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Snowy is one of our most recent rehab llamas. Right after her birth, she was taken from her mother to be bottle-fed -- supposedly to make her more handleable. Snowy obviously received no llama socialization during her formative period, and also was apparently not handled much except for feeding. She has obvious difficulties "conversing" in normal llama language, and she sees humans as only abusive and dangerous. She has a high aversion to being touched. And she spits. Voluminously. So much for "more handleable."

Snowy was of course sold as a breeding female -- back then, anything that could have a baby llama was automatically breeding stock, even the vastly less-popular generic white, short-wooled females. Snowy's habits were obviously not well-received, and she was auctioned off (without disclosure, natch) for a pretty penny. As the price of llamas declined, however, so did the incentive to put up with Snowy and her less-than-high-demand babies (she's white and not woolly, remember?). Snowy was sold again -- at a rather low price and, this time, with full disclosure -- to a packer who had been thinking of breeding pack llamas.

Snowy's behavior again proved to be trying. And discouraging. After an aborted pregnancy in the heat and a subsequent infection, llama breeding didn't seem so desirable. Being an ethical fellow, the owner realized no one was likely to want her, asked around the area, and finally contacted us, offering to give us Snowy, free of charge.

Snowy had a particular dislike of women, and Gwen ended up wearing Snowy's stomach contents home. However, Gwen's continued attempts to communicate brought about a fairly quick cessation of defensive spewing -- and, happily, Snowy feels safe enough to ignore visitors. We uncovered and treated an ear infection, and also cleaned up Snowy's neglected coat. Trust is not built overnight, and Snowy had a lot of distrust to put behind her.

After a year of slow and steady rehab work, Snowy now completely accepts our approach to within a foot of her body and within two feet of her head. Continuation beyond this point may result in readying cud or the occasional quick spew in the air (away from us), depending on whether she perceived our approach as predictable or more threateningly sudden. The relative rapidity with which Snowy ceased voluminous spitting indicates that she is not a "natural" (genetically predispositioned) spitter, but that the habit is instead a product of her upbringing.

One day Snowy demonstrated that she can now consider another llama important to her. Her choice to defend Daphne from another llama was a major breakthrough for a llama who stayed apart from the herd and rejected all overtures of friendship. Snowy has also gradually come to eat with the herd rather than waiting sullenly on the fringes for everyone to leave.

Snowy's most recent achievement has been "grain training." Make no mistake, Snowy certainly understood the positive virtues of grain. For some time after she arrived, Snowy ran toward anything resembling a grain container, spewing at everything and everybody in the vicinity. If you own llamas, you know just how inconvenient THAT behavior is -- all the other llamas couldn't possibly eat until their feeders had been double-scrubbed and their "contaminated" grain had been discarded and replaced! Our task was to convince Snowy that in order to partake, she must also not charge, push, or (especially) spit. Snowy was a quick study, and although she is still having a rare relapse when the feeding situation involves too many changes or strangers, she usually manages to "be a good llama" so she can have that grain.

Snowy and Jim deep in conversation

Snowy still needs more rehabilitation, and some social issues may never be fully resolved because of her age and her species' steeltrap memory. However, Snowy has managed to worm her way into our affections, and she will remain here for the rest of her life. We will continue to work hard to minimize her discomfort when handled so that we can provide her with the best of care and pampering when old age and arthritis inevitably arrive.

Snowy died peacefully and unexpectedly in her sleep on October 12, 2003. Necropsy revealed previous heart damage coupled with fluid accumulation in the lungs. With all the trauma in Snowy's life, we were extremely grateful that she did not suffer from any condition that would have required treatment by us -- even after all the years of work and improvement, it would have been extremely stressful and unwelcome to Snowy. However, her abrupt passing left us shocked. Snowy was definitely presented management difficulties -- her quirks and viewpoints always had to be considered before anything could be done within her herd -- but just the same, we miss her. Was she better off for our efforts? Absolutely. Was she happy? Sometimes she definitely was. Was her life worth living here, or did her past still haunt her too much? Only Snowy can answer that one. We know we did our best.

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