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Author: Eileen Warner
Serendipitys name literally means - a lucky knack of finding important things out by accident. I dont believe it has been by accident that we have discovered many important things from this alpaca. Her story begins much the same as any other young female alpaca in the Northeastern section of this country. She was born on a large well-respected farm in Connecticut. We purchased her to start our foundation herd for our new farm, Alpaca Hill Farm, in Seymour, CT. Serendipity has lovely thick medium-fawn colored fiber. When we chose her, we joked about her bleached blonde top knot that could have only been colored at the beauty salon.
Before buying animals for our foundation herd, we initially purchased two geldings, built a small barn, and installed a five foot high predator fence around our one acre pasture. My husband Tom, a remodeling contractor, built another small barn as we began purchasing more animals.
We had plans to construct a large barn for our herd in the fall. As a teacher, I knew that learning about proper alpaca care was extremely important. To familiarize ourselves with the alpaca industry we talked with breeders, read books and researched information about alpacas. We tried to follow advice from our breeder, the information in books and internet articles.
We had our animals on a worming program, as we had been cautioned about parasites. We were aware of the meningeal worm parasite carried by whitetailed deer and passed in their feces to animals such as llamas and alpacas. We have always had deer on our property, but felt with the fencing and the worming program our animals received that they would be protected from parasites.
Serendipity was delivered to our farm in the spring of 2005 with a pink ribbon tied around her halter along with a young male we had acquired. She and our other young alpacas settled in and were growing into fine animals. My husband and I looked forward to breeding Serendipity and having her crias on our farm. We purchased a pregnant female, and Serendipity began sharing a pasture with our new acquisition, Pristina.
One sunny, warm summer day in early fall, my husband went to the pasture to check on our animals. He noticed that Serendipity was cushing and appeared to be shaking. He was concerned and encouraged her to stand. She was unsteady on her feet and quickly cushed again. These appeared as odd symptoms since that morning and the evening before she appeared to be in excellent health.
Tom immediately contacted our veterinarian who asked many questions about her
condition and the pasture area that she was enclosed in. It had been a warm, dry summer and the pasture was quite dry with no low-lying wet areas. The vet arrived later in the day and examined Serendipity. Upon examination, Dr. McClure quickly diagnosed her as having contracted the meningeal worm parasite. The veterinarian started Serendipity on an aggressive treatment program recommended for this parasite by Stephen R. Purdy DVM, Professor of Large Animal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA. This treatment included anti-inflammatory drugs and ivermectin.
We were concerned and surprised that Serendipity had contracted this parasite. Our veterinarian explained that even though the pasture was not a wet one; slugs and snails could still carry the parasite through the fencing. We had vaccinated our animals but were unaware that the recommended frequency was every 4 weeks with ivermectin in high risk areas. Serendipity responded immediately to this protocol and within several days to a weeks time she had regained almost all of her coordination and physical abilities. She appeared to be quite well. Unfortunately, approximately four weeks later her condition took a turn for the worse.
She started dragging her hind feet, began losing coordination, had difficulty standing again, and displayed some paralysis. To make matters worse the weather had turned cold and rainy. The more aggressive female Serendipity was housed with would not allow her into the small barn. Our veterinarian had warned us to keep a close eye on her as this physical regression often happened with the meningeal worm. Serendipity was treated with the same medical protocol as before. Our large barn was under construction so we moved her into a make shift hospital in our garage. The breeder we bought her from was kind enough to bring down a young female (we were in the process of purchasing) so Serendipity would have company now that she was away from the herd.
This began the long process of making sure that she was able to stand, stretch, and urinate every few hours. My husband and I took turns getting her up, massaging her and
washing her as she would otherwise lie in her urine and feces.
Throughout this entire process Serendipity was determined to stand when she could and always allowed us to help her when she couldnt. We knew we needed to do all we could for this determined animal. She would longingly call to the herd on the days she was able to stand and hobble in the small paddock outside of our garage. She just wanted to be with her herd.
Serendipity did not appear to be regaining mobility, so we sought out advice from Dr. McClure who recommended acupuncture as a treatment. We arranged to have her treated with acupuncture at Beckett Associates Veterinary Services, LLC in Glastonbury, CT. Serendipity made slow but steady gains with her acupuncture treatments. We were again hopeful that we could place her back with the rest of the herd as our barn was almost completed and Serendipitys coordination and muscle control was much better. After placing her with the herd in the female paddock, we noticed that she did not have the stability needed on the hilly terrain and again was losing coordination. Dr. Beckett suspected that she might have pulled muscles because she did not have sufficient stability and strength in her legs.
She had come so far in her recovery and here we were again with a dilemma. Our backs simply could no take all of the daily lifting and supporting necessary to give her the exercise therapy she so desperately needed, but this animal was determined to get better. We prayed for a miracle. Serendipity had grown so near and dear to her hearts. It no longer mattered to us if we could breed her; we just wanted her to walk, run and play with the herd she missed so badly.
We had recently attended a seminar sponsored by the New York Alpaca and Llama Association. This seminar featured Dr. Steven Purdy and during his presentation we had seen a picture of Ben, the first and only alpaca on wheels. Ben also had contracted the meningeal worm and had been using his wheels successfully for over three years. We remembered Ben and his wheels and decided to investigate this option for Serendipity.
Dr. Beckett put us in contact with Eddie from Eddies Wheels for Pets located in Shelburne Falls, MA. Eddie and his company build approximately 2,300 wheels for dogs and cats per year and just happened to have made the set of alpaca wheels - for Ben. We contacted Eddie who enthusiastically agreed to make a set of alpaca wheels - for Serendipity. We were able to measure her and fax the measurements to Eddie who within 2-3 weeks completed the custom wheels for her. Several days after Christmas, Tom drove to Shelburne Falls and picked up the custom set of alpaca wheels.
The new barn was completed and all of the animals had been moved in. Tom and I anxiously placed Serendipity into her wheels. We fastened her chest strap and hooked the two pins to fasten the lightweight harness. It fit her perfectly. But how would she react we wondered. It took barely 30 seconds to find out. She took off across the barn running! She now walks, runs, and plays with her fellow alpacas in the pasture and she is truly a member of the herd again.
The other day I remarked to my husband that I had to chase her all over the pasture to catch her. She is one free wheeling alpaca. Serendipity, I think not! Its more like a
miracle in the form of wheels and a courageous, determined alpaca who wears them.
Authors Note: We plan to add muscovy ducks to our farm in the spring to help aid in the prevention of this parasite. Muscovy ducks and guinea hens are known to eat the slugs that spread meningeal worm.
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