Readers of my blog will likely remember Leviathan (affectionately known as ‘Levi’ and latterly ‘Leaves’), the massive boy lamb that had a battle coming in to the world and was then rejected by his mother. I became mum and bottle-fed and cared for him as he grew in to the most affectionate tame lamb with twinkling eyes that would melt the hardest of hearts. Levi has struggled in his short life – his traumatic birth and mother’s rejection probably didn’t set him up for greatness and he has become what shepherds call a ‘poor do-er’. Over the last few months, it’s become clear that he’s not thriving and looks sickly in comparison to his siblings. Keeping a careful eye on him and making sure he’s feeding and drinking well, I was hoping I could nurse him through it but a few weeks ago, he started to dramatically lose weight and began scouring (producing smelly runny poo). I called the vet and she came out and gave him a wormer injection and left me with various sachets of medicine and tonics to feed to him. Bottle-feeding him again was lovely – we still had that connection we’d established in those 4am feeds when he was a baby. His lovely eyes, even though slightly dulled through whatever was making him poorly, still looked right into me as I fed and tickled him.
I had thought he was through it as he began to gain weight, he looked more spritely and back to his usual self. His worm-count came back clear, which was great news. However, unfortunately, over the past few days, he’s been declining again. His wool is dull and his weight is falling. In himself, he’s just as loving and affectionate as ever and hasn’t shown any sign of distress. But this morning, when I went to check on him, he has begun scouring again.
Which leads me to a difficult ethical decision. What is the right thing to do? Do I struggle on and try to eek out his days? Or do I admit that he obviously has something about him which can’t be cured and the kinder thing is to let him go? It’s a decision which is far tougher than I’d ever expected.
On the face of it, he’s just a sheep. He was destined for the dinner plate and it’s not as if he was ever going to be kept as a pet. He has had the best life a sheep could have – sea view, wonderful grass, sheep nuts and hay on demand, warm shelter, his mum and siblings around him. I like to think it’s akin to a sheepy boutique hotel. He’s clearly unwell and so the humane thing to do, after exhausting all reasonable vet remedies, is to let him go. Even if he got over this bout, it would take an age to get him up to butcher weight, if that was possible at all. I can’t keep him as a pet as he’s a boy and would, well, do what boys are prone to doing when in close proximity to girls (and I don’t fancy having to deliver inter-bred three-headed sheep in future!). I know the right answer – the humane answer – is to let him go and to put him down.
But the thought of that makes me cry. I am an emotional wreck. I drove home from work and cried all the way. I can’t bear the thought of not being able to rub his furry chin or of not hearing his funny bleat when I go in to the garden. When I think back on all those days and nights I spent, just me and him in the stable me chattering away to him and him just looking at me like ‘what you going on about mum?’, my heart breaks.
But I guess this is the tough side of rearing animals. I admit I’ve had it easy so far (ewe prolapse to one side!) and I know it’s foolish to think that nature is always kind. You have to take the ups with the downs and accept that life can be hard and unfair.
So, after a lot of soul-searching, Levi is booked in to be put to sleep tomorrow morning. I’ve said ‘put to sleep’ and that sounds really gentle and peaceful. In reality, a man is coming from the knacker’s yard to shoot him in the head. All very matter-of-fact, ‘well that’s life’ stuff.
And I feel a terrible weight of responsibility.
I chose to bring a creature in to the world and literally had a hand (and an arm) in that and now I am choosing the moment that it should leave. That’s tough. I’d justified sending him to the butcher in due course – he will have had a good life, at least I know where my meat has come from etc. but this decision to bring him to a premature death rests heavy.
This afternoon, I’ve given the sheep lovely fresh hay. Levi can munch away to his heart’s content with his family pending his fate in the morning. I’ll give him an extra-special chin tickle when I go out to say good night to him.
My little Levi. He’s not just a sheep, he’s been a joy.