Pet of the Day

January 31, 1999

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Mancha, the Pet of the Day
Name: Mancha
Age: Eight years old
Gender: Male
Kind: Llama
Home: Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada
    This is an exceptionally sad story.
Some animals in the story die.
However, because Mancha's owner never gave up,
Mancha the llama does live.
    Mancha is now an eight-year-old llama. The father of Gato and Spud. There was a time when I never would have believed that Mancha would live let alone be a father to two sons. He was a birthday present from a boyfriend and was six months old when I received him. My first llama, I wasn't too sure how to care for him but I'd had new experiences with animals before - how different could this be?

    I used to dog-sled with a fellow who raised and trained malamutes. After one winter's trip I noticed a scraggly, matted pup who was "too big and hairy" to make a good sled-dog. I took him home with me, named him Nakoo (Eskimo for 'baby bunting') and tried to get him to fit in with the rest of my odd assortment. He started killing the ducks and geese almost immediately. I decided to find good homes for the rest of the poultry. In other respects, Nakoo was a dream. He slept with the cats, he played with Eeyore and the goats, he was gentle with visiting kids and avoided the horses. He was attentive and loyal. Everything you'd ever want in a dog.

    A few days before Christmas,1990 it snowed heavily. My friend Cathy came over to help me wrap presents and feed the animals. Mancha was kept alone in a separate pen but near enough to the goats that he had company. All the dogs, as usual, accompanied me on my rounds. It was cold!! I had only rubber boots on and my feet were freezing. I went back into the house, leaving the wet and excited dogs outside and in the few minutes it took to put on another pair of socks and find my winter boots, the damage was done. Nakoo had attacked Mancha. I screamed for Cathy and ran towards the pen. Nakoo just stepped aside and laid down very submissively. Mancha lay on the ground - he had been scalped and his neck ripped apart. I ran to him and lifted his head - he was gurgling and going into shock.

    Cathy knew how much I loved my animals. She called my two neighbors who were veterinarians, and called her husband and told him to bring the truck. Within 15 minutes everyone was there. We carried Mancha into the house; one of the vets did a tracheotomy. Cathy's husband quietly took Nakoo into the truck and drove away. About an hour later everyone decided that Mancha would have to get to the nearest emergency clinic - there was nothing more they could do for him at the house.

    We had to take a ferry to get to the nearest clinic. We bundled Mancha up in my Jeep. Cathy held his head up and tried to control the bleeding and keep him breathing. He had been scalped right to the bone. I had one ear and part of his scalp in my lap.

    It was two day's before I was set to leave for Belize on a horseback vacation. All the plans had been made and I couldn't easily back out. I arranged for Cathy and Ellen, a girl with a lot of experience with animals to live in the house if/when Mancha came home. I cleared out the kitchen and set up a small enclosure from a tall wire dog pen. I brought in a hay net, got an account with the local pharmacy, signed releases at the vets, gave everyone my itinerary and went. I didn't have much fun - every day I could I phoned home.

    Before I left, however, I took Nakoo to the groomers, outfitted him with a new collar and bright red bow. A young couple with no kids, no llamas, no poultry, one other large dog, a fenced yard and all the information about what Nakoo had done had come forward to take him. I was tearful but relieved.

    I called from Miami on my way home to discover that Mancha had been sent home but the prognosis was poor. He had developed an infection and as no one knew anything about llamas, they didn't know what antibiotics would work or even how to administer them. Cathy and Ellen were tending to him around the clock. He had a shower three times a day to have his wounds washed out. The vet made weekly home visits.

    When I got home I was told that there was nothing more that could be done for him and that I should put him down. I insisted that they change his antibiotics and researched as much llama medicine as I could find. We switched medications. The vets told me that the injury to his head was so severe they doubted the wound would ever close. His neck was healing alright but now the major worry was septicemia.

    One of my classmates and one former boyfriend were now plastic surgeons and I turned to them for help. They were willing, but obviously had never done any veterinary medicine. The vets knew very little about llama medicine and didn't have the special equipment necessary for reconstructive surgery. I put them in touch with each other and amazing things happened. We also found a board-certified surgical vet who agreed to work with them. The idea was to graft a piece of the latissimus dorsi to Mancha's head. A vet anesthetist was called; a Vancouver General Hospital O.R. nurse offered his services, a drug company donated some of the supplies and we got permission to use the V.G.H.'s O.R.'s micro-surgery equipment. A friend of Ben's, a plastic surgeon from Colorado was up visiting and offered his help.

    The O.R. was crowded and the surgery took five hours. As time went on everyone was filled with hope, but the moment of failure occurred right at the end when the anesthetist couldn't maintain Mancha's blood pressure and everyone quickly became concerned. Mancha was taken to a large kennel to recover from his anesthesia. The graft failed. Then he really did get septic. He was brought home and again I was told to put him down. He wouldn't eat; I put alfalfa cubes, molasses, vitamins and grain in a food processor and fed him through a turkey baster. Cathy and Ellen looked after him while I was at work and I spent my evenings, nights and mornings looking after him as best I could.

    The dogs and cats slept with him. I covered him with a blanket. Three times a day he was forced to get into the bathtub for his shower. His bloodwork was terrible. He developed an abscess from the surgery and it drained constantly. I felt responsible. I read vet journals, contacted libraries, and paid thousands of dollars for his care.

    One vet involved in his care had always told me that she would tell me when that moment had come. I trusted her and although everyone else told me to give up and put him down, she didn't. One Monday she called me and said unless something changed within the next 48 hours, she too was giving up hope. I had just read an article on antibiotics in llamas and although there was little to go on, I told her to switch him. She said she'd heard about this particular combination in bovine medicine, didn't think it would work in llamas but would be willing to try. Within 48 hours, Mancha lifted his head, he ate and drank on his on and even managed to walk by himself into the bathroom.

    We were on our way to success!! Noone could believe it - I know many people were beginning to think that I was in denial and that Mancha could never get better. In the end, Mancha lived in my kitchen for six months. The total cost for his care was $20,000.00 - but, we made it!!!!

    He was housetrained. He willingly walked into the bathroom and stepped in the tub for his regular showers. He slept by my bed at night. He laid in the livingroom at my feet whenever I had company. By spring Mancha was able to take short walks in the backyard. He gained weight and although that abscess continued to drain for two years afterwards and did require periodic vet care, all in all, he just kept getting better and better.

    A year later I bought a female llama I named Sabrina. The vets were still telling me that Mancha could die from the abscess and I wanted at least one baby from him.

    Eleven months later Sabrina had a baby - a male I named Gato. When Sabrina got pregnant for the second time I didn't worry. Sabrina gave birth on October 27th and I was thrilled. But although the baby was healthy, Sabrina was in trouble. She was hurt and was dying. I knew there wasn't anything I could do. The vets to put her to sleep. Once again I was faced with a llama living in my house for next six months.

    November in this part of Canada is very cold and inhospitable. Spud needed feedings every four hours and needed to be kept warm. It was the same nightmare all over again but with the aid of friends, we managed. When he was a bit older we'd take him out to Mancha for the day and thankfully, they bonded. Come spring, Spudettes was old enough to be out there all the time.

    Today, I have Mancha, Gato and Spud out in my pasture. Llamas have become commonplace in some areas, but here in Williams Lake there are very few of them. People drive by and see them - stop, get out of their vehicles and call them over. What they don't understand is that llamas are very shy creatures and it's only because Mancha and Spud lived in my house for six months that these two come to them and hang all over them.

    They're giving llamas a good name. (No, they don't spit, nor did they ever).

    And I pay the vets' mortgages.

    As for Nakoo, I visited him every week for about a year at which time I was convinced that he had found a food home with people who loved him. Because they knew what he had done they kept him under close watch. He's happy in his new home.

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