A little background first: It would have cost us more to make a decoy “companion” horse out of plywood than it would have to buy Tono De Blanco, our white-wooled Peruvian llama. His one cerulean blue eye (the other eye is “meadow muffin” brown) rendered him virtually valueless. But as long as the eye worked, and even if it didn’t, we didn’t care.
Tono has a long, distinguished nose down which condescension rolls unchecked toward all. His arrogance, for some reason, is both superb and irrepressible. His gait is careful and cautious. Except at dinnertime when he gambols in a fleeting moment of reckless abandon, he moves around the pasture with extreme disapproval, inspecting each part of the grass carefully before deigning to place his fair hoof on it.
Watching him fuss, I’m reminded of the time I got lost and my prom date was forced to walk with me over a stream and then mount a fence in high heels to get to the dance. (It was only a very small stream and the barbed wire dull.)
Though Tono can not speak to prove it, one can’t help feel grossly inferior in the presence of his always judgmental, sideways smirk. However, he is exceptionally well-heeled and his barn etiquette downright WASP-y despite the fact he paces the fence line with the righteous indignation of the wrongly incarcerated.
We’ve spent time trying to figure him out. We’ve even considered the Eastern notion that llamas are spiritually evolved, perhaps having cycled through reincarnation orbits. In his own estimation, he’s smarter than we are by a lot. But at the end of the day, we still know how to open the feedbag and he doesn’t.
For the first two weeks, Tono was a model pasture companion as he grazed lightly and offered palliation to the quivering equine nerves. Four hundred dollars well spent.
Then he got sick.
Tono came with no manual, but I didn’t need documentation to know a prostrate llama with a half gallon of saliva pouring out of his mouth was not good.
Tono was not going to survive, it seemed, unless we went to the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, many (many) hours away in a truck I was pretty sure wasn’t going to survive the return trip.
We made it to Ithaca somehow without mechanical incident, and I alerted the animal hospital staff that our 1am arrival was imminent. The fourth-year residents mustered. Transferring Tono out of the truck was like moving a 300-pound waterbed. “We’re taking him to the Llama ICU,” they screamed at me, whisking him through huge steel doors.
Two thoughts came to mind almost simultaneously: 1) Do they really have a llama Intensive Care Unit? And 2) This is gonna cost some serious cake.
I received 14 daily reports that Tono was doing well, then not so well, then well again. Finally they summoned me to retrieve him and cautioned me that stuffing the empty trailer with $20 bills would only start to address the enormous medical bills my llama had incurred.
Two weeks in a hotel room in Ithaca during peak foliage season. Then there was the room service bill. And the in-stall movies. And the massages. And all the presents he gave to the staff but charged to his (my!) account.
The five-star service suited Tono just fine, and being doted on up there left him almost unmanageable down here.
So, for sale: One $6 million llama. Because if you can afford that, you can afford to keep Tono in the lifestyle to which he is accustomed. And after our initial outlay of $400, plus medical expenses, we will make a handy profit of $23.