Saturday, May 30, 2015

Thank You, Lonnie

Lonnie, as I will remember him.

                            Lonnie joined our established alpaca herd in 2000 from the Pacific Northwest.  We had planned to continue breeding animals, but Lonnie came to us in a time in which we had decided to shift and focus more on our family and taking great care of our family and of the animals we had, and spending less time, worry and stress over breeding them.   We paid to have Lonnie transported in comfort from the West Coast in an air conditioned alpaca transport vehicle with an expert transporter, and he arrived here having shared space with some of the most famous and valuable alpacas of the time.   He was a young animal and was somewhat docile and shy at that time.

                          Most of our animals are dark colors and so it was especially interesting for us to add a dark eyed all white huacaya alpaca.  Lonnie continued to be shy and was a favorite of our son Daniel.

Somehow, Lonnie managed to get a bucket around his neck !

                                  If one of the alpacas from our herd was a comedian, then I think Lonnie would be that one.   Somehow, he managed one summer to unhook a bucket and get it stuck around his neck !   Fortunately, alpacas are much thinner than their fiber would seem to indicate, and so the bucket handle lifted off Lonnie's head fairly easily.

                                 Once we knew what a wonderful gentle alpaca Lonnie was, we had planned to breed him at least once.  However, the original seller had altered the paperwork from male to non-breeder without telling us, and therefore this was not a possibility.  I had even considered breeding him for a pet quality companion, but sadly, we never did that either.

                                  When our son Daniel died at 12 1/2, we became even more serious about taking good care of the animals he'd loved so much.  We spent much more time with the alpacas, and with Lonnie in particular.

                                   Lonnie was 16 this year.   Although many books on alpacas consider a full life expectancy to be 15, Lonnie actually has herdmates who are 21 and 19.   If they are cared for carefully, then the possibility exists for some individuals to make it to an advanced age indeed and to live a comfortable life while doing so.  We had hoped the same for Lonnie.

                                   This week, after a short gastrointestinal illness and consultations with vets and more interventions than I think I should have made, Lonnie passed.    I had checked him at 3 am, and made sure he was comfortable, and at five when I checked again, he had recently passed.

Lonnie, in the last twelve hours of his life.

                                It is never easy to lose a friend of 16 years who meant so much to his herd and to our family as well.  Thank you Lonnie for coming to our farm and being our friend.  We will take care of your remaining family as best we can.    We'll see you again.

Monday, May 25, 2015

When to Euthanize

Eventually, we all pass.    (This alpaca is very much alive and is owned by )


                This is not a veterinary scholarly article on when to euthanize a beloved pet.   A veterinarian you trust is probably the best guide as to when to proceed.     This will be a post on when, as a farmer or animal lover, you must make the decision as to whether to continue to let the animal have a natural passing, or whether to end the process of an evolving "normal death" using other means.

                 I have had animals since I was four, and that means I have loved many creatures of many species. I am never okay with seeing them depart Earth even when they have met or exceeded their normal life expectancy.  However, death is a part of life. I know it is unfair of me to wish them to linger, and so my own needs are something I must keep in check.   Everyone passes. even beloved pets. I have also been very lucky in that most of my pets have had a tolerable gentle passing where I have been able to be present and supportive of them.  Only a few times have I had to resort to euthanization.    More than ten years ago, we had a beloved dog named Daisy who wasn't all that old.  She had been a rescue.  Daisy had intractable grand mal seizures that could not be easily controlled.  Even a continuous drip of intravenous diazepam at a veterinary critical care center could not prevent breakthrough seizures entirely.   Several vets and I tried everything.  Ultimately, she was suffering, and a fine vet came out to the house, and euthanized her in the back yard as I gently spoke to her.    Another time, also more than ten years ago, I had a rescue beagle who was by all accounts twenty-four years old.  He had cancer but was functional and was slowing down.  At first it appeared that he would pass fairly comfortably, but in the last day of his life, it was clear that his discomfort was not relieved.  His strong heart just wouldn't quit.   He was euthanized by the on call vet in the back of my car as we spoke to him softly.   It was only very recently that I made the choice to end one beloved animals life in the middle of the night, rather than letting him suffer until morning.   All of the other animals we have had have died naturally and peacefully.

                 Our "rescue farm" largely has animals that we had when Daniel was alive and still rescuing them.  This means that simply by virtue of time passed since he was here,  some of these animals are extremely old.  Intellectually, I understand that a week may come here when we have to bury several alpacas and a couple of dogs, and some chickens.  The vet told me six years ago that my Siberian Husky would likely not make it through that Winter.  What happened ?  My young son without known health problems passed suddenly of an arrhythmia, and Daniel's Siberian stayed for now, six and a half years past the vets stated date of probable expiration.  Vets can usually hazard a good guess as to when a creature will pass, but no one really knows.  A dog can be critically ill, and then receive conservative treatment and pop up the next morning to live five more years or so.  Conversely, a young animal can become sick and pass quickly while you and the vet are waiting for the results of lab work.

                 When should we as owners or farmers euthanize our beloved animals ?     I choose to euthanize when there is a known terminal process and the animal will suffer if permitted to continue living.   Sometimes we can medicate for pain and put off euthanization, and sometimes we cannot.    I tend not to euthanize an animal who is still enjoying eating and drinking.  I tend not to euthanize an animal who still enjoys walks with me.  I don't euthanize an animal who will be a lot of work for me in present condition. I try to euthanize as it benefits them.     I had a dog about six years ago who had seizures and weak back legs.  We were able to control the seizures with a vet who specialized in them, and with phenobarb and with specially compounded potassium bromide given twice daily.   As he aged, he developed weak back legs.  He ultimately was a lot of care, but he seemed to enjoy the care, was not in pain, and eventually passed comfortably. Each case is different, and each situation will require careful and individualized decision making.

                  Just recently, a friend of mine had a beloved horse euthanized and buried on his property.  The horse had been with him for more than half of his life.  The man's concern for his horses comfort was striking. I know that I am not alone in my concerns for the animals who look to me for comfort and sometimes direction.

                I have several alpacas and dogs who are of extremely advanced age just now.  Although they are functional, I know their passings are imminent, and my heart is heavy with the decision as to when to let them go.   I pray that I will have the wisdom and the courage to know when to proceed.  I hope that I am able to choose when it's best for them to depart Earth, not necessarily when it's best for me.

                 Of course, when a creature you may have taken on as a young animal, is now elderly and ready to pass, we cannot help but feel the passing of time, and its weight on our own lives.  The loss of a  beloved family pet is a reminder that ultimately we all inch toward a passing to the next plane.  Someday, my own time on this farm will end, and I hope to be reunited with my beloved animals as well as Daniel and other beloved family members.   Until then, I will do my best to guard animal life as long as is sensible, and then to end animal life as quickly and as gently as is possible.  I hope these thoughts are helpful in some way to you, and either help set out your own decision making, or bring comfort to you in a challenging time.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Memories of Sebastian

Sebastian in his kennel

                   Sebastian is a black labrador mix dog who came to us with his sister dog, when he was about six weeks old.    Our youngest son had just died, and our daughter accepted two beautiful puppies from a friend of hers who desperately needed someone to take some of the many puppies his dog had.  Although I wasn't initially very pleased about two new puppies coming to the farm, they gave us something to do in the very dark days which followed Daniel's passing.  Since then, I have become grateful for the new lives of those puppies.  Our daughter named one dog Sebastian and the sister dog Zelina.

                  They grew up quickly as little puppies so often do, and then Zelina was spayed and Sebastian neutered. The two of them could have shared a kennel compartment, but we found that they did best in their own kennel rooms side by side.   Neither dog seemed particularly intelligent compared to others we had and this meant that they could be watch dogs, and be stationed at observation posts periodically, but neither could be used to gather or supervise other types of animals.   Still, we don't need all of our dogs to do the same things. They can be loving without being brilliant.

               Most of the time our dogs live to very advanced ages. We have one who is a 15 1/2 year old Siberian Husky !  Several others are also quite old.   Most of the time, our elderly dogs are simply in retirement. We love them and provide whatever they need without an expectation of any kind of work. How ironic that they should continue living, when a younger animal does not.

                 Sebastian would be about seven years old now.  Very recently, something neurological has occurred with him.  He has weakened back legs and looks older than his sister.   He has been receiving heartworm preventive, annual DHLPP vaccines, and rabies vaccine every three years.   We do use tick preventive.   Over night he appears to have become hypoxic and then had a stroke.   Dogs often recover from strokes, but this was not the case.  There was neurologic symptoms and seizure activity.   Sometimes, new onset seizures in a mature dog can be an indication of a brain tumor.   I am a big proponent of running the mile with dogs and I have done well doing so.  However, this dog was suffering badly last night, and we elected to euthanize him.    I have been very lucky in that the many dogs I have had as a part of my life have passed comfortably, and that I have not had to have very many euthanized.  However, when I must, I will.  When it is the right thing to do, I will.

                 This was done at not too great a distance from the other dogs simply because we could not easily relocate a seizing dog who was in pain.  Normally I would have shielded the other dogs from such a thing.
This morning, our dogs, and even Sebastian's sister know what happened but seem understands that we did what we did because we had no other real choice..I will watch them all carefully through the day.

                  We will miss Sebastian very much., and take care of his canine family as well as his sister.  I still feel very sad. It's funny that no matter how much you intellectually accept that for the hundreds of days of joy a dog gives you, we ultimately will experience some days of grief and loss when they pass from here, through euthanization or naturally.  Those latter days of loss never become easy to weather.