Honestly, the last thing I want in this world is another animal. I know my sister won’t believe me, but I really have all the animals I can handle. After all, I have one precious pup dying of cancer and I already have the entire colonial farm animal collection – down to the very last snuggly little piggy, Midge. My barn is full and when I say full I mean love – and crap. A lot of work goes into keeping that place from falling apart. And in the winter they can’t just graze on the pasture. Hay costs money and chicken feed is not purchased for, you know - chicken feed.
On the other hand, I can barely take the tension filled now dark drive home every evening. My stomach is in knots wondering if there’s been a coyote attack or Frank is roosting on the barn, if Alice is sitting on top of the chicken coop. I hope Norton and Midge are cuddled up in their pigpen and Alexander is tucked in his corner of the barn. Safe.
Night after night, my sleep is stolen by the sound of Irish warning howling coyotes to stay away. I worry about Lucky down in the pasture unable to walk let alone run. Death by coyote pack seems horrific. The yips from the pack in the hills taking there prey keep me from getting any real rest. I am at the window several times a night listening – just in case I need to rush to the pasture and intervene. The other night I heard such chilling sounds I stepped into Henry’s boots and ran in my flannel pajamas with my air horn to the barn for fear a coyote had slipped under the gap in the sheep pen door. It was a false alarm.
There are three animals that protect a herd. First, is the donkey. To begin they will sound the alarm with an “EEEEEAhhhhh” that can be heard for quite a distance. Next they run and lure the predator away, kicking the unsuspecting culprit with deadly aim – They’re next assault, I call - the flamenco-dancer-stomp. They charge the intruder and stomp repeatedly with their front feet. Once they have their adversary pinned they go to stage three: the bite.
Miracle performed this three-pronged assault beautifully when she first came. She bonded with the sheep and goats and begrudgingly looked after the geese. She used her arsenal of defense many times and I felt she was in control. In three years, I never lost an animal. The game warden often mentioned this surprised him when I’d report a cougar sighting, “After all, you’re practically running a lunch buffet out there.” What could I say? Miracle was a – well – miracle. But she like many females fell in love – and quit work.
The next recommended herd guardian is an Anatolian shepherd. And as it happens I have one of these. Anatolians are fierce protectors. They can withstand the cold. Many live in the barn and stay with their flocks full time. But mine although interested in working part-time would rather spend his evenings on the sofa watching “Dancing with the Stars”. So he’s no solution.
At this point the only option left is to get rid of all my other animals, as they’re starting to get picked off one by bone. Or get a llama. What I don’t’ know about llama’s could fill a book so I began researching. Googling. And calling around. I spoke to Toby because she’d owned a couple. She told me about their feet, their feed and what she thought. I looked on craigslist because I didn’t want to spend a lot of money and figured I might be able to pick up a slightly used llama. Finally, I talked to a man who told me about a woman who didn’t live too far from me who was an expert in llamas. I called her.
Niki Kuklenski owned many llamas – none of which were for sale, but she said she’d love to have us over to talk about llamas and have us meet a few. She also mentioned she liked to help people find the right llama. So I got Henry, wrangled up Awesomez and headed out to meet some llamas.
“What do you think of your mom looking at a llama?” Awesomez asked Henry.
“When my mom says let’s go Look at an llama, that’s mom-speak for get a llama and take it home with us,” Henry said looking out the window.
“The ones we’re going to see today are not even for sale!” I protested.
“I know you.” Henry said without missing a beat.
“At least I know you can’t take one home in a minivan,” Awesomez looked over at me and chuckled.
We got out of the van and were introduced to about twenty different llamas. We were sniffed and scrutinized. Llamas it turns out have no idea of personal space.
We learned llamas are similar to cats. They investigate you when they feel like it. Not all are good guardians. Males are perverts and will kill the female sheep and goats they’re protecting trying to mate them. Llamas should only spit at each other or if really threatened. They should not just go around spitting at people that is the equivalent of having a dog that bites. Llamas need llama pellets, selenium and hardly ever go in a barn. They like being outside, need a bit of shelter and hardly eat a thing. Some breeds you sheer for fiber some you don’t. If you do sheer them then you do it about once a year. You trim their feet every couple of months. Llamas can cost thousands of dollars or even be free. “Oh and you can put them in a minivan,” Niki said off-handedly walking toward the tack room. “They’ll cush right down.”
I glanced at Awesomez who could barely keep from laughing. We did not go home with a llama in my minivan. But we did get some leads on free llamas.
A couple of days later, Henry and I were in the car on our way to meet “Breezy”. The drive we thought was going to be about three hours one-way. Henry didn’t mind he just popped in “Animal House” and leaned back.
After the main feature, the bonus features, the director’s commentary and the anniversary extras Henry asked sleepily, “ How much longer?” We were well past the three-hour mark, I looked at the exit number on the directions and glanced at the off ramp sign, quickly deducing we were only about two-thirds there. After some discussion, and the promise of a pizza, we decided since we already gone this far we’d keep going.
When the sign “42 miles to Portland” came into view I had to laugh. Had we known it was going to take us six hours we never would have gotten in the car, but here were. We got off the freeway and made our way to the llama place. Breezy was adorable. She had a beautiful face and a cream and camel colored coat. As we looked at her we wondered if she was going to be ours – “I just wormed her and did her feet. She’s ready to go he said as he went in her pen and tried to put her lead on her. I felt guilty. He’d obviously thought we were going to leave with her today. Suddenly I felt a little trapped.
Breezy pinned her ears as she threw her head back and worked up a good one. She spat and spat at the nice man who tried to brush it off. “She’s a little cranky right now,” he apologized, but she’ll settle down. I thought of my grandmother Irene – “Pretty is as pretty does” she used to say.
“Henry go on over there so I can get a picture of you with Breezy.” I suggested. Henry just glared at me arms folded not budging.
“Can we meet the babies in the lower pasture?” Henry redirected already done with Breezy. They were friendly, snuggly and sweet. From the moment we came to the gate they ran across the field to greet us. Their gate is so funny they look kind of like a camel when they move. It was hilarious to seen them romp toward us. Taller than us, they craned their necks over the tops of us. As I was speaking, to the owner I felt something - turning my head slightly I saw a llama face only ½ an inch away. I couldn’t help but giggle.
One llama considered abnormal – had defective blue eyes. He was Breezy’s son, which is why they were getting rid of her. Patches looked a little like a vampire llama. The other one was Rizzo. Henry fell in love with Patches. And although Patches was available he was a both a baby and a boy. And therefore out of the question. Just as Henry began to beg and try and convince me Patches wouldn’t be a problem, Patches made an un-godly gurgling sound and mounted Rizzo.
“What was that creepy weird sound?” Henry laughed.
“That’s orgling,” the woman replied.
“Good name,” Henry confirmed.
"It's the mating sound," she explained.
"It sounds more like the date rape sound," Henry laughed again.
We went to yet another pasture and wrangled one llama to the side. This was Annabelle. She was ten years-old and much sweeter than Breezy, to be sure but completely uninterested in us. Of course, I knew she won’t be like a dog, but she still just didn’t seem right. I didn’t connect with her nor did Henry.
After that we were introduced to a few more llamas. One little girl named Cocoa who was a doll. And despite her youth we might have taken her, but she wasn’t for sale. So against all odds we left without a llama. Instead, I spent 6 hours listening to why I should get Patches despite his mounting and orgling.
That night I reported back to my llama mentor about the spitting incident. Appalled she ferreted up a few more - free llama possibilities. And two days later, Awesomez and I were on a ferry to meet more llamas.
“I noticed the seats are down in your van this morning,” Awesomez snickered. “Is there some possibility you’re going to attempt to bring a llama back in the van on a ferry? Do they allow llamas on ferries in Washington?” She said as she took a sip of her morning coffee the wind blowing as the boat sped across the bay.
“I see,” she said as we took in the spectacular blue sky the wind whipping our hair in ninety-eight directions.
When we drove off the ferry we head out of Port Townsend. “You mean you don’t know how to get there? We’re just supposed to look for a car on the side of the road?” Awesomez asked incredulously. I hadn’t told her this information, as she can be a little excitable. This was a need to know basis operation. She was also unaware at this point that if we didn’t find the llama of my dreams we were headed another hour or so south to one of the places they filmed “Twilight”. I figured I’d spring that on her later – if necessary.
“She said she’d be there, just think of this as an adventure,” I said. Soon after we spied a car lurking on the side of the road. The window slid down,
“Follow me,” she said and obediently, I fell behind her car. We wound up a rutted dirt road into the hills.
Bouncing around in her seatbelt like a rag doll Awesomez noted, “This is uhhhh way uhhh more remote than yourrrrr house.” And then, on cue, the forest opened and a lovely very suburban looking house sat in a clearing.
I parked and we got out greeting our newest llama-lady, Mikie. Without a lot of excess chitchat we head down the hill to the barn. Along the path we met a muddy old light brown dog with a limp who decided to allow us to continue.
As a bevy of llamas came into view, but one llama stood out. She was tall and goofy looking. I liked her immediately. They were all dark chocolate brown with various markings. I stood there hopeful.
“This one right here is Belle, she’s the proven herd guardian,” Tim told us. Sometimes you get what you hope for and this was one of those times. I couldn’t help smiling – Belle – maybe she wouldn’t mind Annabelle.
After she was haltered I took Annabelle for a little get-to-know-you-walk. The walk went ridiculously well. Annabelle and I were like two old friends.
“She’s really taken to her,” her owner, said to Awesomez as I walked by, “I’m kind of amazed.” Annabelle was giving me tickly llama kisses on my face.
“She’s really good with animals,” I could hear Awesomez singing my praises.
(not a fancy edited video but. it's better than nothing?)
“Considering how things are going I think we have a match,” Mikie said suggesting Belle might just hop in the van with me. We all walked over to the Odyssey to give it a try. I got in the back holding the lead rope. Annabelle peered in considering the situation. She stood there eyeing me wondering what I was doing. Sadly, Belle decided she really wasn’t up for a car trip and so I walked her back and put her in her pen with her friends. “You’re my llama.” I whispered to her. She nibbled my ear with her soft llama lips.
When we were driving away, Awesomez said, “you love her don’t you?” I nodded surprised at how I felt. Who knew I was going to love a llama? Love is funny, you never know when it’s going to find you.