LIVINGSTON, Mont. – Montana’s favorite llama, Lewis the Llama, is back home after undergoing a vital jaw surgery in Colorado paid by supporters around the country.
Lewis made national headlines last year after being rescued from three months in the Yellowstone National Park wilderness.
Reports say he escaped from his previous owners, who operate a llama tour company in the park, after they continued to use him as a guide despite the llama’s painful tooth abscess.
Yellowstone Llamas owner Susi Huelsmeyer-Sinay rescued Lewis, who had been named Ike, and adopted him into her herd near Livingston.
But Lewis’ jaw pain made it hard for him to eat or interact with other llamas, and Huelsmeyer-Sinay refused to have him pack or wear a harness until the abscess could be treated.
Strong, healthy teeth are vital for pachyderms like llamas. Llamas are raised to be pack animals, something they can’t do properly with an injured mouth.
Huelsmeyer-Sinay started a GoFundMe in August, hoping that it might raise enough funds to help her cover the llama’s vital surgery at Colorado State University’s veterinary hospital.
Huelsmeyer-Sinay and Lewis took the journey down to Fort Collins in mid-September.
“It was a big surgery,” she recalls. “So of course like any parent, I was very nervous."
And soon after Lewis went under the knife, Huelsmeyer-Sinay was given one more surprise to justify for her nerves. The veterinarian staff quickly realized not just two, but three of the llama’s molars were infected and in need of removal. To address the problem, the specialists had to cut through the bone on both sides of Lewis’ jaw to reach all of the teeth.
After five-and-a-half hours, Lewis emerged from surgery. But despite recovering well on his way home, Lewis’ jaw again became infected after less than a week of being home in Livingston. Huelsmeyer-Sinay was forced to make another trip down to Colorado for a second surgery.
Altogether, the cost of surgery, travel, and recovery was $5,000. As a fulfillment of Huelsmeyer-Sinay’s hopes, it was all covered by a national crowd of supporters.
Huelsmeyer-Sinay says she knows why she was able to raise the money for Lewis.
“People would like to be part of something positive and local,” she explains. “And if he could speak he would say, 'I am so thankful' for taking his pain away.”
Lewis’ next big adventure? Packing in Yellowstone once again. He’ll need another six months to recover, meaning he has more than enough time to heal before packing season kicks off next July.
"I think people will love to go packing with him in Yellowstone. This time, he will pack without pain,” Huelsmeyer-Sinay says.
And this time, Lewis finally gets to be a normal llama, whether that means socializing with the other llamas Huelsmeyer-Sinay owns, or simply not being in constant pain.
It’s more than Huelsmeyer-Sinay could have hoped for.
"We are grateful for all the help,” she adds, “and we hope to see you on the trail."