Reflections from the "Ohio Big 80"

By Lisa Blidar


I have wanted to write this piece for Topline for months and finally have found the time to do so. This article is to re-cap/ inform/discuss/and comment on the event that took place in Ohio that was probably the largest "Llama Rescue" effort in the U.S.

I wish to express that the sequence of events & some of the information for this article was obtained from an article written by Helen Carpenter, & submitted to the Llama Rescue Review Newsletter. I will offer insight to the best of my memory of events that happened. I also want to state right now as well, that the opinions & comments are mine ALONE, and I may be frank & blunt about them….so be warned! If I in anyway offend anyone, I apologize in advance.


The Beginning of the End:

Sometime in March, I received both an email, then later a phone call. In Fremont, OH (outside of Toledo), there was a situation of a herd of eighty (80!) llamas that were being "surrendered" from an older man named Mr. Ellis, who could no longer take care of them. Both he & his wife were in failing health and lived elsewhere off the property but close by. Every few days, someone was checking on the animals making sure they had hay & water. The time had come to get some help in finding homes for all of them, and Mr. Ellis realized he was long over do from asking for that help. (He probably should have done this 2-3 years prior!)

There were 50 females, including crias & juveniles, & 30 males, including a few geldings, but most males were intact…all living together! The phone call came from Charreen Thompson. Some of the llamas had been "vetted" in the past by her & Dr. Joy Bishop-Forshey, so Charreen knew a little of the history/remembered names/ages, etc of the animals. Since Helen Carpenter (Ravenna, OH) is the liaison for SouthEast Llama Rescue (SELR based in NC), she was the chair/coordinator. It took weeks of planning for Helen to secure a date & put a team of volunteers together to go up to the farm and assess the situation. Rumor had it that there were dead llamas lying both in the barn, and out in the fields! She had to act quickly!

So, on a very cold/rainy/miserable Sunday morning in April, a group of 15 volunteers from OH/MI/IN met at the farm. Nina Winchester & Helen (along with myself, Lisa Blidar) came with a trailer full of farm panels & supplies. Joy, her "vet -tech" (forgotten her name), along with the tech's two brothers, Cathy Bradford & her father, Lisa & Dave Kana, Vicki Steigerwald, Ted Wensick, Dawn Mitchell, Karen Salvagno, & Lee Ann King huddelled in the barn & listened to a plan that was unfolding from Helen of what needed to be done & how! {The day was already full of sadness and frustration. Kanas' van broke down on the way there, and Helen's beloved dog "Molly" had died that morning!} The weather had turned colder & rainy and there was deep mud and animal poop piles everywhere. Inside the main barn, the poop & old hay was so high, you had to duck your head while in some areas. (I believe poor Dave cracked his head on a ceiling beam while wrestling with a petrified animal). There was a 2-3 day old cria that mom had obviously rejected, lying in the barn. We moved this little guy to an unused corner, knowing he probably wouldn't make it. (Later, Karen took him home that night, did all she could for him tube feeding him, but he died in the night.)

The only highlight at the moment was that Mr. Ellis did have all the other dead llamas removed by the time we got there and the males & females had been separated. They had also "Spray-Painted" companion markings to identify moms with their crias. (Even though we discovered this probably wasn't 100% correct of who-belonged-to-who). We all looked around and we all had the same feeling… "What a mess, how are we ever going to do all this? Who is pregnant? Who does that baby belong to? Do they have parasites? Lice? How old? Etc. Mr. Ellis, was there to give us whatever information he could remember about any animal. {name/age/lineage etc.}. Helen did have ILR certificates for about 15 llamas, and Mr. Ellis did help us put a llama with the correct ILR certificate.


2. Back to the Beginning:

Panels were hauled out of the trailer & each person had a specific task. The llamas were separated into manageable groups. The strong- armed guys caught & haltered each animal. (Kathy did her magic at calming them down. Some llamas had never been handled and/or haltered in their lives! ) Next, the animals were dragged/pulled/pushed into an area where Joy & the vet tech did a quick health check & "body scored" them. The herd all got a dose of Ivomec & a CD&T vaccination. We did not even bother with toenail trimming at the time! Joy brought a portable ultra-sound unit to check females for possible pregnancies. She did as many as time allowed. We digitally photographed each animal while holding a numbered card in front of the animal along with a cria with the same number if we thought it belonged to that mom. We recorded each medical assessment on that number with identifying colors/markings etc. We banded each animal with a different colored ribbon & number and placed around their necks. The same number band went to their respective cria. There wasn't ONE animal that scoured a body score of more than 3! They were all skinny, had skin conditions, some had lice and so on. The llamas had not been sheared for over three years, & after shearing them later that month, we could really see what we had to deal with! It was very sad. We had a pretty efficient assembly line as everyone pitched in and did their assigned task. I looked off to the distance and saw Helen crying. She was filled with a mountain of emotions…sadness of the situation, gratitude for the team's help, frustration that it all had to come to this, and a plethora of other things were racing in her mind I am sure.

After about llama number #60, we took a short break for hot coffee and snacks. Helen had thought of everything, collecting all the needed items from free bottles of meds donated by Lisa Dreggors & Helen's vet Larry Agle; tagging media from Pet Detect; lead ropes from Nina; halters, panels, rubber gloves (in case there was lice etc.), bleach & buckets to soak our boots in and on & on. We were afraid to relax too much, already exhausted, knowing we still were not done!

Then we moved onto the remaining males. We all felt a small sense of relief knowing there were only 20 more to do, and some of us were getting a little slap happy. We invented some names for a few of the males such as "Plywood" (I think that was his nick-name!) I believe he was the only llama we really had some trouble with. He was probably the dominant "sire" for about half of the herd if the truth was known!
Reality Hits.

Afterwards, when we were finished, we all started to pack up to get ready to make the drive home. I didn't even know what time it was. Helen helped re- catch & halter some animals that were already on their way to " new forever homes." Eight llamas left that evening. { Fifteen would leave a week later}. Helen would make many many more trips back to the Ellis farm (about 2+ hours one way), spending her own energy, gas money etc. to pick up a group for transport to a different state for permanent homes, or to help a few people catch & halter animals that they were picking up. Every time the llamas saw "Helen," they sensed that "someone was going to get haltered & taken away", so they always became more apprehensive & skittish. Helen probably spent a thousand hours and a thousand dollars of her own money before this rescue was totally completed.

Our group got into the van for the long drive home. We were soaking wet, cold, covered in spit & mud, exhausted, relieved, sad, but contented & happy. Not much was said. I think we were also just reflecting of what had just happened. They dropped me off at about 8pm. I think my body ached for days. We could not or would not judge Mr. Ellis. He truly did love his llamas, but time slipped up on him and he just didn't know when to "let go" and ask for help. Let us all be aware of this if/when that time will come.

Helen spent the next 30+ days finding homes for every single llama. Hours on the computer, & hundreds of phone calls later, the llamas ended up going to all different parts of the US. There were times Helen and Nina left their homes at 4am, trailer in tow with a herd of animals for destinations never traveled to. (Thanks goes out to Linda Pohle for allowing them to borrow her trailer for larger deliveries). I am sure Helen was smiling on the inside, knowing these poor critters were on their way to a better life.


3. Fast Forward:

Most all the females were found to be pregnant, and about one third that had babies in the first few months after the rescue did die (the crias). All the "adopters" have keep Helen informed of the "adoptees" progress and they have had some healthy/happy babies born! {We in turn had a very cute appy male born 48 hours after we got home from a 2- week vacation! This particular "mom" Ron & I couldn't even get in the trailer to be ultra-sounded. After spending an hour at 6am pulling/ tugging/dragging her, she broke the leather lead rope in half! And made a bee-line right back to the barn a if to say…."look! I am way too far along with this pregnancy & I am going to have a nice baby anyway!}.
At the present time, Helen is receiving new photos and posting them to the web site at: http://public.fotki.com/mollymoo/ Please check it out!


The good news is… all the animals are all in better locations. Some llamas went to new llama "owners" and those people have been thrilled to finally have one or ten! of these great creatures to care for. Some are companion animals; some are providing fiber for spinners; some llamas are now having a purpose & guarding their new flock of sheep. Even the llamas we named "Plywood" just needed some proper attention & is doing fine in his new home.

When looking back, it was absolutely amazing that homes were found, llamas transported, and new beginnings happened all within a month of when the project started! There were many more people who helped with other things. Transportation: These people included Nina, Claudia Hammack, Lisa Dreggors, Bobby Smith, Rodney Porter, Michelle Rogers, Pat Holmes, Ted Wensink, Jenny Bohse, Johnette Parmell, Dawn Mitchell, Ann Potter, the Kanas, Thomas Deline, Darwin Skinner & Deb Logan.

There were wonderful people who contributed financially such a Gail Fulkerson, Porter, Heather Hettick, Cyndy Schmohe, Linda Pohle, Hammack, & an annonoymous friend. Cherreen sheared many animals pro bono, & Joy & Dr. Agle contributed with services & medical supplies. Lisa Blidar & Stacy Mashburn offered foster facilites. Deb Logan helped Helen with coordinating of transportation.

Adopters: The Kanas, Heather Hettick, Hallie Luxmore, Claudia Hammack, Lisa Dreggors, Gary Thigpin, Kate McKelvie, Gail Fulkerson, Rodney Porter, Michelle, Lisa Blidar, Pat Holmes, Ted Wensink, Jenny Bohse, Johnette Parmelee, Dawn Mitchell, Ann Porter, Karen Salvagno, Ann Huges, Kathy Daves, Thomas Deline, the Skinners, Charreen Thompson & Nina Winchester.

I am sure there were more unsung Heroes that I have forgotten, and if I missed calling you out, I apologize. Just know that Helen will forever be greatful and you are all special angels.

Soap Box:

The rescue went well, but didn't necessarily go smoothly. Helen had put the notice "out there" (via Email/telephone), that there were 80 animals that needed homes. Unfortunately, some llama folks did not receive emails or phone calls (and this may have been my fault for NOT spreading the word further). Therefore, some did not realize that help was needed. Having said that, some llama folks were at first willing to "take" a few to help out. However, after they found out that the animals were not registered/had lice/were skinny/had coarse fiber etc. etc. decided they just "couldn't take another animal." Ok, this is the part where I (the writer) am going to ask "real llama llovers"…what part of RESCUE don't you understand? These llamas were in desperate need for a caring & loving home. Because there were so many, Helen decided she had to find homes for them regardless, and could not charge the normal "rescue fee" of $250 for each animal placed in the SELR system. These llamas were "GIVEN" to people…FREE. The good/the bad/ & the ugly! People took whatever they could because they really cared & wanted to help. It did not matter what age or color or even gender to most. I do not believe many of the "really- caring-we-want-to-help- people" ever asked many questions concerning fees, ILRs etc. They just opened up their farms & hearts & stepped up to the "rescue" plate! We ended up taking three females, one of them was 19 years old and VERY unattractive! She had a sway back, walked on her pasterns, & could not raise her head above her withers. Most all of the llamas had lice, they were skinny and had pretty 'mediocre' fiber.

After receiving an email from Karen (one of the first adopters) that her adopted girl was indeed pregnant, we loaded our new herd into our trailer, & trekked them over to Chardon, OH to be ultra sounded suspecting our girls were also pregnant. Sure enough, they were all pregnant by varying months… even the old 19 year old that could barely walk! I made a decision based on the advise from Dr. Agle to abort these crias medically. Since Ron & I had to be away for that weekend, we took the girls back over to Helen's home, so she could administer the "abortion" shot every day for three days in a row. {This allows the animal to have a safe/painless delivery of the (aborted) fetus}. When we returned home, Helen said the old gal (I re-named Queen Latifa") had a 15# cria! I doubt that Queenie (or her cria) would have survived that!

My complaint is that all of us in OH should have volunteered to take at least one llama. There are at least 250 llama farms in Ohio. In Reality, all of us could make room for JUST ONE MORE animal! I purposely have now chosen not to breed any of my females in 2008 & probably 2009 because of this rescue! We only have a three -acre place, with now 8 llamas including the new adopted rescues. In the years past, I have been very selective in breeding and now will sacrifice a couple of my champion females to not breed them this year, or even next year! This really ticks me off, because I really was looking forward to re-breeding and continuing on with my breeding goal. But, that's ok…I am going to make our farm available for some other irresponsible so called "breeder" that realizes they can't afford to have all the animals that they have helped create; or stop breeding when they know SOON they will NOT be able to feed them; or have too many and have a 'what should we do now' attitude? I have heard stories of llama breeders not stopping breeding, then taking their llamas to slaughter because they couldn't sell them. This breeder was begged by the rescue group to surrender them for SELR and take a tax write-off. They chose selling the meat to a homeless shelter instead! How absolutely terrible!

My solution?? JUST STOP BREEDING! There isn't anything my husband & I don't enjoy more than watching the crias (and their moms in tow!) pronging in the back western pasture while the sun sets behind them! We all love that part of it. We all are going to have to make sacrifices for the others unfortunately. Can we take the responsibility to make long- term decisions and do what is best for the industry? Make every cria a wanted cria? I am not speaking about the person that comes upon a sudden tragedy. A death in the family, loosing your job & not having enough money to be able to afford llamas in the future, and so on. Shouldn't we all be more conscientious of what the future could bring? Llamas take 350 days to have that baby. Can you be certain that you will want another mouth to feed in a years' time? Please be honest. We all know hay & grain prices have zoomed up along with everything else. With the mortgage crisis, global warming…well, you get the picture.

I just heard a story this weekend that there are a herd of horses (with foals) that someone let "loose" in the Mohican State Park. These are domestic horses that someone thought they were doing them a "favor" by letting them try to fend for themselves. Well… those horses are getting hit by cars & it is a horrible outcome! How about the llama they named "Ricky" that was running down Route 224 earlier this fall? Ricky came here for a week or so before going to his forever home. He was a really nice gelding that somebody just decided they couldn't afford to feed anymore with winter around the bend. This gal that took him loves to watch him graze next to her horses and Ricky is very happy!

{Please check out Lars Garrisons (VT) retirement plan from a past issue of Llama Life II. He wrote a great article on long term planning.}

So, in closing…Before you chose to breed your glorious animals can you ask yourself the question… "Can we find room in our pastures for JUST ONE MORE?" I sure hope that answer is YES!


Lisa Blidar/Cuyahoga Valley Llamas; since 1989

EM: cvllama@yahoo.com; Phone: 330-701-6950