Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Woolies and their Woes (part one: A Farewell)

I'm not sure how many readers follow my social networking accounts as well, but I'm sure some of you have heard that poor Gertrude didn't make it this past week.

Gertrude, her first week with us.
On Wednesday of last week I got up extra early to check on Gert. When I found her she was lying down, panting and grinding her teeth as if in pain. I knew it was time. The sparkle was gone from her eye and she looked at me with a very sad and calm expression that I hoped I would never see on such a spunky creature. I knelt beside her and scratched her cheek, and while she took some comfort from it, it was obviously through the kind of thick haze of lethargy that clouds someone on death's door. I tried to get her to stand, to nibble some alfalfa, to sniff a dandelion (which had been the only thing she would eat with appetite the day before)... she was only interested in letting the inevitable run it's course. I tried giving her a final dose of Banamine to ease whatever pain she was in and quickly found that she didn't even have the strength to swallow. The paste sat on her tongue where I knew it would do at least a little bit of good as it absorbed through her mouth.

As I walked to the house I dialed the vet and scheduled him to come out to the farm to help her on her way. Gertrude was definitely a pet sheep and as such she deserved to go quickly and quietly with the aid of the "big pink syringe".

I trudged up the stairs to our bedroom and flopped down beside Jeremy, who was still dozing, and told him that she wasn't going to make it. It was a sad realization, but it wasn't surprising to me. This poor ewe had been battling illness for more than eight weeks. I rolled over on the bed and propped myself up on my elbows so I could see her from the window.

After a minute I saw her shudder and her back legs spasm and I sprang from the bed. I don't even remember traveling from the house to the field. I can't even tell you if I used the gate or hopped the fence. Before I knew what was happening, I was kneeling beside her again, just as she gave a deep sigh and was gone. It was hard to watch the residual electrical impulses from her brain wrack her body after that. I knew she was gone. Her heart had stopped, as had her breathing, and her pupils had relaxed, but each time she twitched there was this unreasonable hope in my heart that she had decided to continue her fight. As her body finally settled I realized that more than anything, I was left intensely inspired by her determination to keep going as long as she did. Eight grueling weeks spent battling mysterious illness and bizarre symptoms, fighting what we're nearly sure was a genetic predisposition to white muscle disease as the damage to her heart and diaphragm slowly weakened her - She could be a poster child for the Icelandic sheep: Strong, Independent, Persistent and ultimately Stubborn.

 We left her body in the field to try to keep Brighid as calm as possible while we made preparations to pick up a new companion for her. It's funny how, despite being incredibly sad, one's brain can make the smooth transition from one crisis to another. Brighid was going to realize sooner or later that she was alone and it wasn't going to be pretty. She spent the early afternoon snuggled up with some chickens near Gertrude's body. It was such a sad thing to see. Poor Brighid had already lost her mother earlier this year to grass tetany, and now she had lost her best friend.

Finally we removed Gertrude's body and buried her beside Ingrid's at a friend's house down the road. Of course the spot we picked to dig was clay and rocks which we had to chuckle about; nothing with Gertrude was ever easy.

We put away the poultry for the night and got in the station wagon, bound for Olivet to pick up a new companion (or two) for Brighid...


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