Anyone who loves animals and has lived on a farm with them knows that the cycle of life comes around all too often. That was the case a few days ago when my dear four-year-old llama JoJo came into his stall. For the past several months, I made sure that he had his share of grain and hay; that he was able to eat it without pain.
He would let me rub the large lump on the right side of his neck, tend to the grotesque, odorous mass on his gums and palate, and lay his head gently against my shoulder as if to assure me "It will be alright." For two days now, I had softened an alfalfa cube in water for a treat. A neighbor recently visited him when I wasn't home and e-mailed to ask if it was OK to give him canned peaches; I'm not sure if she did, but JoJo and I were glad she didn't shun him like some people and llamas had understandably come to do. To look at him, I still saw beauty; those who had not known him in the best of days could only see the bulging raw mass and pus and smell of the decay of flesh.
I had asked veterinarian John Lang to make a farm call to check on JoJo. His experience with llamas, especially when they need anesthesia, has made me trust his judgment. After unsuccessfully treating JoJo's "infection," I had called Dr. Lang for his advice. With one look, he knew: JoJo had squameous cell cancer, a diagnosis he confirmed with a biopsy. Although he knew of no treatment, John did research and took the extra step of calling a veterinarian oncologist to see if new developments could help JoJo. All-in-all, we decided to let JoJo enjoy his life until pain or circumstances called for other measures.
Now decision time had arrived. Though not appearing in pain, JoJo rarely strayed far from the barn. The mass on his gum had spread across his palate and onto the opposite gum. Eating was becoming difficult and his right eye sometimes ran with a thick yellow excrement. Still, I had hope that an excision of the largest part of the mass would allow him to live comfortably a bit longer.
Within moments, Dr. Lang knew; I knew. JoJo had to be released from this life; he must be freed from his body and given the joy of running with his llama buddies who had gone before. Sometimes, love is not enough to stop the ravages of disease.
JoJo, I miss you; I will always love you.