On Sunday morning our wonderful Diamond, mother of Olive, Heulwen and Lleu, lay down and decided she’d had enough. She didn’t look entirely happy about it, but she wasn’t uncomfortable either, and I knew that there was nothing wrong – it was simply her time to die.
One of the things I find so hard with keeping animals is knowing when to help and when to just step back. Should we call the vet? When should we call the vet? Would we be calling the vet to help Diamond or to help us? In the end I decided not to, remembering sections of Laurie Anderson’s wonderful and compassionate Heart of a Dog, and my own ethos of minimal interference, which has served us well during our time with the alpacas. So we stepped back.
She refused all food and water, and was sometimes alert, but mostly away somewhere in her mind. I would go in and out of the barn to see her, as would the other alpacas. Gwen went in once, but seemed very uncomfortable and prefered to wait for me from a distance. The point is Diamond had a mixture of peace and quiet and our attention, and it seemed to be the right thing.
On Monday evening, well over 24 hours after she lay down she lifted her head up and looked at me for the last time. I was beginning to doubt my decision, feeling this was going on for too long, but the next time I looked in, after the sun had gone down, Diamond had gone too.
We’ve moved her body to a quiet secluded place to let the scavengers and nature take their course, and meanwhile in the field, life is going on, but I can’t quite see it yet. At the moment, there is something wrong, something missing, something out of balance.
I remind myself that for an alpaca, Diamond had a great life. She arrived at Pistyll Gwyn just a couple of months after us in 2008 and she gave us our very first cria – Olive, from whom she was never separated. She was five when she came here, nineteen when she died, her life spent in one very beautiful place, with the same group of alpacas around her …
We were taking down the wooden fence to gain access to the pine end (gable end) of the barn, and suddenly there it was – some curious chiselled markings on one of the stones, pretty much completely hidden by the fence.
I had a few wistful minutes contemplating Freemasons and the Wicker Man, before Google put us straight – it is an Ordnance Survey benchmark used for measuring height above sea level. Specifically – it is a cut benchmark and it is Benchmark SN 3361 2509, 149.04m above sea level.
It has been an emotional week, at the end of an eventful few months. Poor Gwen has had a really rough ride since being diagnosed with diabetes, nearly dying in August and then adjusting to being almost completely blind. As mentioned in my previous post we had set ourselves the goal of restoring her sight, but very soon our focus had to switch to just keeping her alive, in the first instance, and then getting the diabetes back under control and returning her to a state of good health.
Well, we finally got there at the end of November, so with great excitement, me and Gwen set off to explore the possibility of cataract removal surgery at the Eye Veterinary Clinic near Leominster. Now, less than a month later, the cataracts have gone, Gwen has intra-ocular lenses, and we are all hopping about with joy and excitement on the one hand, and trying to keep her calm and rested while she recovers on the other.
The post-op care is sobering – she has to wear one of those awful collars of course, and we have to administer eye drops and other medications throughout the day, on top of her usual insulin, but it is so worth it! Taking her out for short walks is really exciting – she doesn’t know what to look at next, and the spring in her step has returned. No more bumping into fences … Her vision is not back to 100% yet – that will continue to improve for up to 3 months apparently, but even now, three days later, it is enough just having her watch us again, and to be able to negotiate the place easily and without warnings and assistance from us.
We’re not completely out of the woods, regarding possible complications, until the 6 months is up, but they become less likely as time goes on, and as we got through the really volatile first 24 hours with flying colours, I’m optimistic …
We have nothing but praise and gratitude to the staff at the Eye Veterinary Clinic and our local vets practice Market Hall Vets in St Clears, who we feel have done wonders for Gwen and supported us brilliantly as well. We have spent a small fortune, of course, but no regrets there – this has been money well spent. Speaking of which …
Hats off to Mick and Drew
The cataract surgery couldn’t have happened without the help of Mick, my dad, who very generously passed on a sizeable chunk of money that he inherited off his good friend Drew. Any small savings we had started for the barn roof had been quickly depleted by the intense veterinary dramas of the summer, and so Gwen would have had to have just accepted her lot – which she would have done. She had adjusted to being blind, but seeing her try to sort out scrapping alpacas when she couldn’t tell the front end from the back was both frightening and sad.
We’ve all been given a second chance here, so the biggest possible ‘thank you’ goes out to Mick and Drew.
I regret that I never got to meet Drew, but we’ve heard the tales of his great compassion and consideration for all animals – we like to think he would view this as a good use of his legacy, even if it is wasn’t directly used by Mick himself!
It’s been quite a week here: last Friday I noticed Gwen walk into the fence rather than go through the gate; this friday she is almost totally blind, on insulin injections and a special diet.
How on earth did we get here?
A few months back we noticed Gwen was eating and drinking more – we were actually pleased she was eating more as she has never had much of an appetite, but without much thought we treated her for various types of worms. We hadn’t connected the times when she misjudged the stairs, or bumped into a half-closed door. Easy with hindsight. I’m feeling guilty that we hadn’t returned to the vets sooner after the second worming hadn’t improved the situation, as we may have been able to save Gwen’s sight, but again – easy with hindsight. It is not as if she exhibited any signs of discomfort or distress.
The previous weekend, in Brecon, I had taken her on a long walk through Priory Wood, which was no different to usual – Gwen running off through the bluebells and ferns, or down to the river, then catching me up, and disappearing off again – the normal full-on dog stuff. It is so hard to believe that the cataracts have developed so quickly since then. Thinking about it, there were signs her vision was impaired, but she could see – five days later, she couldn’t. Apparently the diabetes is exacerbated by her hormones as she has come into season.
Two trips to the vets later and we have started stabilising her with small amounts of insulin. Actually, it’s more about stabilising us at this stage – getting us used to the twice daily routine whilst safely finding the correct dose for Gwen. We’ve also started preparing her food ourselves. I read something on the net which compared feeding a dog with commercial dog foods to feeding a child on McDonalds and Haribo – I felt like a really bad parent! She now gets a mix of brown rice, lentils, oats, some veg, tinned fish and eggs. We may need to get her some other meat protein, but as a long-term vegetarian I am struggling with the thought of directly handling meat. I’ll get over it if need be.
So we are coping with the injections and the food, all three of us. With the blindness, not so much. She can tell light from dark, and perhaps a little detail when the light is very good, but that is all. Herbert the cat seems to be aware of it, and is more forgiving of the times when he gets trampled, or is sent flying by a still over-enthusiastic dog. The alpacas are enjoying the fact that Gwen will spend more time sitting with them, rather than trying to round them up, (although she still has a go). But there’s no more dashing about the wood, exploring the fox holes and mysterious scents. We still do our full walks in the morning and afternoon, but once the light starts to go she struggles to stay on the path and would rather head for the open field. I’m hoping that when we have the diabetes under control, a bit more of her adventurousness will return and we can resume our night time walks, which surely must have been done on smell and hearing alone in the past? (It can be pitch black up there, and she would never walk in the light of my torch.) She is obviously more subdued, and at times disorientated. She rubs at her muzzle with her paws as if she is trying to clear away the cataracts herself. For Caerthan and I this is heartbreaking. I don’t know is Gwen is directly grieving the loss of her sight, but we are.
And the future? It looks like this – we get the diabetes under control over the next couple of months. Gwen then has to be spayed to stop her seasonal hormones interfering with the insulin levels, which finally puts an end to those occasional puppy considerations. Then …
… we dream of giving her cataract surgery and restoring her sight. Out of the question right now, as it is hugely expensive, but I have stopped dreaming of a new roof for the barn. Who cares? Gwen is not quite seven years old, and despite the fact that the alpacas are not sheep, her heart is in the field. Her disposition is not for the hearth rug.
Well … not quite. She had been visiting a friend in Devon, and so made a detour over here for which we are very grateful. So good to see her after nearly … 20 years!
In a nutshell … Donna-lee Iffla is my August 8th Birthday Twinnie, although she has a few years on me, not that you would notice. She is a perfect blend of poetry and pragmatism, and seems to moves her life back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, following various dreams (and men) of one sort or another. Several years ago she upped sticks from her home in Canada to be with her (much) younger Berber lover, totally inspiring those of us lucky enough to be on her email and Christmas card list!
So she comes here and just … lights up the place. It was two days of reminiscing, catching up, laughter, putting the world to rights, and stories of camels, sand dunes, a thoroughly exotic auberge, and Bandit the Dog. For me it was so good getting some of the details of her life in Morocco fleshed out and how this most down-to-earth of feminist women could adapt to islamic culture, which I must admit I had worried about. For her, I’m hoping our verdant and somewhat soggy patch of paradise was a nice change to her usual desert climes.
The visit had made the distance seem smaller. My only regret is that Youssef himself didn’t accompany DL, but that is easier said than done in a world where some can travel easily and others not. Will I accept DL’s invitation to make a return visit? I am sorely tempted, particularly now that funds are in a little better shape. I still have to get over my resistance to flying, and and the fact that Morocco, like pretty much all islamic countries, is way behind the times in its attitudes to gay men and women, but the same is true for attitudes to women generally, and DL seems to have confronted that head on with grace and courage, so maybe I could to …