messes left behind by others. Many times the mess is the poor forgotten couple who bought some llamas sometimes from a "well known breeder" sometimes just from 'Johnny across town" as pets and now don't know what to do. And many times, its 13 llamas or 6 llamas or 18 llamas or more than 40 llamas that have been forgotten by the world and just dumped, or walked away from.

There are also the little quiet people who just struggle in their own neighborhoods to do right, stumbling along on their own and trying to learn as they go.

There's Tracey and John, llama owners who drove by a slaughter house and found 6, no 10, oops 13 llamas in the lot waiting to be purchased and slaughtered, and shelled out their personal funds to buy them and are now desperately working to find adoptive homes for these dumped animals. Some have been handled in the past, all are just "plain John llamas", and some have obviously been treated like the ' old junkyard dog'.

There's Tom who got a male and female pair of llamas from some folks who had llamas they allowed all the neighbor kids to chase and try to ride until they got bucked off, who doesn't know what to do with the intact male constantly attacking him when he approaches the pregnant female.

There's Reza, who sort of inherited a group of llamas, and emus and pigeons and chickens, and goats and ducks and geese and doesn't know what to do, reaching out for help trying to find good homes.

Like all animal related businesses, the world of llamas has show gatherings full of pomp and circumstance designed to spotlight the best the world of llamas has created. BUT, with creation comes a moral imperative and responsibility to remember that someday the mules will get too old to pull a plow, and something better will come along. The parts of our past that got us where we are still need to be cared for, not merely hidden off in a corner or discarded for the sake of convenience. There's a responsibility to ensure the animal you chose to create finds a place in this world that provides the dignity and respect it deserves. There's a responsibility to make certain the animal has been properly trained. There's a responsibility to make certain the people who are buying your animal have also been properly trained and that they have the resources and continual access to mentoring as needed. But that's a different tale for others to tell.

There will always be rescues regardless of the animal, regardless of the laws, regardless of all the hand wringing at llama gatherings. There will always be a Henry somewhere, maggoty and dying, and taken to auction only because he was in a herd of males and got attacked and why bother after all there's more where he came from.

Do something, anything.

Find a spot for one more llama on your farm, not one that adds value, or can be used to improve you herd, or your point standings, just one more "plain Jane llama". Believe me, it feels great to be able to say 'today I made a difference'.

Take the coin jar and send it to an organization of your choice. Find the old halters and leads and mail them off.

Shout FOUL about the folks who are adding to the problem. Don't whisper it in the motel rooms after the llama shows have ended; don't whimper it on the chat rooms and email lists.

SHOUT it out to the public who are not part of the world of llamas.

Make the public aware of the joy and majesty every llama has within it.

Make every prospective buyer aware of the moral imperative that is required when choosing to own another living being.

Be there ALWAYS for your customers.

Make the public aware of the 'bad apples' breeding with no purpose other than to fund more breeding. Point fingers, name names.


To the multitudes of llama owners who have always recognized the need to be responsible for your actions and have acted in the best interest of animal and business and see no conflicts between the two - I want to thank you personally and think your actions should be shouted loud and proud by the entire llama community.

To the special people who have helped my family and me with our llamas, and have shown us their power and spirit, thank you.

To all the special people who quietly or not so quietly fight daily to clean up the messes others have made, thank you.

To those of you who have gotten half way through this article and decided I'm just another crackpot… I wish you had known my grandfather.

And that's the tale I chose to tell.

And so in rememberance and dedication to the people and the animals whose lives will be forever entwined with ours, no matter where the future leads:

Gary and Chloe and the Llama Loves of our Lives
Olympia WA

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