The story of Macchiato the llama has a happy ending. It does not have a happy beginning.
Let’s start at the end.
The end is where we find little Mac, as he is known, his front hooves tucked under his fluffy belly, his cherry-red jacket snapped snuggly against the crisp autumn air. Next to him is Tricycle the golden retriever, his coat glowing like honey in the sunshine. Tricycle was hit by a car and lost a leg when he was little, hence the name, but it doesn’t slow him down much.
Mac and Tricycle live together on a farm in north Georgia, with nine chickens who cluck around like they own the place, four other dogs including two other goldens (one with three legs, one with four), four horses and a miniature donkey named Buckaroo.
Mac’s mother, Carrie, also lives on the farm, but they can’t be around each other, not yet. It’s complicated, in a way people, even people with strained relationships with their own mothers, might not understand. But more on Carrie later.
Up at dawn to keep things running on this 36-acre slice of Heaven are Lester and Diane Aradi. For 36 years he wore a badge, first with the police department in Buffalo Grove, Ill., a suburb northwest of Chicago, and then as chief of the Largo, Fla. police department.
“He earned a reputation as a warm-hearted, approachable leader,” the Tampa Bay Times wrote as he prepared to retire in 2010. At the time Lester and Diane, who had worked as a hair stylist and salon owner, weren’t entirely sure what their next move would be. They knew they wanted to spend time with their kids and grandchildren. Beyond that, who knew?
“I want to go fly-fishing again,” Lester told the Times. “I want to ride my horse.”
Haggis Hanover had once been a racehorse but with competition behind him, Haggis was badly neglected until Diane and Lester rescued and adopted him about a year before the move to Georgia. With their nurturing Haggis rehabilitated nicely, but away from the stable environment he’d come to know, he was lonely.
Diane and Lester reached out to Georgia Equine Rescue League to see if anyone needed a home, and then they had two horses. Then three. Then four.
Lester jokes that when someone offers, “How would you like a free horse?” the correct response is “How would you like a free college student?” (It’s not cheap to maintain either animal.)
They also reached out to Adopt a Golden with a particular interest in animals who are harder to place due to age or special needs. Here’s a video of Hope, a puppy with mobility issues, who recently joined them:
Tricycle had already joined the Aradi menagerie, and inspired Lester to write a children’s book called “Tricycle and Friends.”
For a while Tricycle’s best friend was Major the Saint Bernard and when Major died, Tricycle would lay on his grave, inconsolable. Lester contacted Adopt a Golden again and wouldn’t you know it? Another dog with only three legs needed a home. Welcome, Romeo.
“They’re best buddies now,” Adopt a Golden president and founder Lauren Genkinger said, who’s also thrilled Hope lives on the farm with her two “tripod” siblings. “She is the cutest thing, and such an inspiration. We couldn’t ask for a better placement.”
There have been seven funerals since the Aradis started adopting old or sick animals onto their farm, but each time he’s had to sink his shovel into the earth, Lester finds comfort knowing the last year or so of the dog’s life was a happy one, full of love.
So, with aging dogs and a recovering racehorse plus the chickens and Buckaroo the donkey who joined them along the way, adding some llamas to the mix just made sense. Once again, Lester and Diane wanted animals in need of shelter and connected with Southeast Llama Rescue. Cantara and Pink, two easygoing gals the color of toast, fit right in.
Then came Carrie. She was labeled very at-risk when she was rescued from a farm in Tennessee. Whoever was in charge cared for the animals improperly, neglecting to shear them, and Carrie suffered a heat stroke. She suffered temporary paralysis and wasn’t able to eat for a time.
“We were able to fatten her up and get her up to normal weight,” Lester said. Then she kept growing, and kept growing. “We had a vet come out and they said, ‘Lo and behold, yep she’s pregnant.'”
Mother llamas deliver at 11 months, and no one was quite sure how far along Carrie was. So Lester and Diane kept a close eye on her until, hallelujah! Baby Mac was born a few days ago.
The birthing process was quick and easy. What happened next was horrifying.
“Unfortunately, Carrie rejected the baby right away and just walked away,” Lester said. “The baby was just left for dead.”
He picked up the forsaken newborn, carried him from the barn where Carrie had deposited him and got him cleaned up. Baby llamas stand up pretty quickly and are almost immediately ready to eat. They helped Mac find his footing, then they helped him find his mother. The reunion didn’t go well.
“She reared up and stomped him,” Lester said. That happened twice. They managed to get Mac away from Carrie, then placed an emergency call to their vet to tend to Mac and, crucially, milk Carrie, since nutrients produced at birth are vital to the offspring’s health.
That was a few days ago. They’ve been bottle-feeding Mac, who’s been staying inside the house since it’s chilly at night these days, and he’s been spending time with the two other llamas.
“He is so sweet. He’s the spitting image of his mom,” Lester said. He’s hopeful they’ll be able to get along someday. It’s not going to be soon, though.
“Even as of yesterday we tried to reintroduce little Mac to his mom and mom would not have anything to do with him,” he said. He’s done some research and found out that these things just happen sometimes.
“This is not as uncommon as some people think,” he said. “Perhaps some mothers aren’t meant to be mothers. It could be a lifetime of trauma that the mom faced. So, whatever the reason we’re going to love mom as much as we possibly can. We’ll reintroduce them in six months, when Mac is bigger.”
You might have the opportunity to meet Mac and some of his friends. The Aradis operate a small bed and breakfast – and by small, we mean one person or couple at a time. The experience is a fantastic one, past guests say; of the 141 Trip Advisor reviews, every single one is 5-star.
They also welcome visitors, who can make donations to help care for the animals if they’d like to, and are especially happy when young people living with disabilities come to see them. They’ve also signed with a literary agent, and hope to produce another children’s book.
For now, though, back to the ending. Tricycle the three-legged dog is taking care of Macchiato the orphaned llama, on a farm in north Georgia, where, Lester says, every starts like this: “When the sun comes up and the birds start chirping we immediately jump out of bed and start taking care of animals. We don’t think, what’s in it for me? we think, what can we do to take care of these beautiful animals?”