A bit of drama

Yesterday afternoon I was giving Tam a ride home from work. I’d popped into town for my regular plasma donation, which has to be done down at the hospital complex, and I time the donation so I can just pick Tam up and we go straight home.

Heading north on SH1 a car about 100m ahead of us flipped over!

In the ‘good timing’ department I’d just had a first-aid refresher course on Saturday.

Multiple other drivers stopped, and by the time I got to the car two other guys were already working on yanking open the drivers-side door. The three of us got the single occupant out, and away from the car. (She was really afraid of the car exploding, which is nearly impossible, but we were doing what we could to calm and comfort her.)

One guy had a big first aid kit with him, but we couldn’t find any gloves. There was a fair bit of blood from the laceration on her hand. Thankfully Tam had a nitrile glove pack in her bag.

Other people who had stopped were helping to manage the scene and direct traffic. An off-duty St John’s guy stopped, too, which was very helpful.

Emergency services were there very quickly. I expect the driver will be okay, hopefully not more that a couple of stitches.

I’m glad we could be there to help. It’s good to see so many people stopping to render assistance, and to render assistance well.

Flipping a car on one of the two main highways out of Wellington at 4:30 did bugger up traffic for the evening rush hour, though.


Last Wednesday we had one of our two llamas, Opa, euthanized.

Opa was, as his nick-name suggests, an old man. 22 is a respectable age for a camelid. (Oldest one I know of lived to 29, most start dying of “old age” in the late teens or early 20’s.)

Opa arrived six years ago. We had purchased Hob after Jim died in 2007. Julie asked if we wanted a second free llama. Opa was 16, retired, and completely besotted with Hob. Julie wanted to let the friends stay together (plus it got another animal off her then-heavily-stocked farm).

The first few years Opa went out on some adventures, but as he aged his feet started having troubles (down in the pasterns) which precluded long walks. He’d always be so anxious for Hob’s return when we took the other llama out, running along the fence in excitement because HOB was back!

Opa was the boss of the boy herd, even as he aged, and as such he provided one great service, he taught the stud-alpaca Zeus how to be social. Zeus had spent a couple of years in the “paddock mating” situation, left in with a group of females. He’d become an uber-macho, a male that would attack and try to kill any other male. This made it tough on us, since we didn’t want to leave Seus in with the females, nor is it kind to leave them alone.

Zeus battled Opa for dominance. This battle would run an hour or more of knock-down, drag out camelid wrestling. Every single day for a year! Zeus was younger and full of testosterone, but 145 kg trumps 80 kg. At the end Zeus finally gave in, and then realized once he was no longer #1 that it was possible to live with other males as friends. Zeus and Hob became buddies.

I’m glad Zeus had moved on before age started to really catch up with Opa, as I’m not sure if he could have stood up to Zeus this last year.

We’d known for months that Opa was slowing down, to the point were last month when we were at the llama association AGM we were actively shopping for a new companion for Hob. Then in the weeks before he died he started to loose weight, and spend more time separated form the herd.

It was most likely liver failure, based on all the symptoms. The liver is often the organ that goes first in camelids.

There was also some grim comedy around his death. After Julia was done, and Opa was dead, we needed to get him to the graveyard and into the hole I’d dug.

Just then the phone rings. One of Yvonne’s horses had gotten spooked on the property next door, and bolted through a fence. Yvonne couldn’t get out of work, and Carol is 8 months pregnant.

And we had a dead llama in the middle of the driveway, and guests coming over in an hour.

So we can’t help with the escaped horse, We manage to get the body onto the back of the ute (not easy with a 140 kg corpse, I used ropes, a pulley, and a chain-ratchet).

But we’d had 25 mm of rain the previous night, and the track was too slick and muddy for my ute, even in 4WD.

Then the garage calls, Tam’s car (in for a WoF and service) is ready for pickup. So we have to throw a tarp over Opa, and drive into down. Yeesh, what an adventure.

Thankfully the next evening with the help of a couple of neighbours and a quad-bike we got Opa up to his grave.

Life on the farm, and all that. Now we have to pick a replacement llama (or two), so we can make sure Hob has some llama-buddies.

The end of an era

We had Slow Top euthanized this morning, two weeks short of his seventeenth birthday.

Slow was from a litter of four kittens. His mother, a slim little cat belonging to Michael, got out for a “night on the town” back in Philadelphia. The kittens spent their first few weeks in the flat of our friend Trent. The four were given kitten-names of Magellan (first to circumnavigate the room), Spot & Stripe (two tabby cats that different only on a small part of the belly), and of course Slow Top. Slow was the smallest, and a week behind developmentally. Elizabeth gave him his most awesome kitten-name.

We knew Slow was the one for us as he sat, as a little 4 week old, and made hilarious snorting noises as he clumsily tried to clean his little paw. We took home Slow Top and Spot- who was later renamed Kiko. We took them home when they were perhaps a bit too young, which might explain why the imprinted on us so strongly. We would sadly lose Kiko too young, at age six to a vaccine-induced fibrosarcoma.

Slow always had weird medical issues. By 6 he was on multiple heart meds (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers), and had been the subject of many a test. I remember when a new vet at Charles Bradley’s practice in Arlington Massachusetts met him for the first time and went “this is Slow Top? Wow. I have heard about him”. His little medical file was quite thick, even back then. Honestly, when he went on the heart meds so young, I steeled myself for him not making it to age ten.

He started in Philly, and came with us in our move up to Mystic street in Boston, there he battled royally with Basil for dominance of the house. He then went on to our first house on Locust street in Burlington, where he learned to love exploring the great outside. Then it was onwards and across the ocean and to New Zealand. I don’t think he liked his month in quarantine, or the first few months in a little flat on Cambridge Terrace with no outside access, but then he got to the farm. Yeah, he loved the farm. And when he arrived he was still young and healthy enough to go out and explore.

Quarantine 2003

Even as age took its toll, he remained alpha-cat. As he got weaker, he maintained position by fighting spirit at first (he and Jake had some good scraps when Jake first arrived), and later the other cats learned to treat him as the “respected elder” of the house. They probably took subtle, and not-so-subtle, cues from us that Slow was still in charge and should be treated with respect.

Stuck in apartment, playing with string 2003

I expect Slow’s death will really shake up social order among the cats. He was the hub, the one cat all the others got along with. Who will rise to dominance in his absence?

Slow began the slide into old age about three years ago. He weight started slipping, and his pharmacopia of drugs started increasing (heart, thyroid, arthritis, occasional liver meds, plus steroids to help with the guts). He most probably has Lymphoma, which is going to be the ultimate “cause” of his demise.

But through it all, and to the very end, he remained “Slow Top”. A special cat indeed, and a memorable one. The nose licking alone endeared him (or not!) in the minds of many a visitor, and he was nose licking to the last- though you had to present the nose at the end, as he lacked the strength to pin you down and mercilessly exfoliate your nostrils. He would still take any lap available, and would pick-pick-pick at your sleeve to get your attention if you dared to look elsewhere.

January 21, 2010

By Christmas we could see that his time was getting very short. The vet gave him “days” just before Christmas, but he rebounded a bit and managed another month. But we knew one day we would have to make the decision to end it (though I admit up to the end I hoped nature would give me the “easy way out” and that he would die quietly in his sleep). He was down to 3 kg, less than half his healthy adult weight (and to think he was once endearingly known as “meat cat”). For me, it was vitally important that he not suffer. I wanted to make sure he was still “Slow” up to the end, and not a husk of misery. That was a terrible lesson I learned with the last 12 hours of Flopette’s life two years ago.

Does this sadness within me come from an unknown evolutionary advantage of some long-past ancestor, or does it arise from something else? I don’t think that can be known.

Slow Top will be missed, and remembered (and remembered by people around the world- quite the accomplishment for a bog-standard little grey tabby. Heck, he even was the source of his own verb to “slow-topify a cat”. He was even on the front page of the Philadelphia Enquirer).

Slow was a cat that acted more like a dog, and thought he was a human. He was “special” in many ways. He had a good run, and now his body now rests in a sunny spot in the garden. RIP Slow.


Yesterday we had a break in the seemingly-endless October rain. This was good, as I had arranged to take some camelids across the road, at the request of a neighbour (Dani). The back story is that her daughter is taking Japanese in high school and had done a trip to Japan back in April. Now a group of about 20 Japanese high school students from Osaka were visiting, and Dani was having them up to their block for the day to see critters (they have horses and sheep).

I arrived with Hob and Durendal.

True to all the stereotypes, the (tiny) Japanese schoolgirls shouted “kawaii!” (“cute!”), and all had their photos taken while making little “V” signs with their fingers. Very amusing.

Durendal, once again, did very well with the crowd. I don’t know if he *likes* it, but he does a good job at enduring it all while keeping his ears up, tail down, and no humming. Hob was doing his usual careful sidesteps to prevent unwanted touching. He is a funny llama.

Labor(ing) Day

You can tell that you have had a “proper” three-day weekend when you feel like you need another immediate weekend just to recover.

Tam spent the weekend (along with Jenny and Kerry) at the Folk Music Festival, over in Wainuiomata. For the first time in 5 years it did not bucket down rain! Long days listening to live music performances, followed by late nights participating in sing-circles, results in a fun time, but in little sleep.

Meanwhile Zane and I were moving his household from Tawa to Trentham. Having a Ute and a big braked twin-axel trailer makes me very popular when it is time for people to move house! In theory I could move up to 2.5 tons of stuff per load, though we ran into volume/packing limits long before the weight limit became an issue.

By my reckoning we spent 24 hours over the 3 days loading, transporting and unloading (with help from Stefano on Sat/Mon, Richard on Monday, and Tam/Jenny/Kerry on Monday after they got back from the music festival). And Zane of course was working before I arrived and after I left, packing, cleaning and preparing. I can only expect he is extra-super-tired this morning.

One more trip will be required some evening later this week (when it is not hosing down with rain) to move the fridge, washing machine, and industrial sewing machine.


The human brain is very good at picking out patterns, even creating patterns where they do not exist. From this many superstitions have arisen, as events that are unrelated are somehow linked in their significance.

One common such superstition is that “things happen in threes.” When two seemingly related events occur, you are left waiting for that third shoe to drop. Well, for better or worse the Universe provided such a pattern for us.

At the beginning of October Jake was shot and lost a leg.

At the beginning of November Ferrari fell over dead of a bowel torsion.

Yesterday one of Yvonne’s horses slipped and fell while jumping at an event, and broke his leg. The vet on site thought it was a hairline fracture (and thus could be fixed), so they rushed him to Massey (the big vet hospital 2 hours north of here) for treatment. At Massey they discovered the injury was too severe, and he was euthanized.

What a terrible experience, especially for poor Joanne who was riding him. To be 14 years old and lose your pony must be truly awful. Especially if you are left blaming yourself when he slips beneath you. (The ground is very hard due to a lack of rain, but yesterday a light mist fell, leaving the surface greasy and slippery.)

Zam had been trouble since he arrived. He was a willful, smart, difficult horse. He taught Joanne to have a great “seat”, as he was prone to bucking and rearing. Yvonne had put in a huge amount of work trying to correct his behaviour problems, as well as some niggling back injuries he had earlier. Joanne had pushed through the frustration of his bucking and resistance to have great pride in what she and he could do. And, like only a 14 year old girl can, she loved Zam.

I guess the only consolation is that the superstitious part of my brain can now stop waiting for the third bad animal-related thing to happen.


So, the lab tests came back- food poisoning (campylobacter). Seeing as I am the cook, this was a self-inflicted illness. Perhaps I should get out of the habit of licking the knife clean after cutting up the chicken?

Sick- bleah

I am a grumpy sick person. I don’t like being sick. On the up side, my body is very good about just putting itself in standby mode, letting me sleep the sick away. Better than being awake and miserable. I don’t get sick much.Probably due to a healthy outdoor lifestyle (minor contribution), and a lack of human contact in said lifestyle (major contribution).
This sick is remarkable, as it actually made me think about going to see the doctor, something I have not done for an illness in 20 years. I am feeling a bit better this morning, though, so I think I may hold hold off on the call.

I managed to be well enough last night to attend the AWN (American Women’s Network) annual Thanksgiving dinner, which was quite nice. Ended up sitting next to Michael, a nicen fellow from SF who is now the art director for Weta. Looks like he and his wife will be coming over to see our alpaca sometime. đŸ™‚

Had a bit of a fright Wednesday night, as Zahir was a bit crook. Alpac a are sufficienly stoic that by the time they show symptms, they are pretty darn sick. At first we thought it might be Haemonchus contortus- barbers pole worm. This is a nasty blood sucking worm which is really deadly. Now I think it was just a case of normal intestinal worms. We drenched everyone, and (fingers crossed) all seems to be well now. Now it is just a matter of checking the ‘paca regularly, and waiting for the next female to unpack!

Tasty Noxious Weeds

Saturday night we were invited to a housewarming/early Guy Fawkes celebration at Robyn and Selwyns place in Churton park. They have a nice little townhouse, and two very large cats. (Mmmmm, good eatin’ there) In the back yard Kerry spotted some bananna passion  fruit vines growing in the trees running up the steep bank behind their place. With a bit of effort, including Ben climbing up a tree to whack at them with a stick, we collect 4 ripe fruit. Very tasty. Too bad they are a horrible invasive plant that must be eradicated.

Apparently there is much more actual edible fruit than in “real” passion fruit.

And Selwyn got to indulge in his fit of annual pyromania, and set off a bunch of fireworks in his back yard.