We met Maya when she came to The Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice for end of life care in March 2018. Her inspiring and tragically sad story features in award-nominated and internationally-recognised documentary "Crannog", directed by Isa Rao, about our work and friendship with those who come to live with us as they near the end of their lives.
Maya was suffering from listeriosis (listeria encephalitis/meningitis). This is an infection of listeria bacteria – caused by her being fed spoiled silage – that most likely entered her bloodstream via a cut in her gums where her adult teeth were coming through. The bacteria travels to the brain where it causes catastrophic and terminal lesions; her brain was decaying. We knew that because she had not received the intense intravenous antibiotic therapy she needed within 12 hours of infection (which itself would have given her only a 30% chance of survival) that her condition was life-ending, but we wanted her to have as much friendship, comfort and appropriate palliative veterinary treatment as we could provide for her in her final few days, and we wanted her to have a dignified death.
Maya was young; around a year old. The lesions on her brain were making movement very difficult for her, as she was no longer able to coordinate her movements. She was lying alone in a barn on one side with last years' hay as bedding, being visited twice a day and made to run round a barn. It was late winter and really cold in the north of Scotland. That had been happening for 6 weeks by the time she came to us. Her eye was atrophied and had open sores around it and her fleece had worn bald and she had sores on that side. It's best to try not to think on it too much at the time, though; we cannae change what's happened so it's best to put our energy into making the present better.
Despite this, her will to life kept her trying hard to stand and walk when we encouraged her, watching and willing her on as she fought so hard to stand up, then lost her balance and fell, a frustrated and determined “maaaah” telling us how she felt. It made us sad to watch her try so hard and get so frustrated, but she didn't need to know as it would not have helped.
We spent a lot of time with Maya from when she arrived on Saturday afternoon until we went to bed on Tuesday evening. I sat with her while she dozed, and she used my legs to lean on and hold herself standing upright, which brought her comfort as I think standing made her feel less vulnerable than she had lying on her side. She enjoyed lying out in the sun while we sat nearby. She had only known us a few hours, but sheep are some of the most trusting folk when they feel safe. She loved broccoli and carrots, and her sheep mix. She wasn’t so keen on hay; there were tastier things on offer!
We left Maya alert, eating and in good spirits at around 9pm on Tuesday evening. She had stood and walked a lot that evening, and she was pretty pleased with herself. She was tired, though. It took a lot out of her but she got so much from that encouragement and from being with us sitting beside her. As social species, humans and many others, including sheep, take comfort from being near others. In death, across species our needs and comforts are very similar.
Late on Tuesday evening, when we went to do the late night check, we found Maya's body. An expected and catastrophic seizure had ended her life. We had already decided that the compassionate decision was to end her life to prevent physical and mental suffering and to allow her to die with dignity, most likely the next day.
We only knew our friend Maya for 3 days but we became close pals. Such premature death for such preventable reasons doesnae seem right. Sheep are such interesting folk. I wish we had gotten to know Maya better.
Maya’s life ended much too soon, but we made her final days as comfortable, reassuring and dignified for her as they could be.
Maya’s body was collected and she was cremated. Her ashes came with us to our new home, where she will be buried in the Hospice Garden.
With fondness; farewell, pal.