Etta was rescued from a live-market slaughterhouse a year ago. She arrived sick, emaciated and afraid of people. During the first months, she needed extensive medical care to help her gain weight and clear all infections. Her true personality emerged, and she is now a very outgoing sheep with a personality that steals hearts, including mine.
Etta had been favoring her right back leg for about a week. We worried she might have an abscess in her hoof or arthritis. We made an appointment with the vets for radiographs and an ultrasound at UC Davis. Getting her into the stock trailer was easy – she just followed me up the ramp. Once we closed the doors behind her and lifted the ramp, she started to worry and bellow loudly. I reached my hand through the trailer, touched her nose, and spoke quietly to her.
I parked the truck and stock trailer while Etta’s deep call echoed across the hospital parking lot. She quieted down when I peeked over the edge of the trailer, let her sniff my hand, and told her to stay for just a bit while I checked in. Her calling resumed instantly as I walked past the line of horse trailers towards the entrance. A woman brushing her horse’s mane and tail looked at me then back at my trailer and smiled, “your sheep sure does miss you”.
“She is my favorite lady,” I smiled back.
I unloaded Etta and waited for the students and the vet to arrive. Etta was nervous; her pupils were dilated and her breaths short, but she was quiet. She stood next to me and leaned heavily into my leg while I scratched her back. The vet was running late, so I left Etta in the room to grab some work from the truck. I ran into another vet who has treated Etta numerous times and knows the animals by name. Shouting over Etta’s nervous calls she said, “Etta really loves you.” I smiled, gave her the short version of why we were visiting and returned to our room. Etta was waiting by the door and re-glued herself to my leg. The staff arrived and gave her a physical. (She was up 40 pounds from her arrival weight! It took all my self-control not give the staff a round of high fives.) They wanted to assess Etta’s walk, but she was nervous and tried to dart away from them. So she and I made a tightly linked train (I the engine and she the caboose) circling the perimeter of the room clockwise then counter-clockwise for quite a few rounds.
The vet left to grab supplies from the pharmacy and the vet tech stayed to chat. He kept his eyes on Etta as he told me about his family’s beef cattle ranch near our new property in Grass Valley. I invited him to visit after we move. I noticed a connection when he said, kind of surprised, “she is really bonded to you.” The vet returned with Etta’s diagnosis: her arthritis is worsening probably related to her previously difficult life. Not much could be done except to provide pain management.
It hit me that maybe my bond with Etta wasn’t completely one sided, and that maybe she actually got something out of being around me, too. It never fails to excite me seeing how profound an impact the animals and their behaviors have and how apparent their emotions can be to people. I hope you have time this summer to attend one of our tours and spend time at the sanctuary. You’ll be amazed at the bonds the animals have with one another and the bonds they will form with you.