Michele brought Holli and her mom home even though as a preemie Holli needed extra care including supplements of rich goat’s milk.
Little Holli seemed to be progressing well and gaining strength when a major setback occurred. A rescue dog being fostered by Michelle startled the Alpacas and Holli was knocked down when the herd bolted. Michelle found her lying on the cold wet ground and immediately brought her inside.
Holli was bleeding from her mouth and her temperature was dangerously low so Michelle began warming her with a hairdryer. Fortunately, the bleeding only came from two chipped teeth and was not deemed serious.
However, the little alpaca did not seem to be able to move her rear legs, and this was very worrisome. Many owners in Michelle’s position with other animals to care for and having just been laid off from her long time job, would have given up on Holli and had her euthanized. Instead, Michelle decided to fight for little Holli to whom she had grown very attached. "She had such a fighting spirit and I knew she was special. I just couldn’t give up on her."
Eventually, Michelle and her mother fashioned a kind of support cart from a discarded walker to allow Holli to be ambulatory. Slowly, Holli’s injured back legs began to strengthen, much to the surprise of her vets. However, they discovered that her hips were also damaged so she may need hip replacement surgery at some point.
The job was not just grueling but expensive. Michelle estimated that she has spent more than $10,000 on the treatments. Along the way, she was laid off from her job as a car-repair insurance marketer and resorted to garage sales to help meet Holli’s needs.
Neighbors, friends and strangers donated generously. ‘‘Little kids would come to visit her and bring a dollar,’’ Michelle said.
Word about Holli spread through the alpaca show world. Valerie Smith of Topeka, Kansas, was so taken by Holli that she paid to have a $700, one-of-a-kind wheelchair built. A harness holds Holli up as she uses her front legs to inch her way along, while her limp back legs dangle between the wheels.
As if Holli’s progress wasn’t enough of a heart-warming story, she has now embarked on a career in pet assisted therapy. Visiting the elderly residents at Hidden Lake Center and other nursing homes and facilities. When Holli comes in with her specially adapted cart, she and the elder residents have a lot in common, and she is especially inspirational to the Alzheimer’s patients with her never-say-die attitude.
Michelle said that one Alzheimer patient who has difficulty interacting with people loved Holli’s visits and is able to remember her name, although he doesn’t remember Michelle’s name and calls her Holli, too. "That’s okay," said Michelle. "I just tell him: yes, I am Holli’s mom." (Photo: Michelle does some massage therapy on Holli's back legs.)
Holli also relates well to children from scout troops and school groups who love to visit her at the Alpaca Ranch. Visitors are common at the ranch although Michelle does no official advertising. When Holli is out she always draws a crowd, and her story has spread through word of mouth so many of Michelle's neighbors and their friends want to see her. Holli loves all the attention. It’s almost as if she understands and is giving back to all those who supported her and believed in her.
Holli and Michelle participated in Wheels for the World at Bridgeton, MO's July 4th parade this year.
Alpacas are usually prized for their coats. Annual shearing produces luxurious fiber durable enough to make heirloom clothing, blankets and rugs. But Holli is prized as an inspiration.
Despite all of Holli’s health problems, Michelle is able to shear her fleece and has even made some heart shapes from it that she used as thank you's at Christmas for all the neighbors and friends who helped save Holli. And, move over Martha Stewart, because a jeweler friend has begun designing some “Holli jewelry” made from her fleece.
built lift, she is unable to walk.
(Contributed by Hilda who lives in Auburndale, Florida)