Penelope, our beautiful, amazing, sweet, cheerful, hilarious, cripple-legged, one-eared ewe landed at Stable Days in the spring of 2015 as an orphaned lamb. Penelope’s mother, one of a few hundred ewes, was nameless as is common in large flocks, but was one of her shepherd’s treasures. She was a good momma, seasoned and mature. She had seen many lambing seasons but this time around she was carrying triplets and that rarely goes well. Labor was long and hard for Penelope's mom but she muscled through and delivered the first lamb without incident, a healthy baby, accepted by her mom and ready to start her first day in the warmth and care of her attending mother. The second lamb was a boy and was born weak but not critical. The mom, sensing her boy’s weakness, refused her affection and remained focused on her stronger, healthier first born.
Penelope was the last born and like her brother born just seconds before, their mom didn’t even give her a nod; it’s hard to say if she had even taken notice that her baby girl was born still.
Fortunately, this is the beginning and not the end of Penelope's story. The kind quick hands of her shepherd gave her a second start at life by placing his syrup coated fingertip under her tongue and on the roof of her mouth. She stirred and her shepherd gave a sigh of relief as she started to smack at the syrup. It wasn't long before Penelope and her brother were standing wobbly kneed and hoping for their mother’s care.
The shepherd spent hours trying to interest the mamma in her lambs but she wanted only to care for her first born. Perhaps it was the weakness of the lambs or the exhaustion of labor and delivery, but the worn out mom had made up her mind and would have nothing to do with those two needy, noisy babies.
It was the great compassion and strong endurance of their shepherd that saved them both that day. He cleaned, dried, and bottle-fed, day and night, the two precious lambs while enjoying the snuggles and the joy that comes with the deep care of the flock that he loves.
A few weeks later the babies where thriving and Penelope, along with her brother Peter, were brought to the ranch to what we hoped would be their forever homes.
Penelope and Peter grew up fast, as all babies do, and before long the bottle-feeding was replaced by water tanks and in a blink of an eye they were living out in the pasture with a donkey, two delightful mini donkeys, a couple of crazy, sometimes annoying goats, and Penelope’s new BSF (Best Sheep Friend), Piper.
The pasture was peaceful and the little barnyard crew were all happy and healthy. It was a pleasant spring evening and the dinner chores had already been completed when a horrible cry came from the barnyard pasture. Ben and I ran from the house to find Piper laying on the ground, blood running down her face and her neck twisted off to the side in a grotesque break. Her little body was shaking with pain. Her suffering took our breath away as we stood over her knowing there was nothing we could do but say goodbye.
Was this an accident or an attack; what could have happened to cause such injury? We were troubled and baffled. After laying Piper to rest in a freshly dug grave, we returned to the house and sat in silence.
I’ve heard it said that trouble often comes in twos, and sadly the next day showed this to be true at least some of the time. Although there was no cries, or at least none we heard, when we drew close to the barnyard pasture for breakfast chores, we saw Penelope laying on the ground, blood running down her face and out of her ears. She lifted up her head and turned to watch us race towards her. Before we could cover the ground that was still between us she stood up and met us part way. “Thank God, she’s not dead!” were the first words out of my mouth. With reasons we’ll never know in this life-time, Rab, the full-size donkey who was charged with protecting the sheep had turned violently on them. If it were not for the spattered blood on his chest we would have thought the attack had been made by some unknown predator. Sadly we separated Rab from the rest of the barnyard crew, and quickly moved our injured friend to the barn.
While we waited for the vet to arrive we prayed and we cried. We busied ourselves with cleaning up her blood stained wool. “Sheep are either healthy, or dead. They rarely survive any trauma.” The words I had just heard at a ranchers clinic were now personal and I did my best to shake them from my thoughts. After the exam, Jeanette, our vet, was not optimistic that Penelope would pull through and feared that she would no longer be of sound mind but regardless of her chances Jeanette gave Penelope the needed care and best chance of recovery she could offer.
With one ear amputated and the other half missing, Penelope was ready to start her very slow, year long journey to recovery.
Months later she was still stall bound and her cheerful nature was replaced by a heavy sadness. Penelope was beginning to show signs of depression. We sat with her as often as we could but we needed to find her a team. We wrote up a Facebook post recruiting sheep snugglers and in no time at all Penelope’s popularity had grown and she had more friends that we could count.
Daily, she was read to, sung to, and given, by evidence of her weigh gain, a lot of treats. Her mood improved and many of her friends found such peace in her presence they began to feel that perhaps they were the ones in need of her company and care instead of the other way around.
After a year of being stall bound, the day finally arrived for Penelope to venture outside. With a sweet unbridled love for life and her signature sheepish grin, she ran and jumped and played and danced her way across the grassy field, before settling in to her temporary outside stall. As we transitioned her to outside turnouts and overnight stall rest, her love of the great outdoors was evident.
Today Penelope stills needs occasional stall rest, but she spends most her time outside with her two mini donkey pals and her new BSF, Ewestice, who came to ranch this spring with her sweet cuddly little lamb, Lily (Lily of the Valley). Penelope’s charm is one of her strengths and she greets everyone who enters her pasture with enthusiasm and cheer. Running up to friends and strangers alike, Penelope with her crippled leg and one ear can help anyone find their smile.