An experience can be difficult, end badly and still be worth it. So it is with the last chapter of Consty’s story.
Constellatione has been with us for 17 years. Toward the end of last year, he started having difficulty walking. His feet would go every which way when he took a step. In early March, he went down and was unable to get himself back up.
After desperate day of him being outside in high winds, we were able to help him walk into the barn with the assistance of our vet and a young intern.
At first, the diagnosis was that Consty had a parasite that attacks the spine. Later, it was determined that a cancerous tumor was pressing on his spine. Either way, he couldn’t stand.
A routine developed of us lifting him with a cattle sling and an electric winch twice a day to keep blood flow to his legs. It also seemed to refresh his spirit. He would use his regained height to look out the doorway at what his herdmates were doing or check out the bird activity.
We had to look in on him regularly to see if he had fallen on his side — a position that’s not healthy for llamas for an extended period of time — and lift him back upright. Installing a surveillance camera in the barn allowed us to check remotely using our smart phones. Those checks included trips out to the barn in the middle of the night and making the 50-minute round trip home from work at lunchtime.
It was on one of those lunchtime runs that I came home, put a hand under his neck and under his body to lift and saw fixed and dilated pupils looking back at me. Consty had passed.
It was three months after he first went down. We knew all along that he wasn’t going to recover.
Still, it was a shock.
That morning’s lift had gone extraordinarily well. We left him looking bright-eyed and sitting up taller than he had in many days. He was munching his "greens" -- grass and clover snipped from the field and delivered to him.
Those were our measures of hope. They turned out to be Consty’s last rally.
To keep it all in perspective, I think about standing in a pet supply store back in March, looking at absorbent pads to put under Consty. A llama would normally stand to relieve himself, which wasn’t an option for him. We wanted to minimize how much he would get on himself.
The pads came in quantities of 50 and 150. I reached for the smaller pack, figuring that at two a day, we’d never go beyond 50.
We used them up and went back for the larger pack more than once. We’re convinced our efforts extended his life and gave us more days that included our big man.
Consty was the largest — but the most gentle — of our llamas. Despite his friendly disposition with people, he would not hesitate to exercise his size advantage to keep order in the herd.
Anyone at a real farm operation — frankly, most people anywhere — would look at our situation and think we went overboard. That it was taking a lot of trouble to keep him living not a full life for a llama.
But that’s a conclusion people make without having looked into those eyes. His bright, clear eyes reflected an animal still full of life. We couldn’t look into them and say, “Your time is up.”
These are individual choices, and I wouldn’t judge others for taking a different path. The routine of lifts and position checks severely limited our lives for those three months, but they meant continuing Consty’s.
It wasn’t that big of a deal, and it brought us very close to another living being.
Consty’s story ends here, but the effects of our hours spent meeting his needs when he was helpless to do it himself will stay with us. So will the appreciation of the neighboring farmers who lent us the sling, the people who helped us to lift him, the vets who treated him and the many people who asked about him and expressed concern.
Consty had an effect on them as well. Those three months had purpose for him and for all of us.