Last week, I helped make the decision to put down a favorite alpaca. Actually, we had made the decision months ago, but my husband and I kept putting off calling the vet. It’s not like ending a life is pleasant, but in her case, this was far better than the alternative of staying alive as a host to chorioptic mange mites – microscopic hoodlums that burrowed into her skin and helped themselves to her muscle tissues. We called a vet who identified them and gave us some suggestions to treat her. This was three years ago. Putting down a pet is a matter of knowing when to say goodbye.
Could we have saved her? Probably. But here’s the catch. Treating these mites requires far more than a monthly shot of ivomec. Some alpacas do improve with increased weekly ivomec injections, but Golden Margarita, “Rita” (her nickname) did not. Ivomec kills mites feeding off live skin, but not the ones feeding off dead skin. And she had a lot of that.
We were told to use topical creams and Frontline, not only on Rita but the entire herd. Turns out that all alpacas harbor parasitic mites, but some alpacas are far more allergic and cannot tolerate them. If we wanted to save Rita from mites, we would have had to eradicate mites off of the entire farm. It would have been a heroic undertaking involving a lot of time, money and effort.
For months, we used Nu-Stock (which works great to help restore fur and fleece growth on most alpacas, dogs, cats, rabbits – lots of animals) on Rita and we sprayed with dermatox and Frontline. Other animals that were in her immediate vicinity, we also treated.
Her condition worsened. What started out on her belly and in the creases under her front legs, soon affected her feet and toes. Then the skin on her lips and around her eyes showed the scale tell-tale signs of crusty scabs and light bleeding. Then the flies came. Shearing her was absolutely gruesome.
One of the reasons we didn’t put her down immediately is that we liked her. Plus, she seemed to enjoy her daily meals of grain and still enjoyed pronking about the pastures many evenings with the rest of the herd. If it weren’t for the putrid smell and the strips of fleece that dripped off her body, exposing the crusty, scabbed skin beneath, a behavior observation wouldn’t reveal there was anything wrong with her.
Other alpaca farmers told us they treated their mite-ridden animals and had happy endings. So, we tried to a point. We gave her more ivomec. Spending $120 on a month’s supply of Frontline, plus paying for Nu-Stock for several animals, Swat (to repel flies), Bronco (another fly repellant) and other topicals started to add up. And, she wasn’t getting any better.
We let another year go by, hoping she’d bounce back. She didn’t.
Then, this spring, during one of our warm spells, I noticed oozing wounds that attracted hundreds of flies. JR called the vet. Last Thursday, May 3, 2012, we said goodbye to Rita. When the vet arrived, she took one whiff of Rita, saw the open sores and immediately said that we’d made the right decision. This was no way to live.
I didn’t get all wishy-washy. In fact, once I knew the vet was coming, I felt better. A lot of pet owners have a terrible time putting down a trusted animal companion. I understand. I can’t read or watch Marley. But hanging on to Rita felt selfish. And, alpacas may be pet like, but they are still livestock. We didn’t enter this business to go broke on treatments in a losing battle. I hope that when it’s time to say goodbye to any of our other animals, I won’t cloud my judgement with sentiment and longing for memories of what they had been when perfectly healthy. Part of being alive has to do with knowing that life is not permanent. And when death is stalking, sometimes that knowledge compels us to make hard choices.
Sirius Alpacas is a family farm in Chardon, Ohio that raises and boards alpacas for fun, therapy and profit. The farm uses its fleeces in the production of high-quality yarns and felted goods. Sirius Alpacas also imports fair-trade Andean items including socks, scarves, hats, gloves and more from Peru and Bolivia, offering the style and culture of South American goods while helping the farmers, artists and craftsmen of that region. Lori Weber, co-owner of Sirius Alpacas, is the creator and writer of this alpaca blog. You may reach her at Lori@SiriusAlpacas.com.