What care can do

LYNDEBOROUGH – It’s a long story with a mostly happy ending: an abandoned guanaco now known as “Cornflake;” the inability of caring people to find an official agency to help them catch her; the gathering of a group of volunteers who corralled her and took her to safe pasture and good food; and now the formation of a non-profit association to prevent another such occurrence.

Cornflake is now in the care of Tim Welch, owner with his wife Dana of Purgatory Falls Alpaca Farm, who has spent years in the rescue of camelids – alpacas, llamas, guanacos and vicunas.

Many of their current herd are rescues from states along the east coast.

Guanacos are llama-like but smaller and are thought to be the ancestor of the llamas which were developed by the Peruvian Indians centuries ago as pack animals.

“I’ve got 80 (animals) and I don’t need another one, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let it become coyote bait,” Welch said after the rescue. “I won’t let an animal die because someone doesn’t care.”

Welch is having his accountant and attorney set up the rescue association, make it an official non-profit to continue what he has been doing informally.

Learning that he could not catch Cornflake himself, and before calling volunteers for help, Welch had contacted every agency he could think of. The local police, he said, are not equipped to handle large animals, (Hancock does not have an animal control officer); the state police said it was a local problem, the country sheriff’s office wasn’t interested, N.H. Fish and Game Department deals only with wild animals; the area rescue agency did not have any facilities, the state veterinarian’s office couldn’t help when asked if they had a tranquilizer gun.

Monadnock Humane Society had inspected the property earlier and found no indications of neglect.

“The problem was,” Welch said, “nobody knew what she was and nobody wanted to take responsibility because of the liability. There were questions of who the owner was, if had it been abandoned, questions of liability over lawsuits. I contacted all the local vets and they all said it was a liability issue. However,” he added, “I wasn’t going to let her starve to death because of bureaucratic red tape.”

In the meantime, until Welch has his new agency organized, anyone with, or knowledge of, an abandoned animal, may call Maureen Pendergrast at N.H. Animal Rescue in Bedford (471-0888).

“We don’t have facilities for farm animals, but we have connections and will find someone,” she said, acknowledging that caring for large animals is expensive.

Cornflake’s story begins last summer. She was part of a large herd, estimated at well over 20 animals, owned by Daniel Ramage and pastured on land leased from Arthur Cernota on Elmwood Road in Hancock. Ramage was eventually evicted for non-payment of rent. He left but did not take the animals.

“They were left without food or water,” Welch said, “and there were coyote tracks everywhere.”

Ramage eventually came back for his animals, but it was already too late for many of them.

“There were skeletons through the fields,” Welch said. The ground was snow covered during the rescue but he said he saw six which had apparently died of starvation. “The skeletons were intact, not broken and scattered like coyotes would leave them. It was appalling.”

Ramage removed all of the animals that were left except Cornflake who could not be caught.

She got her name because the present tenants found that, although they could not get near her, she would eat bowls of cornflakes left out for her.

Made aware of the situation, Cernota tried to find help with catching her, and eventually learned of and called Welch.

Welch and two others went to Hancock. After about six hours, “it was obvious we weren’t going to be able to catch her. We took up a big male alpaca thinking he would call her, but she wasn’t interested.”

He, too, contacted all the agencies he could think of to no avail. Dana then turned to Facebook and sent an appeal through their website for immediate help with a desperate rescue.

“We had over 3,000 responses offering support,” and in the end, 18 people went to Hancock, including two to Welch’s neighbors, Greg Porter and Dan Depont, both of whom are familiar with alpacas.

They used ropes to build a temporary corral and herded her into it where she could be subdued, Welch said. The process took a couple of hours.

Welch said, because of his work schedule, he had only Thursday (Dec. 11) to catch her. “She was wild, not being fed, and I said I can’t wait two or three weeks with the coyotes patrolling around. Luckily, it has a happy ending. It’s a pretty sad thing that it takes all of this to get something done.”

Ramage’s son called him, Welch said, “wanting his animal back.” Welch was willing to return Cornflake if the Ramages were willing to have their current property inspected for suitability, provide proof of ownership, receipts for hay and grain, and veterinarian reports. “I’d also like to get my medical expenses paid. We didn’t hear from him again.”

Cornflake is his first guanaco, he said, “but she is more than welcome to stay here the rest of her life.” Alpacas, he said, “generally live about 15 years.”

Welch said they gave Cornflake shots for worming and antibiotics. “Normally a rescue is quarantined for two weeks, but she was so stressed out (from being alone). They are herd animals. She had obviously never been in a barn, never been fed grain. We are feeding her separately to be sure she is getting enough. The last few days she has started accepting the (other animals). It’s a wonderful thing to see.”

Pendergrast said abandonment of animals if fairly common, but is generally cats, dogs or small pets, which they can care for. With more people raising farm animals, the problem may become worse.

The state Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has one facility for livestock in the seacoast area, Welch said..

The case is still under investigation. Ramage faces possible charges of animal cruelty and abandonment. Both charges are misdemeanors.