A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mary Had A Little Lamb

(Above: Twinkle. Photo courtesy of Children's Fairyland)

Sad faces at Children's Fairyland: Twinkle the sheep died on Sept. 20, and everyone - from Juan the alpaca to Puddles the duck - misses her terribly.
Twinkle was only three and a half when she died, which makes her an anomaly at Fairyland, where the animals usually live way, way beyond their normal life expectancies because of all the TLC.
But poor Twinkle was afflicted by a congenital defect called megaesophagus, which causes bloat, a painful and deadly condition in sheep. For months, the staffers at Fairyland strove heroically to keep her alive, especially animal caregiver Deborah Ramirez, who logged countless hours - often off the clock - comforting her.
But her suffering finally became so acute that they reluctantly decided to have her humanely euthanized. Ramirez was holding her in her arms when she died.
From the moment she arrived at Fairyland in 2008, Twinkle stole everyone's heart. She loved people, especially Ramirez, whom she would follow around all day like Mary and her little lamb.
And she was absolutely wonderful with the kids. She had been rejected by her own mother, and there was something about her that made you think that she somehow knew what it was like to be lonely. Her greatest joy in the world was giving and receiving love from the park's pint-sized patrons.
Twinkle was a Suffolk sheep, and it turns out that breed is especially susceptible to the condition that killed her. So no more Suffolks for Fairyland.
Instead, Ramirez has found a breeder named Jamie Peyton, owner of Elysian Oaks Farm in Winters, who raises a different breed called Babydoll sheep, which are especially resistant to megaesophagus.
And they have a couple of other advantages. They're called Babydolls for a good reason: They never get taller than 24 inches, which means they'll look like lambs for their whole lives.
They'll act like lambs, too. Five of the ewes - Mary, Melonie, Monique, Butterfly and Leia - are pregnant, and they're due to deliver this winter.
"Lambs that are born in cold weather are more gentle, loving and sweet," says Ramirez. "They like to snuggle more, and they get more hands-on treatment from their keepers than lambs born in the summer, who roam outside from a very young age."
Fairyland's new lamb won't be available for adoption until spring, which is just as well because it'll probably take Fairyland that long to pay off Twinkle's medical bills.
Some might wonder why Fairyland, which runs on the tightest of budgets - made even tighter last year by the City of Oakland slashing its contribution by 25 percent - would shell out so much cash on a hopeless cause.
The answer is simple: It's the moral thing to do.
"For the animals, this park is their home," says executive director C.J. Hirschfield. "They live here 24/7. We’re just visitors."
Besides, it's the way the little children - who are, after all, the people to whom Fairyland is ultimately responsible - would want it.
After Jewel the cat died last March, Fairyland set up a fund for unanticipated emergencies like this.
If you, or a child you love, have ever been charmed by Twinkle or one of the other animals at Fairyland, now's the time to say thanks by sending a tax-deductible contribution to Children's Fairyland, 699 Bellevue Ave., Oakland CA 94610.