Look Her in the Eye 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I pulled up the swinging gate at McCubbins’ Ranch. Frank maintained a wide range of species on this ranch, elk, sika deer, fallow deer, llamas, African antelope, wallabies, and rheas. I enjoyed making calls here. But I hated this gate.

It swung open on each side, pivoting on a center post. It was a heavy wooden gate with a large rubber bumper on it. You hit the bumper, and the gate would swing open. Briefly! Once it swung open, you had to gun the truck through the gate, or it would nail you on the side of the truck as it returned to the closed position.

I looked at Hope. “I hate this gate,” I said. “Hang on!”

I bumped the truck into the bumper on the gate. The heavy gate swung open. I gunned the truck through the gate, snapping Hope’s head against the headrest. The gate closed behind us.

“Wow!” Hope said. “I see what you mean about that gate.”

This was Hope’s first visit to Glacier Springs Ranch. She was a little excited to be doing something out of the ordinary if veterinary practice offered anything normal.

We drove up the long driveway and stopped at the barn.

“We are looking at an older llama today,” I said. “They are usually pretty easy to work with, but this gal has something going on in her mouth. So this might prove interesting. We will have to play it by ear on what we need to restrain her.”

The llama was in the corral, but Frank wasn’t in sight. I got my stuff lined up, trying to anticipate what might be needed to examine and treat this llama.

“These are valuable animals right now,” I said to Hope. “This is an older female, but she is still worth over twenty-thousand dollars.”

“Why are they so valuable?” Hope asked. “What are they good for?”

“There is no viable market for them except for the excess males,” I said. “The males are popular for wilderness pack animals, but that value is only seven or eight hundred dollars. The rest is people buying them for an investment. There is no meat market at all. They can sell their wool, but that is not much, either. It is all a pie-in-the-sky market and doomed to fail someday. Frank has always been trying to get me to buy a female. He says all you have to do is get on a female baby, and you have your investment returned. I just can’t see getting into such a market.”

Frank finally came out of the house and walked over to the corral.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” Frank said. “I was stuck on the phone with one of those people who can never bring a conversation to an end.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “We have plenty of time. What’s going on with this old gal?”

“You’re right there,” Frank said. “Angel is an old gal, one of my oldest. I don’t have a birthdate for her, but she is over twenty. She is still producing babies, though. That’s what they say about llamas. They die pregnant. So, with today’s market and figuring on a female baby every other year, I can expect to make over ten thousand a year off her. Old but still working. I had one die a couple of years ago. She was twenty-eight and pregnant.”

“I notice her drooling a bit,” I said.

“That’s why I called,” Frank said. “She is having some problems eating, and I think she is losing some weight. I’m not sure how we will get a good look at her. Do you want to try putting her in the chute?”

“I think if we just tie her here and you and Hope sort of restrain her between you will be the best,” I said. “One of you will need to grab an ear, and I will have room to get a good look into this mouth.”

It actually turned out easier than I expected. Angel pulled straight back on the rope when I started grabbing for her tongue. With Frank holding one ear to steady her head, she pretty much restrained herself.

I had to pull some hay and cud out of her mouth to get a good view. I pulled her tongue to the left side of her mouth and shined my penlight into her mouth. 

There was the problem. She had lost an upper molar, and the opposing lower molar was overgrowing. It was a classic step-mouth. I released her tongue and let everyone relax.

“Frank, she has lost an upper tooth in the back of her mouth,” I said. “The lower tooth that wears against that tooth has sort of overgrown. I will need to file it down.”

“Can you just pull it out of there,” Frank asked. 

“I don’t think that is an option for me,” I said. “That is probably the best option, but that is only available at a teaching hospital right now. That would mean a trip to Davis to the University of California Veterinary Hospital.”

“Maybe if she was a little younger,” Frank said. “Do you think you can file it down?”

“I think so. I have a small float that should work for her,” I said. “It won’t take too long, and she is being pretty good.”

After retrieving the float, a rod with a sharp rasp on the end, I started working on the tooth. Things went faster than I expected. Angel shook her head, but Frank’s grip on her ear held her pretty steady. She struck at me a couple of times but missed her mark. When I had the tooth filed down to the level of the other teeth, I smoothed the points on the rest of the teeth.

“There, I think Angel will be back to eating pretty normally now,” I said. “We should probably plan to recheck her in about six months. I don’t know if we will have to do anything then, but we should check.”

“Maybe, I will just wait and see if she gets into a problem again,” Frank said.

“She looks furious,” Hope said. “Her ears are back. Maybe we should let her go.”

“Just look her in the eye,” I said. “That will settle her down.”

Hope started to look her in the eye.

“No! Don’t do that, Hope,” Frank said. “Doc was teasing. If you look these llamas in the eye, they will surely spit on you.”

We turned Angel loose after removing her halter, and she went straight to the feed rack.

“Thanks a lot, Doc,” Hope said. “Frank saved me, I think.”

“I would have stopped her before she nailed you,” I said. “That is just something to know about these critters.”

I never looked at Angel again. I assumed that her mouth never got to be a problem again. Either that, or she didn’t live as long as Frank expected.

Photo be Mike van Schoonderwalt on Pexels.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

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