Cody, The Teeny Tiny Alpaca
The Little Alpaca with a Strong Spirit
By Amber Isaac
Silken Suri Alpaca Ranch
One of the great joys of raising alpacas is watching those playful babies pronking across the pasture and marveling at the wonders of new life. Of course, one of the toughest challenges is caring for a cria who is failing to thrive.
On August 6th, 2014, I found myself facing that very situation. A pregnant female who had always produced healthy babies, suddenly dropped a tiny, six and a half pound baby girl. While crias can arrive in different sizes, in my years of raising alpacas, I had never seen one that small. Sadly, her prognosis seemed grim.
While she was too weak to stand or walk, I happily discovered she was eager to accept a bottle. With some warmed goat?s colostrum in her belly, she began to show real signs of life. That said, she still wasn?t mobile. With her safety in mind, I moved her into a pen in the house. I named her Cody.
Bottle-feeding a cria through the night isn?t easy, but can be especially rewarding when the baby is eager to eat. Little did I know that this was the first of many nights of two hour feedings with tiny Cody.
The next day, the vet came out to meet her. I didn?t forewarn her of Cody?s tiny size and her reaction confirmed my misgivings about the baby. After a long silence, she said ?Well? do what you can. She can?t go out with the herd though. She has to stay inside indefinitely.?
So began a long, exhausting routine of feedings and cleaning. Cody had rampant, watery diarrhea for the first couple weeks of her life. While she greedily guzzled her milk, she was constantly fighting dehydration. I began giving her a daily meal of pedialyte to try to balance her electrolytes, as well as various antibiotics and oral medicines. Even then, her energy varied widely.
After spending her first two weeks fighting for her health, it became quite apparent that she was losing her battle. One afternoon, as she became increasingly lethargic, I scooped her into the car and raced her to the clinic. The vet prescribed a plasma transfer for the next day and shot her up with antibiotics for the night. He said that the antibiotics were racing the infection and we?d have to hope that the antibiotics won. She weighed in at just over 7lbs.
Hours later, Cody was lying on my floor at home, almost lifeless. The infection seemed to be winning and I had to accept that I was going to lose my little girl. Sobbing, I said good-bye.
An hour later, still clinging to life, she weakly rolled on to her belly. Without opening her eyes, she pressed her little lips into the blanket and sucked twice. It had been over six hours since she?d last eaten. I jumped up and raced to the kitchen to warm up a bottle for her.
When I returned, she was asleep on her stomach, with her neck stretched out full length along the floor. Reaching out in front of her, I slid the bottle along the floor to touch her lips. Without even waking up, she rapidly drained the milk. It was her first sign of life all evening.
Reassured, I settled in to watch her for more encouragement. I was rewarded an hour later when she finally raised her head and showed her first weak signs of consciousness. The night was long, but encouraging, with her eating regularly and getting stronger by the hour.
The next morning, we set out for the clinic. Cody was much stronger thanks to the shots she had gotten the day before. Once at the vet, getting ready for the transfer proved to be difficult, given Cody?s tiny veins. After failed attempts to tap veins in three legs, the vet had to insert the catheter in her neck. That said, everything looked good to boost her immunity.
Cody stayed at the vet for most of the day so the transfusion could be done slowly and gently. I returned later that afternoon to bring her home. When I returned, the tech said that Cody had just been outside to go potty, she was already house-trained and wouldn?t poop in her crate, and was almost done with the transfusion. She said the vet would be right in and she disappeared into the back room of the clinic.
Forty minutes later, the vet finally returned to the room. She informed me that while the tech was in talking with me, Cody had crashed. They watched her fall to the ground, open-mouth breathing. They had managed to revive her with steroids and oxygen, but she was still on shaky ground. It seemed like she talked forever, while I only wanted to get into the back room to see Cody for myself. When we finally went back, I saw her cushed on the table in the arms of the tech, who was holding an oxygen mask over her face.
Once she?d stabilised, the vet released her to go home. I, however, refused to leave with her until I had seen her walk, eat and poop without dying. We stayed until closing.
The good news was that the transfusion cured her diarrhea! While I don?t think she?s actually produced a bean to this day, she improved from life-threatening water to real and actual poop.
Now, one would usually expect to see a ?happily ever after? right about now, but that?s not the case with Cody. For a while, her life settled into a routine of bottle feedings every two to three hours around the clock. At six weeks old, we were able to start stretching out her night time feedings until she eventually slept through the night. Since she was now the size of a regular cria, she even spent a couple nights out in the barn.
Cody also made the morning news as Colorado?s smallest known surviving alpaca. People in Colorado, across the country and soon around the world started following Cody?s progress on Facebook. She was becoming a little celebrity.
As a bottle baby, Cody needed around the clock care. When I attended events or shows, Cody came with me. When I went to visit family, Cody came with me. When she was two months old, we attended an alpaca event near my family. We decided to make a family evening/overnight visit out of it.
That evening, Cody discovered that the hardwood floors at my father?s house were not her friends. A prolonged clatter and loud crash when she wandered off the carpet resulted in yet another vet visit the next day. X-rays showed that her legs had slipped out from under her like Bambi on the ice. Her fall caused multiple fractures in her front, right ?elbow?.
Happily, Cody?s bones fractured, but didn?t shift out of place. After multiple discussions between two vets, two large animal surgeons and one small animal surgeon, it was decided that Cody was young enough and small enough to heal with the help of a splint to immobilise the fracture, rather than risking surgery.
Thus, began our new routine of travelling to the vet every week for x-rays and splint changes. Cody?s first experience with her splint resembled that of a spoiled child who was being punished for the first time in her life. Suddenly, it seemed ALL of her legs were broken and she couldn?t possibly use any of them to stand. Her only option was to lay in her own misery and sulk.
Thankfully, Cody?s playful energy eventually won and she began to tentatively take steps in her new splint. Tentative steps soon gave way to hopping and then all-out three legged running. Her weekly x-rays showed the bones staying in place and healing. At the point that she was doing grand leaps, the vet declared her healed and was ready to remove the splint.
Given her activity level, I was reluctant to leave her fragile little leg bare. The vet agreed to leave a ?soft cast? on. Shortly after returning home, I realized the soft cast needed to come off. She wasn?t using her leg at all, which meant it couldn?t get stronger. I removed the rest of the cast that night.
Luckily, Cody was smart about breaking in her ?new? leg. Barely touching it to the ground at first, she gradually began using it again. Soon she was walking like a pro. Soon she was running like a speed demon.
Now, one would again expect to hear a ?happily ever after? right about now. Sadly, that?s just not how Cody rolls?
Things settled down for a while. Cody enjoyed the holidays with the family, with added carpeting to prevent further crashes, and rang in the new year, healthy and happy.
Shortly after the new year, I began preparing for a livestock show in Denver. Up until then, Cody had attended all shows and events with me. This show, however, included all livestock from horses and cattle to llamas and some alpacas. I knew the people who ran the show wouldn?t allow Cody to come and go as we had before. We had to make alternative plans.
I found day care for Cody for that weekend at a ranch up the road. While she was anxious in a new place, I knew I?d be bringing her home every evening. She got through the first day unscathed. Halfway through the second day, however, my phone rang. I answered to find out that my little darling had leaped out of her caregiver?s arms and broken her leg? the same leg? again.
The next day found us back at the vet. This time, the bone had moved and expensive surgery was unavoidable. I broke the news to Cody?s fans on Facebook. They sent multiple messages telling me to start a crowd-funding page so they could all contribute. By the end of the campaign, they paid for over half of Cody?s surgery! Cody owes a lot to her loyal followers.
I?m not sure who had a rougher time with the surgery. I was a wreck the night before, and couldn?t relax the entire day she was away. She did well, but was quite dopey for the next couple days. Surprisingly, Cody came home with a fat bandage covering the incision, rather than a cast. The surgeon decided she would heal better if the joint had some give, rather than being immobilised and hyper-extended.
As the drugs left her system over the next few days, Cody slowly became more alert. The spring returned to her step and it became harder and harder to keep her happy on bed rest. Way too soon, she was sprinting down the driveway during her daily outside time. In fact, I got scolded about her activity level when the surgeon spotted her outdoor video on her Facebook page.
In the end, the surgery was a success. Cody?s leg healed strong and sure. Her sweet nature continues to win the hearts of everyone she meets. While she still enjoys her bottle, she?s eating more hay and has even learned to drink out of a bucket. She has a children?s book due out this summer and thousands of followers on Facebook and Instagram. Through it all, she remains humble and gentle? a survivor who understands that she?s earned her life and the love she receives. I know she?s enriched my life, more than I could have ever predicted.