You may have read the article my father, Eric Gustafson, wrote in the Summer 2019 issue of Pack Animal about adopting two young llamas from Southwest Llama Rescue. That was a happy tale, but this is the story of how I lost my first pack llama and best friend.
Last June, I had just returned home from nine days at the El Paso County fair in Calhan, Colorado where I had just shown my beloved llama, Caribou. He was a year and a half old and a beautiful young llama. He was mostly white and had a black face and a brown patch on his back that looked like a saddle. He was my best friend. My dad and I had adopted him and our other llama, Moose, just four months previous, but I felt like I had known Caribou my entire life.
It was his first show and he did great! One third-place ribbon and two seventh-place ribbons! Caribou and I worked extremely hard for the Fair, and with so many people watching, it was nerve-racking! As nervous as I was, I felt a warm sense of comfort as I hugged his long, fluffy neck. If only I could have seen what the future held, I would have savored that moment in the show ring for an eternity.
While we were away at the Fair, a bear investigated the empty pasture, knocking down the fence and damaging the hot wire. We repaired the field fence portion, but since we had just gotten home from the Fair, my dad and I didn’t have time to get the electric fence up and running again. That was a mistake.
I went to bed late that night, and I slept in until about nine in the morning. My dad had an early meeting and didn’t have time to check on the animals before he left. I took my time getting ready that morning. When I finally got out to feed the animals, it was about nine-thirty. After I took care of the chickens, I went to the llama pasture and called for the boys.
“Llama llama llama!” I yelled.
Moose loves food, so naturally he came running. I put the hay in the feeder, but still Caribou hadn’t made his way up the small hill to get his food.
“Caribou… come on, boy!”
I called, but there was no response. I walked down to the loafing shed and looked inside and he was not there, either. I felt something bad in my gut.
I scoured the pasture and found nothing but a torn-down fence. My mom had come out to give the chickens new water and she heard me and the shaky tone in my voice as I repeatedly yelled for Caribou. My mom knew something was wrong. I was running around like a madman as she hurried to the gate.
“Lina! What’s wrong?,” she asked.
I burst into tears. “He... he’s gone! Caribou's GONE!!”
I ran into her arms and collapsed. I felt like my heart was ripped from my chest, and I felt helpless and lost.
We searched for twelve hours that day, and Moose was with us the entire time. We had over a dozen 4H and llama friends helping us search. We looked hard for the next two weeks and did a fair bit of trespassing in the process. We delivered “lost llama” information flyers to all one hundred and fifty people in our neighborhood. We put up almost one hundred flyers on road signs. My entire family suffered a great deal, especially my dad and I. But out of all of us, Moose suffered the most. He now has severe PTSD when it comes to being alone.
Caribou has been gone for almost seven months now. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. We had a few leads, but most of them went nowhere and one was a cruel joke. Despite all the hours we put in looking, there has been no sign of him—not a trace and not one viable lead. We have no idea what could have happened to him, where he could be, or how he got there. Worst of all, we don’t know if he is dead or alive. I dream about the day I’ll get to see him again, but that probably won’t happen. The reality is, I most likely will never see my best friend again.