Written by Elmarie Heckroodt
Every year, the farmers on the surrounding farms here in Koringberg, 18 kilometres outside Moorreesburg, bring their half-dead lambs to us and we nurse them back to life. Some make it, some, sadly, don’t.
Mikey, who was born on the 8th of April 2017, arrived here on the back of a motorcycle in a milk crate. The farmer told me that he had no hope for him because of his inability to use his front legs and, although initially considering ending his life, decided to bring Mikey to us and give him a chance.
A sparkle in his eyes
The little white lamb’s front legs were 10cm shorter than his hind legs. He was tiny, cold and malnourished. But there was something else in Mikey: his eyes had a sparkle to them.
I can always easily see in the lambs’ eyes when they’re not going to make it and eventually they pass on despite all attempts to keep them warm, bottle- or tube-fed and loved. Not once did I notice any sign of “I’m giving up – I’m suffering too much” from him.
There was no improvement
I immediately gave the little guy a bottle of goat’s milk, which he loved and guzzled eagerly. I kept him warm with a jacket in one of the doggy baskets next to my bed. He just lay there, 24/7. When I did his daily exercise with him, it just felt as if I wasn’t making any progress with him. I would support him under his stomach to stand, encouraging him all the time, but the moment I let go, he would collapse.
During this time, I noticed that one hind leg was also becoming lame; I added calcium to his milk. I then set out three hours a day during which I’d just sit with him on my lap and manipulate his legs, pulling and stretching, morning, afternoon and night. But nothing improved.
I noticed too that he was only lying on his left side, so I continuously turned him onto his other side so that his organs would keep functioning. Whenever he fell down during an exercise, he would always fall on the left side.
But that special sparkle was constantly in his bright eyes and that was what kept me going. There were many times when I just wanted to give up and I became so discouraged, and then I would cry and pray unceasingly while holding him on my lap, telling him how much I loved him and brushing his woollen coat with a special brush. He loved it. He still does.
Mikey does the moonwalk
Three weeks later, to my joy, on shaky legs, he actually stood on his own; it was literally one second and then he fell down, but he’d stood and there was hope. By then I’d tried all methods to strengthen his legs. I cut a flexible black rubber pipe in half, covered his front legs with it and bandaged it so that it could stay in place. Slowly, but surely, he began standing for longer periods… but still the lamb refused to walk.
One day, while I was changing this support method for his legs with clean bandages, to my amazement he pushed himself up with his chest and started walking in reverse, dragging his front legs along with his reversing. It was so cute and I was overwhelmed with joy – but I needed to get him to walk forward and not backwards.
That’s when I decided to call him Mikey, derived from Michael Jackson’s moonwalk, because that is exactly what it looked like.
Tractor tyre stand
I noticed a big half-cut tractor tyre that we use to put the goats’ feed in and a light bulb went off in my mind. The tyre was a little bit higher than Mikey, so if I turned it around I could put him across it and then I’d be able to leave him longer in order to strengthen his legs. After spending so much time working with Mikey, my back was killing me, and the tyre was the perfect solution.
As he tried to manoeuvre himself off the tyre, he kicked with his legs and I left him to it as I knew that he was at least using those weak front legs. The moment I removed the tyre, he toppled over again. I also used a smaller tyre to put him in during the day, along with his own pillow to support him, so that he didn’t fall over and just lie there kicking and struggling to get up.
On the 5th of May, Mikey took his first steps, very wobbly and unstable, whilst I barely touched his sides, just keeping my hands there in case he fell down. The exercises and leg support method (the pipes) continued, but nothing further progressed and, apart from a few instances of wobbly and unstable steps, he wasn’t much interested in walking again. I once again began to despair.
On the morning of the 19th of May, I was devastated to discover that his front legs were completely paralysed. I pinched between his hoofs but there was no reaction. As I gently stroked him, I felt that his stomach was rock hard and when I pressed onto his stomach, he moaned as if he was constipated. We treated him for this and, after three days of constant attention, things thankfully returned to normal. But now he was really refusing to walk.
He still loved his milk bottle and was very fond of his lucerne, and I later discovered that it was the lamb pellets that had caused the constipation, so I cut them from his diet.
Getting help on social media
Desperate for help, on the 22nd of May I decided to place a post on Facebook, which read: “Good day all. Meet Mikey. I’ve tried all possible methods to get him to strengthen and use his front legs but without any success. I’m putting out a plea to ANYBODY who can make a mobile cart for Mikey. I will pay whatever it costs. Please, any handymen out there who can help Mikey lead a normal life.”
There was a huge response with many people offering help. A few suggested that Mikey should be euthanised, but this was absolutely not a consideration; in fact, it only spurred me on to get him moving. Two days later, I posted again to thank those who’d offered help: “The response for the plea for a mobile cart for Mikey, our little lame lamb, has been absolutely overwhelming. I’m in awe over the love, care, advice and support from every single caring soul. Thank you so much. I’m finding it very difficult to find the right words to express my sincere gratitude.
“You and all the caring people just gave me that extra ‘push’ to do whatever I can to get Mikey rolling. Please bear with me... I will try to get back to each one who offered to build Mikey a cart. Thanks a million, again. Will keep you all posted.
“PS: I’ve learnt more from Mikey this past month than what I’ve learnt in my entire life regarding ‘Don’t ever give up’.”
Comments, advice, support and people wanting to build Mikey a mobile cart came from all over the world. One lady from the US asked for my bank details as she wanted to sponsor money for building him a cart but I declined - the purpose of my post was not to raise funds for Mikey… I just needed a cart.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t humanly possible for me to return every inbox or WhatsApp message and I just hadn’t expected the response to be so overwhelming, so I decided to try and build Mikey a cart myself.
It was during this time that I was put in touch with Judy Jooste of the Vesper on Wheels Project. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her continuous advice and support. She is one amazing woman.
I immediately jumped to work, salvaging a perfect frame from a car seat that I’d picked up at the rubbish dump, and changing it a bit here and there. But, in the end, it was too low for Mikey.
Mikey’s cart was perfect
I started all over again. Acquiring of a pair of aluminium crutches, I removed the rubber and used a grinder to cut the right width, height and length to fit Mikey. My kidney belt was used as the support for Mikey’s belly, along with a few old straps here and there, and I cut up an old doggy basket to use the sponge as extra soft support for his neck and stomach and – voila! We were ready to conquer the world.
I worked right through the night and on the morning of the 25th of May, Mikey’s cart was complete and perfect – and he loved it.
Friends, strangers and Facebook friends enquired about Mikey’s progress; it was simply impossible to answer them all, so I posted a photo of Mikey in his cart, saying: “On the road again (well, almost), Mikey just needs to get used to his new ‘legs’ and strengthen the hind legs before he can rock ‘n’ roll. Thank you all again for your love, care and support towards my woollen friend.”
He absolutely loved his wheels, and what made it more exciting was that my Yorkies were playfully chasing this funny thing on wheels, encouraging Mikey to move faster. When he wasn’t using his cart, I put back the pipes and just took them off at night.
Making a stand
On the morning of the 15th of June, 2017, Mikey stood unaided, giving small, uncertain steps one by one, and a week later he was running around, playing with the lambs. Although he’s older than most of them, he still remains the smallest.
There was one more setback about a month later when Mikey got so constipated that he developed anal prolapse and was rushed to the vet for emergency surgery. He was placed on medication, and ten days later was eating like a pig, had been weaned off his milk, and was enjoying a happy, healthy, running-and-normal-walking life with the other lambs.
He is totally tame, loves kisses and knows his name. Wherever I go, Mikey is at my side. And when he’s not, he’s hanging out – on all four feet – with his friends. I know that Mikey will grow old and retire right here with me in Koringberg.