Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Alpaca Story Time With Sprite

Sprite Before Broken Leg

One of the reasons I moved to the Willamette Valley of central Oregon was to be near Oregon State University's (OSU) Veterinary Hospital.  It has one of the premier Camelid vet schools.  Moving to Creswell, I would be near the latest studies and I figured there would be good vets in the area knowledgeable on alpaca care.  You always hope for no emergencies but if there is one, being near a vet hospital like OSU would be a godsend.

On a cool June morning, I went out to the barn like I always do to open the gates to the big pastures and let the alpacas out when I noticed Sprite not getting up.  I thought she might not be feeling well the way she was laying there so I walked up to her.  She got up and it was obvious immediately that she had somehow broken her leg.  I called my vet and my nearest alpaca neighbor for assistance.  My vet said I should get her up to OSU right away and he would call in the referral.  He talked me through how to splint her leg and Ann came over to assist me in doing that and getting Sprite into my car.  Fortunately, my Honda Element lends itself so easily in hauling alpacas.  We gingerly got her in the car and rushed her the hour to OSU.

The leg required a plate and surgery to repair the fracture.  Their skill, knowledge and state of the art equipment not only saved Sprite's leg but her life.  She remained at OSU for about a week while they made sure healing went correctly.  She did really well and came home for the remaining part of her recuperation.  It was two months of having to be in a small pen while her leg healed.

Sprite had just had her first birthday and being young and used to running in big pastures was hard to keep her in a small pen.  She was bored stiff and not happy being confined.  I would go out as often as I could and offer carrots and visit with her.  Because of the handling she got, she was rather skittish of me and she had been just coming around before her accident in becoming quite social.  But with every time we handled her being so painful, it was no wonder she didn't want much to do with any human.  I tried to just sit outside her pen for awhile and offer carrots or other goodies without doing anything else to her.  I would take a book and my lunch sometimes and read out loud to her.  I enjoyed it even if Sprite didn't.  I noticed though she would relax and lay down after a bit. 

My friend Ann's grand-daughters were visiting her farm for a few days so I had the idea of inviting them over to spend time with Sprite.  I thought maybe a child might be more welcome than us adults that seemed to only remind her of pain and suffering.  I asked if they would like to come and see Sprite and read to her and give her carrots.  Annika thought that would be fun and she came over.  We picked out a Shel Silversteen book from my shelf as we both agreed those silly poems were perfect for someone not feeling well.  They would lift Sprite's spirits.  We took the book and a bag of carrots with us.  I placed a stool in Sprite's pen and left Annika and Sprite alone in the pen.  Annika has such a way with animals and it didn't take long for Sprite to enjoy her carrots and poetry.  It was so sweet watching Annika read to Sprite and after reading a poem making sure she showed Sprite the pictures.  A few times I saw Sprite look over Annika's shoulder as if to look at the page and read along with her.  Sprite seemed to be quite comfortable with the entire process and they shared carrots both munching away as Annika read aloud.

I have found that when I am stuck with socializing an alpaca that having a young child can be the key in breaking through the alpaca's fear and mistrust.  A child is more their size and non-threatening.  Sprite will come for carrots but she still looks at me with great mistrust.  But the afternoon with Annika showed me her willingness and enjoyment of being with a person.

This gave me another idea.  Wouldn't it be great to invite children that have reading difficulties to visit the alpacas and read to them?  The alpacas don't care if they miss or struggle over words.  I bet normally reluctant readers would find it fun and be more enthusiastic to read to an alpaca.  The R.E.A.D.S. program does something like this with dogs.  Admittedly, dogs are easier to bring to kids but it would be another great avenue to encourage kids who are challenged in that area to do more reading.   I'm sure my Great Pyrenees, Moose, would love to be read to if nothing else and he makes a great pillow too!  Sounds like a trip to the wonderful library in Creswell is in my future to talk to the folks there about having some of their reading groups come to the farm.  How fun will that be!

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