CHAUMONT Elliott the orphan llama, his hearing keen despite one ear that was partially frozen off, bolted from his comfortable living room lair as soon as he heard the visitor at the back door.
He high-stepped through the kitchen and greeted the guest at a gallop, his two-toed, sure-footed feet clicking on the floor and his deep black eyes gazing curiously. He then excitedly sniffed this new arrival who had entered his realm. Satisfied, but still curious, Elliott politely followed the visitor as he took a seat at the kitchen table. The llama then began nibbling on the visitors sleeve.
I think he likes you, said Joan E. Kimmis, his rescuer and housemate.
This winter has been tough on man and beast. But at a house on Old Town Springs Road in the town of Lyme, life is much easier now for Elliott, an 8-week-old llama who would probably have been a goner if not for the kindness of Joan and her husband, Paul M. Kimmis.
Elliott was born Jan. 4, during one of the several snowstorms this winter. Mrs. Kimmis became aware of the llama when she was called by a friend, whom she didnt want to identify, who told her about the animal. The friend asked Mrs. Kimmis if she could take it.
His mother never wanted him, Mrs. Kimmis said. She just left him and he just laid there and froze.
She said that when llamas are born, their mothers dont clean them off like a cow or a horse would their newborns.
You have to do that, she said.
Mr. and Mrs. Kimmis have five other llamas. Two are half alpaca. Mrs. Kimmis spins and weaves their wool into yarn.
Mrs. Kimmis was hesitant at first to take the llama, knowing it would require lots of work without its mother. She told her friend to check with another person and call her back if she couldnt find it a home.
But in the back of her mind, Mrs. Kimmis held a secret desire: she had always wanted a llama to bond with her.
If you get them to bond, they are quite tame, she said. Otherwise, they are kind of standoffish like a cat. Theyll come to you when they want to.
She had tried to bond with her other llamas.
I gave up on ours, she said. I dont know if they were too old or what.
When Mrs. Kimmis, 73, got the call that she was the last option for Elliott, she knew it would be too cold for him to be on his own outside, especially in this exceptionally frigid winter. So she brought him to live inside her house.
Mr. Kimmis, 77, was indifferent about his wifes plan.
Its just something else to take care of, he said, noting that the couples dog, Molly, a silky terrier, also was a stray.
Molly and Elliott get along fine and often play together. The llama enjoys nibbling on Mollys fur and basically anything else it can get its lips on, from Mr. Kimmiss well-worn Carhartt coat slung over a kitchen chair to magazines on tables.
Molly sometimes returns the favor and nibbles on Elliott.
They both start doing that to one another, and all of a sudden, the dog has had enough and puts a paw up, like, Get out of here, Mrs. Kimmis said.
Elliotts gentle nibbling action, Mrs. Kimmis believes, mimics a nursing instinct.
He never had a mother, she said.
no longer pampered
Mrs. Kimmis said things are a little easier, and less expensive, since Elliott went off diapers (large Pampers) a few weeks ago.
I used to be able to stand over him and put the diaper on him, Mrs. Kimmis said. Now, I cant. Hes too tall.
Mrs. Kimmis noticed that when Elliott did his business in his diaper, he always went to the same spot, in front of the kitchen sink. So she figured she would put newspapers down in that area for his droppings and take off his diaper. That combination worked for Elliott, who got the hint.
Every once in a while he has an accident, Mrs. Kimmis said.
Elliott weighs 40 pounds and his shoulder height is about 3 feet. But he has a long neck, which is the perfect size for begging at the kitchen table. Everything on the table must be pushed out of llama reach.
Mr. and Mrs. Kimmis have their bedroom on the first floor of their home. Its door is always shut now.
When we go to bed at night, we have to sneak out when hes lying down, Mrs. Kimmis said. Otherwise, he wants to come in with you. He follows you around like a puppy.
Coaxed to eat
Mrs. Kimmis said she has tried feeding Elliott grain and other foods, but he only drinks Ultra 24 milk replacer mix, which she purchases at the Tractor Supply store in Watertown.
Mrs. Kimmis attempted to feed Elliott (named by her granddaughter, Ashley Zimmer) with a bottle, but he would have nothing to do with it. He laps up his Ultra 24 from a bowl. But meal time has become a matter of trial and error for Elliott.
It takes him quite a while, Mrs. Kimmis said. Each time, I say, Cant you remember how you did it last time?
She said Elliott goes back and forth in front of his drinking bowl and paws the floor.
And he bobs his head up and down and hes moaning all the while, Mrs. Kimmis said. He wants it, but he wont put his face down there.
Sometimes, to encourage Elliott to drink, Mrs. Kimmis brings the bowl up to him.
And sometimes I pretend to be lapping it, she said.
When all seems lost, Elliott will suddenly seem to remember how to drink, sucking down as much as two cups of Ultra 24 at each meal.
When Mrs. Kimmis took possession of Elliott, she noticed one ear was disfigured, likely the result of frostbite.
He kept rubbing it, and the next thing I knew it was just hanging, so I cut it off, Mrs. Kimmis said. He can hear. Hes very alert.
The long-range plan is for Elliott to live outside. The Kimmises plan to initially house their new llama with one of their sheep.
They are social animals, Mrs. Kimmis said.
But Mr. Kimmis said it is still too cold outside for Elliott to be on his own. Hes afraid the young llama would get sick as the cold air would lower his immunity to diseases.
Elliott does take short walks outside, where he likes to nibble on trees and shrubs near the house. Hes small enough so that if he made a dash for the road or the fields, the Kimmises could block him. Elliott will eventually be halter-trained, so shell be able to walk him. And, Mrs. Kimmis has other plans for Elliott. When he gets old enough, were going to have him neutered, she said.
Llamas are closely related to alpacas, which are raised at Home Again Farms in Theresa by Gail A. Marsh and her husband, Daryl K. Marsh. Both llamas and alpacas are members of the camelid family.
Llamas are nearly twice the size of alpacas, Mrs. Marsh said, but she said both species are social animals and can make great pets.
You can have that social interaction with them and they enjoy that, but on the other hand, they like to be in the pasture with their friends, Mrs. Marsh said. Its kind of a no-guilt situation.
She compared the situation to a dog that wants constant attention.
Llamas and alpacas enjoy that attention, but they are fine when they dont have it. They have their buddies when you are not around.
Mrs. Kimmis enjoys giving Elliott attention but she admits thinking My God, what did I get into? with housing Elliott. But when you get up in the morning and you come out and feel like, blah, and youve got this little fuzzball here, and you put your head down, he kisses you and you pet him and he moans and groans, its worth it.
Mrs. Marsh said Elliott is lucky to have found Mrs. Kimmis. The two women are friends. Mrs. Kimmis uses wool from Mrs. Marshs alpacas to spin into yarn.
Joan is a wonderful person, and Im sure whatever shes doing, shes doing it correctly, Mrs. Marsh said. Elliott is a very fortunate llama.
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Kylie Kimmis of Brownville, granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Kimmis, took a video of Elliott frolicking with Molly, the family dog.
To watch that video, go to http://wdt.me/9qXTH6