FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Lewis the llama is famous for his story of survival. A runaway, he was on the lam for three months in Yellowstone National Park. He was eventually rescued, but a painful injury was holding him back.
On Tuesday, veterinary dental surgeons at Colorado State University worked to make sure Lewis’ story has a happy ending.
Since his ordeal last year, Lewis continues to capture the hearts of people across the country. Dozens have donated money to bring Lewis to Fort Collins.
Lewis, originally called Ike, made his great escape in July 2018. He escaped from an operator of a business who loans llamas to various llama tourism companies, according to Lewis’ current owner, Susi Hülsmeyer-Sinay. Somehow, he freed himself from his halter and ran into to vast wilderness of Yellowstone.
“People reported seeing him,” Hülsmeyer-Sinay said. “People had him on Instagram.”
In the land of bison and grizzly bears, tourists were snapping pictures of a llama. Time and time again, rescue efforts failed. When October arrived, many people wrote Lewis off. But Hülsmeyer-Sinay did not.
“We just trusted that we would find him,” she said.
Hülsmeyer-Sinay, originally from Germany, has been operating a tourism llama packing service at Yellowstone since 2006. She had not met Lewis before, but she made it her mission to rescue him.
Hülsmeyer-Sinay kept track of where people had reported seeing Lewis. She set out with some of her llama friends and got lucky. Hülsmeyer-Sinay found him at Yellowstone’s Lewis Lake. That’s when the animal — once called Ike — got his new name.
“When I rescued Lewis, I did not ask for permission to do so,” Hülsmeyer-Sinay said. “I just did it. The owner contacted me afterwards and offered me to keep him. And he said that [Lewis is] just trouble anyway, which he’s not. He is very sweet.”
Lewis was injured when Hülsmeyer-Sinay found him. A tooth was so severely infected that it was draining fluid through a hole in his jaw. Vets told Hülsmeyer-Sinay surgery was needed and CSU was recommended.
With travel costs, vet bills and aftercare treatments, the total price tag came out to around $4,000. As of late Tuesday, the goal had nearly been met on fundraising website GoFundMe, making surgery for Lewis a reality.
On Tuesday afternoon, CSU said Lewis had three teeth extracted: two molars on the right side of his mouth and one on the left. All of the teeth were severely affected by periodontal disease.
The surgery went well and there have been no complications, according to the university.
Lewis will be on pain medications and antibiotics. Staples from the surgery will be removed in 10 to 14 days.
To donate to help Lewis the llama, visit the GoFundMe page.