© 2023 MJH Life Sciences™ and dvm360 | Veterinary News, Veterinarian Insights, Medicine, Pet Care. All rights reserved.
Santa Claus and his atypical reindeer
An unusual encounter with veterinary patients leaves Dr. Brock running for his life, covered in smelly spit.
The man standing in front of me looked like a short, cyanotic Santa Claus. He was wearing a white shirt with strange stitching running vertically next to the buttonholes and a cap that said, “Llamas rock.”
His breathing was so labored that he would pause after each sentence to catch his breath. I was worried that any degree of exercise would kick him past his reserve of oxygen and into a hypoxic collapse. I stood there patiently listening to him tell me that all three of his llamas needed to have blood drawn and sent to the lab for testing. I had driven 45 minutes to get to this place, and what I saw before me was simply amazing.
The weeds in the pasture and along the perimeter of the pasture had grown to no less than nine feet tall. His description of the geography indicated that somewhere in the forest of giant weeds was a shed housing three grown llamas that were completely gentle and loving. The owner told me that his health problems prohibited him from going into the weed forest with me but that I would find things just as he had described and that the docile llamas would be easy to catch and get blood from. He handed me two halter-type things and wished me well.
My technician asked if she should go with me. I studied the area and noticed a small place devoid of weeds in one corner of the pasture. I told her to stay there, and I would see if I could herd the llamas to that area. Then she could hold them while I drew the blood. So she headed to the southwest corner of the five- or six-acre habitat.
As I hacked my way into the weed jungle, eventually I happened on a trail the llamas had worn in the brush. It eventually led to a clearing with a three-sided tin shed and a water trough. I stood surveying the clearing while still in the cover of the weeds, looking for signs of life. My gaze finally came to a creature lying prone on its side, across the clearing from my vantage point.
I could see the critter rolling and contracting and could now detect moans and grunts coming from the vicinity. I left the weed forest and headed over to see what was happening. As I got closer I could see that this was indeed a llama. And I knew it was a female llama, because she was in the act of giving birth. Let me take a moment to inform you that I know nothing about llamas. I never saw one in veterinary school, and they are not native to West Texas. All I knew was that Santa Claus needed blood tests run and I was supposed to collect this blood.
It is my nature to help a critter in need, and this gal was in need. The baby that was trying to come out of her was twisted up and coming butt first. I've delivered thousands of animals and I figured a llama was no different than any other critter when it comes to dystocia. So I picked up my pace as I headed toward her to render aid.
I was about halfway across the clearing when I heard a rustling sound mixed with a guttural hiss coming from my right. The ground shook mildly from the intensity but I couldn't see what the source was. The giant weeds were swaying and rumbling as something within them rocketed toward the clearing.
I paused to think about what it might be. Suddenly another llama burst into the clearing, ears back and lips pursed. It was running straight at me at a pace that about broke the sound barrier. I was unprepared for such an encounter. I felt my fight-or-flight instinct kick in as I prepared for impact.
The thing hit me with its chest on my right side and sent me reeling into the weeds. Feet were flying-both mine and the llama's-and noises I'd never heard were filling my ears. I rolled to the left and it passed over me briefly. I regained my feet and prepared for another blow as I surveyed the weed wall to see where the attacker had gone. I could hear movement all around me but couldn't see a thing. Suddenly another, even larger llama came sprinting across the clearing.
It was obvious that I was outnumbered, so I decided to retreat. Going back on the path seemed like a bad idea because they knew the terrain better than me, so I plowed through the forest as fast as I could go. When I finally hit the fence, they were close behind me. I climbed over and fell to the ground, panting like a dog and glad to be safe.
My technician came running over just as the two male llamas hit the fence and started spitting vile fluid all over me as I lay there. Holy mackerel, what kind of a mess had I encountered? I got to my feet once again and told Santa that his female was having a baby and needed help.
We managed to get the two males penned up in a corner with some panels, and after being soaked with stinky llama spit, I got the baby out. The mama llama was sweet as she could be. I felt like she appreciated the help on the delivery, but those two males … I still occasionally have nightmares about being chased through the weed forest and doused with spit.