Early in November, our New York Shelter responded to an urgent plea from the Ulster County SPCA to assist with the care and placement of ten newborn lambs. Found motherless, cold and starving in central New York, the suckling babies were the only survivors out of a group of 20 helpless animals-who were purchased and left to fend for themselves in a frightening, lonely world. Now dependent upon the mercy of humans for survival, the lambs were in desperate need of safe refuge, ’round-the-clock intensive care and constant, loving attention-needs we were more than happy to fulfill.
Knowing all too well that the lives of these delicate creatures hung in the balance, a healthcare staff member and our cruelty investigator responded quickly and were on the road-within hours- to pick up the lambs and bring them to safety at our rescue and rehabilitation facility in Watkins Glen. Three of the lambs were transported to nearby Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, where they will remain in temporary foster care until we can permanently place them into a compassionate forever home.
Anxiously anticipating the arrival of our newest family members, our tireless shelter staff worked into the late evening, carefully preparing a safe and sterile environment-equipped with heat lamps, clean straw and warm blankets- and readying plenty of bottles to feed and nourish our fragile wards. When the babies finally arrived, hungry and worn-out from their trip, we were ready to act fast.
Barely old enough to comprehend their situation, the lambs we greeted had already experienced trauma to last a lifetime. “Regardless of the hundreds of rescues I’ve been involved in, I am never prepared for that first, heartbreaking glimpse into the eyes of an animal treated with such indifference,” said Susie Coston, Farm Sanctuary’s national shelter director. “What these lambs endured was incomprehensible. Their umbilical cords were still attached, and they were brutally ear-tagged, desperately thin, and visibly seeking comfort only their real mothers could provide.”
As we attended to the immediate needs of five of the babies-removing their ear tags, treating infected wounds, and urging them to accept milk replacer from a bottle- two of the tiniest lambs, Elijah and Madeline, were receiving intensive care from veterinarians at Cornell University’s state-of-the-art veterinary hospital, where all the lambs were initially assessed before coming to the farm.
Now, after many weeks of constant healthcare monitoring and bottle feedings, most of the lambs are thriving and growing stronger by the day. Andy, one of the biggest, has reached a healthy 20 pounds and has really begun to shine in his new role as “protector of the flock.” He has yet to let any of his loved ones out of his sight.
Georgia, despite suffering from a broken tail, is healing from her injury and also gaining weight at a healthy rate-weighing in at over 20 pounds! Cash, the smallest of the lambs, may only weigh 14 pounds, but he’s thriving nonetheless and regularly melting our hearts with his incredibly sweet face and irresistible charm.
Samantha, who gave us quite a scare when she spiked a high temperature and required a brief stay in the hospital, is now back home and doing very well on antibiotics. And Madeline too, who spent several weeks convalescing at Cornell, has finally stabilized enough to come home and reunite with her friends.
The unconscionable neglect they endured during their first week of life was much harder on two of the lambs. Freckles, a precious little boy currently hospitalized at Cornell, is being treated for meningitis, as well as a possible brain abscess. Both of these are life-threatening conditions, but he is responding well to antibiotics so far and continues to bravely fight for his life.
And then there was little Elijah, who was never even able to come home. Provided with every chance for a hopeful future, the gross neglect of his past was just too much for his delicate body to handle. Battling pneumonia and “navel ill”-a potentially fatal condition likely caused by his lack of colostrums and exacerbated by an unclean umbilical cord, Elijah’s troubles began the very day he was denied his mother’s care. Continuing to mount despite every measure to save his life, the health obstacles Elijah faced stacked even higher when vets discovered a bulla (thick-walled air pocket) in his lung-a condition preventing him from breathing without the aid of oxygen.
After building up his strength and monitoring his progress closely for several weeks, veterinarians were confident that Elijah, who was eating heartily, acting more alert and cheerful and feeling less weak, was finally ready for his surgery to remove the bulla-a surgery he needed to save his life. Loved so well by everyone who cared for him, Elijah, we all felt, simply had to make it through.
But love and medical science are not always enough to heal all wounds. So when we received the call that Elijah’s surgery went well, but that his other healthy lung had given out, we were devastated. Forced to say goodbye before we ever had a chance to welcome him home, we now push through our grief and disappointment with a little help from our friends-the other courageous lambs who still need our help to survive.
Through all their trials, every one of our affectionate little lambs has remained in good spirits-meeting every struggle with courage and an unbendable will. Filling our hearts with hope and gratitude, they continue to greet each new day with wonder and constantly share with us their huge capacity for love, trust and forgiveness.