There is an unwritten code of ethics among responsible rescuers, and part of this code says that having rescued an animal, you have lifelong responsibility for that animal. If you place the animal, it must be a home which you are certain will give it a forever commitment. If it doesn't work out, you must take the animal back.
And so, for the past six months, I have had a dirty secret. Martin, the alpaca, is no longer where I placed him. And when I heard he was about to be moved again, I did not take him back.
Sh*t happens. Lives fall apart. Situations change. And so it was with Martin.
For those unfamiliar with Martin's story, I'll provide a brief summary:
In 2006, I rented some acreage in Mission, BC where Martin had been abandoned in the back field. He had been there for 6 – 8 years, all by himself. From neighbours, I learned he had been purchased as a newly-weaned cria by a former tenant, who then left him behind when they moved out a year later. Subsequently, some renters had fed him, most had not. He had no shelter except for a tree, under which he had dug a dirt hole. He lived with coyotes and bears roaming through the field, as well as the occasional pack of dogs. It was cold and snowy in winter, very wet in fall and spring, and hot in summer, yet he survived it all.
I named him Martin after Saint Martin de Porres, a Peruvian saint who was said to be able to communicate with the animals. It was a fitting name as alpacas are a Peruvian animal, and Saint Martin de Porres, from what I have read of him, embodied many of the qualities that I admire, and shared Martin the alpaca's gentle temperment.
I built Martin a good shelter, made sure he had fresh water, grains and hay all year, had him shorn (he had never been done!) and his toes and teeth done, had him gelded, and taught him to come when called and to eat from my hand. He shared the pasture with the potbellied pigs I fostered, socialized with llamas in an adjacent field, and became comfortable around me and my dogs.
I knew I would not be on that property for more than a few years – retirement was looming, and the rent was too high for me to afford on my pension. Nor would I have the finances to buy acreage of my own. But I could not, in good conscience, walk away from him at the end of my lease. I persuaded the landlord to sign him over to me so that I could find Martin a home.
When I was about to retire, in 2009, I put the word out via rescue forums and alpaca organizations to find him a new home. A kind woman on Vancouver Island, who has an assortment of rescue animals, and also a herd of alpacas from which she collects the fibre for weaving, offered to take him in - a bonus for me as the community to which I was retiring was coincidentally about twenty minutes away from her farm, allowing me to continue to see Martin. Another rescue person and I did a homecheck, talked with her about our expectations, and met her other animals. The woman came to Mission to pick up Martin, and he rode home in comfort in the back of her van. Martin had a home.
I visited him there several times. Martin had settled in well, becoming "Uncle Martin" to the crias, and learning how to truly be an alpaca. I thought my work was done.
And then, last spring, I received an email from Martin’s new mama to say that ill health was forcing her dear friend and business partner to reconsider her participation in the care of the herd, and in the final shakedown, some of the animals would have to be rehomed. While I was not happy to hear this, I did understand – and I have a huge respect for animal caregivers who recognize their own physical and financial limitations. I see and hear of so many rescues/rescuers who lack the ability to recognize when they are overextended, and ultimately it is the animals who suffer.
As the person responsible for Martin’s initial rescue, many would say I should have taken him back and found him another home. The email came right at the time that my two shelties died just a week apart, and my mom had a medical crisis, and it was simply not possible for me to house him on my small village lot. And I was confident that Martin’s new mama shared the same values as I for selecting where he should go, and had a similar access to animal-loving networks. And so I stood back.
Sure enough, a person who does horse rescue offered to take on a small herd of alpacas, including Martin, and care for them while new homes were found. I was kept in the loop. The alpacas would only be placed in homes in pairs or more - no more lonely alpacas. I sponsored Martin to ensure his needs would be met, and just before Christmas received word that Martin and his best buddy Belvedere, a chocolate coloured senior alpaca, had been adopted by one of the horse rescue's foster homes.
So Martin is back on the mainland, this time in Northern BC, where he is being spoiled rotten by Serena and her family. Within days he was eating treats from her hand, coming up to the front fence to see what was going on, hanging out with the horses and ducks, and living the easy life.
He and Belvedere have a fenced pasture on which they can roam, a barn which they can go in and out of at will (their stall heated with infrared lamps in winter), and lots of attention. They each have their own feed bucket into which yummy grains are put each day – and then they both chow down from one bucket before both moving on to the second one. Silly alpacas!
Serena, his new mama, recently sent me these photos, and gave me permission to post them here.
I chose not to tell this story as it unfolded last summer because it was my dirty secret – I had failed to home Martin in a way that would ensure he would never lose a home again. But over the past few weeks, I decided that I will share his story, because I believe it is worth the telling. I still have no patience for people who adopt animals and then decide for frivolous reasons not to keep them, who view them as property, as commodities, an inconvenience, who think that having a baby is reason enough to dump a dog. But I also recognize that sometimes in life, sh*t happens, and life turns upside down and inside out, and the four legged family members have their lives turned upside down too. Ideally, a stable life where the whole family, human and animal, remain together is usually in each member's best interest, but sometimes it cannot be.
What is important, I think, is to ensure that the animal - whether dog or pig or alpaca or bird or pet rat - is provided with a secure environment, with good food, with fresh water, with companionship .... and with love. And that is something Martin has. He is a content, happy alpaca who has finally found his home. Thank you, Serena, for welcoming Martin and Belvedere.
For more stories on Martin's life with me and his transition to the alpaca herd on Vancouver island, check out some of these earlier posts:
Mischievous Martin, Pesky Pigs and Three Dawdling Dogs
Hey, Who Stole Martin?
The Grass is always Greener
An Alpaca gets the Zoomies
The Odd Couple
A Herd of His Own
Martin's Big Snip - Part One
Martin's Big Snip - Part Two
Martin's Big Snip - Part Three
And then there were none
Fun at the Farm