It started out a glorious morning. My beloved herdsire Magnum was coming home from a long breeding engagement in Colorado. Another of our herdsires, Firecracker, was on trailer as well. IN addition there were three other alpacas who belonged to me but that I had never seen in person – Guardian Angel (our Archangel daughter) and her male cria by side, and Foxy Lady who we had gotten in exchange for several of Magnum’s breedings.
I was thrilled with the prospect of hugging Magnum’s neck again and greeting the new arrivals. The transporter was to be here at 8:30 AM. This was the kids’ first morning out of school for the break so we all lingered in bed a little longer than usual.
When I heard the buzzer indicating that the transport trailer had entered our front gate, I flew out the door. Running towards the trailer, I saw Magnum’s head in the back window. I almost wept with joy! I hurriedly greeted Capt. Dick Hegeman of Alpacas In The Forest, who was driving the rig. We exchanged pleasantries and got Magnum off the trailer. Poor alpaca had been traveling for 7 days!
As I walked Magnum into the barn something caught my eye in the first stall on the right. A lifeless brown lump and a placenta.
My heart sunk. Tapioka had had a stillborn. I felt an empty pang in the pit of my stomach. Disappointment flooded through me, “Oh no!” Dick and I both said at the same time. I quickly put Magnum in his pen and rushed to get back to the dismal scene. “It’s stomach looks like it moved a little,” Dick said.
“Really?” I asked disbelieving. I scurried into the pen and picked up the lifeless cria who hung like a limp dishrag in my arms. “She’s really cold,” Dick said. “Do you have a hot tub you can warm her in?” “No, but I have a bathtub,” I said, without thinking.
“Go ahead. I’m empty so I can wait while you see about the cria,” Dick said. “Let me know what I can do to help!”
“Okay!” I hollered over my shoulder as I ran to the house with my little dishrag.”
As I ran, I looked down at the cria. “It’s dead,” I thought. “It’s already dead.” Caught up in the drama I thought I’d try anyway. There was no life in the cria’s eyes. No spark to show me she was with us. I was going on a fool’s errand, but for some reason I was compelled to go.
I rushed past everyone in the house, up the stairs, and plopped her (in a trash bag) into the bathtub and began running the warm water. Did I see an attempt at breathing? I gave mouth to mouth. Doing this on a new cria is an experience that brings mixed feelings. Their little mouths are tiny. They are dirty with remnants of the “saran wrap” having just been removed. So it’s a tad bit ewww. But the sense of heroism one feels from giving breath, possibly life, to another makes it worthwhile.
As the water filled the tub, the cria’s eyes still looked lost, faraway, unlooking. But occasionally I would see an attempt to breathe. After a bit I felt the need to get back to Dick and all the animals still on the trailer. Sorry that I couldn’t be two places at once, I recruited my husband, the Artist to hold the little cria’s head above water and keep warming her up.”I hope this animal doesn’t die while I’m sitting here holding it,” he said.
“She was dead when I brought her in,” I called back. Hoping that might make him feel better if the little thing did expire.
Back outside I went. We unloaded a couple of alpacas before my son called to me that, “Dad needs you!” Oh dear. Back to the house.
We were out of hot water, but the cria was drawing shallow, desperate breaths. The Artist went to heat up some water on the stove. I decided to pull the baby out of the water and blow dry him. My children kept coming in and admiring the cria. They were curious, and each got a turn helping out by bringing me towels, hairdryers, and heating pads.
The cria came to life a bit more as we blow dried him. As I held up his head to dry it, he seemed to want to hold it up. He mostly laid there while we dried him. During this process we discovered two key pieces of information about the cria. It was a boy. And though he looked brown, underneath his fiber was rose gray. His face was so pretty I had guessed that he was a girl, but the equipment told a different story.
I left the children blow drying the little guy with strict instructions to the Artist not to let them burn him up. Back to the barn. Dick and I unloaded the last of the alpacas. I called my vet’s office to see if I could run the cria up to their clinic for an oxygen treatment. My vets were not on call. I thought wistfully how much they deserve a vacation, especially around the holidays….but why now? An unsatisfactory conversation with the on call vet had me frustrated. (They have little, if any, knowledge of alpacas.) I noticed my visitors, and quickly hung up the phone.
Sparkle’s human parents, Cheryl and Andy Bowen, of Humming Star Alpacas, had come over for a visit. I was happy to see them, but feeling frazzled…
I introduced Cheryl and Andy to Dick and scooted back and forth to check on my patient, and check with my alpaca peeps. I decided to bring the cria back to the barn to be closer to his mom. I brought Cheryl with me to help carry all our heating equipment. As we topped the landing, the scene melted my heart. There was the Artist, blow drying the little guy, with the most tender, adoring look on his face. He had been massaging the cria, stimulating his muscles. “He likes it when I do this,” he said as he showed me where to blow dry the cria’s neck. “He’s sitting up. And he wants to stand up.”
“Do what? He wants to get up?”
“Yeah, look” With a little help the cria was standing. I was floored. Wow.
Downstairs the kids were watching tv. “Look kids!” I exclaimed, placing the little guy on his four legs.
The cria took a few steps into the sunroom. One of the twins began immediately hugging and helping him. They couldn’t believe it. The cria we had seen an hour ago was such a goner, how in the world had he made such a miraculous recovery? “Phoenix.” the Artist suggested. We all agreed it was the perfect name.
We took Phoenix outside to see his mom. “I can’t believe that’s the same animal!” Dick exclaimed upon seeing him. Ever since then Phoenix has acted like a “normal” cria. He walks around, nurses, and seems fine. strong. He is only 9 lbs. and with a start like that he will be an “at risk” cria. But he has fight like I’ve never before seen.
Move over Magnum. A tiny little Phoenix has stolen my heart.