For more than two hours, I dabbed at the dried blood in the little ewe’s wool, trying to get it clean, so that I could see the extent of her injuries. Finally, I was able to use my clippers to shave the wool from the top of her head. It wasn’t pretty. There was a long gash across her skull with a deep puncture at one end.
One thing I didn’t mention in my last post because I didn’t understand it – the wool on top of her head was covered with fly eggs. One of the first things Jonathan said when he brought her inside was that it looked like she had maggots on top of her head, but they weren’t moving. Well, maybe it’s just dried puss, I suggested. When we started trying to get the dried blood out of her wool, we noticed that the little beige flecks were not breaking up, so I told Jonathan to look at one under the microscope. They looked like little ovals, definitely not any kind of living creature. But when I was finally able to cut through the wool, I saw wiggling. The maggots were tiny, which means they had hatched recently. That meant that the little ewe had been attacked 24 hours earlier. It’s all starting to make more sense. She was probably attacked the previous night. She must have stuck her head through the woven wire to eat the grass on the other side when a coyote grabbed her head. Her black wool definitely worked against her. By morning the blood had dried and blended in with her black wool, and no one noticed it.
Jonathan helped me start to pick the maggots out of the cut. Half an hour before midnight, Mike and the girls arrived home from Joliet. Mike is teaching a summer class; Margaret is taking one; and Katherine was at a friend’s house. When they saw her, they made faces that told me the little ewe did not look good. I’d been working so hard to save her all night and felt so positive about what seemed to be an improvement. She could stand now, although she would melt in your arms if you held her. She had little muscle tone, but it was more than she had when Jonathan brought her into the house several hours earlier.
Once the girls registered their serious concerns about the little ewe’s chances, Jonathan said, “Mom, I know you want to try as hard as possible to save these animals, but,” he stopped and looked down at her. “There’s a hole in her skull. Her brain is exposed.” Over the next hour, everyone argued intermittently that the little ewe should be put down. But I just couldn’t do it. Yes, maybe she did have a brain injury, but who knows what happens when anyone has a brain injury. She had been running around earlier that day with her mother – several of us had seen her. My husband mentioned that Natasha Richards stood up and said she was fine, and then went into a coma two days after her head injury. But, I argued that there are people who have brain injuries and fully recover.
In some ways it was easier to decide to put Willie down. It made sense when the vet told me that he should have a good leg to put his weight on while a broken one healed. It made sense that his legs were essentially dead, because I mashed all over them from top to bottom, and he never flinched or even seemed to notice I was touching them. When I did the same thing to his back legs, he jerked and kicked and obviously objected to my messing with them.
I gave the little ewe another 35 cc of fluids sub-q and told Mike I thought she’d be happier with her mama in the barn. He and Margaret went out into the rain and found White Feather. When they were walking her past the front of the house, she bleated. The little ewe tried to lurch forward in my lap. She obviously heard her mama and wanted her. We left them together in the barn overnight, and I prayed that somehow the decision would be made for me by morning. Either she would be obviously improved and nursing, or she would be dead.
I asked Mike to check on her when we woke up this morning. He came back 15 minutes later and said that she was alive but not “there.” She was just standing with her head hanging down. She didn’t respond to anything. Finally I gathered up the courage to go the barn. I grabbed a handful of alfalfa pellets for White Feather, who gobbled them out of my hand, and I sat down in the middle of the straw. I picked up the little lamb and put her in my lap. She was completely limp. After a few minutes, she started making a gurgling noise and wheezing. She gasped and jerked her head and dropped it. I thought she was dead. I couldn’t feel a pulse, so I put my fingers in front of her nose. I couldn’t feel anything until my fingers were almost touching her nostril. I flicked my fingers at her eyes, and she didn’t blink. She didn’t respond at all. I laid her back down on the straw and started to cry. The little ewe tried to hoist herself up again like a drunken sailor. How could I make the decision to end her life when she seemed to be fighting so hard?
Then I heard my mother’s voice as clearly as if she were standing next to me. “The poor little thing is suffering, Debby.” My mother died in 1993, and I hardly think about her much anymore, but I kept hearing her say, “The poor little thing is suffering, Debby.” I buried my head in my arms and cried harder. I tried to remember a time in my childhood when she had said those words to me. They seemed so clear. But I couldn’t remember ever having something like this happen. We didn’t live on a farm. I kept telling myself it was just a memory, but her presence felt so immediate. With my tear-blurred eyes buried in the arms of my sweatshirt, I saw no memory from my childhood. All I could see was her kneeling in the straw next to me with her arm around me, repeating, “The poor little thing is suffering.” I looked up and saw White Feather standing in front of me, nose to nose. I reached up to scratch under her chin, and she wrapped her head around my neck as if to hug me. She pressed her body up against me and didn’t move. She knew her baby was gone. I think she’d known for a while. But with my human brain and “reason” I just kept thinking that I could save her.
But save her from what? I realized that even if I could save her from death, she might be blind or neurologically damaged. She might never have a normal life and would merely be easy prey for another coyote. Or she might still die in spite of everyone’s best efforts. What could be gained by trying to prolong her life? I picked up the bag of IV fluids that I had planned to administer, and I stood up. I dried my eyes on the sleeve of my sweatshirt and left the barn. When I walked into the house, Katherine asked, “How’s she doing?”
“She needs to be put down.”