Nobody's calling this a miracle, exactly – more like testimony to the power of concerted effort.
But it did involve a mental flow of prayer and positive energy to a sanctuary for abandoned and abused farm animals in northeast Colorado called Wilderness Ranch.
And it did happen one Christmas morning. But we'll just share the facts about Herbal with you, and you draw your own conclusions.
Today, Herbal is a full-grown ram who runs all over Wilderness Ranch, palling around with the other half-dozen sheep that live there, along with pigs, goats, cows, horses, chickens and other animals – all with hard-luck stories. Herbal, however, probably came the farthest of any of them to get here.
Herbal's Tough Beginning
He was born in August 1996 on an organic farm in Massachusetts. The farm owners had envisioned raising a herd of milk sheep. When that idea foundered, the sheep went neglected.
Herbal's mother, an elderly ewe, gave birth to twins late that summer, but she couldn't nurse them properly. Emily Newman, a New Yorker who'd finished her first year of veterinary school at Colorado State University, had spent that summer working at the farm. She immediately saw that the lambs were doing poorly, but was told the farm manager would take care of it.
When Newman visited them three days later, she was appalled. "The little girl was definitely not doing well," she says. "She was emaciated. By the next day, the girl had died and Herbal was just lying there."
On Day Five, Newman gave in to impulse. "At that point I felt like I had two choices: leave him there to die or take him, because the people supposedly taking care of him weren't doing it adequately,'' she recalls. She took the lamb and drove to Boston, where she stayed with a friend.
"I didn't ask permission. I just told them I was taking him, and their attitude was, 'Whatever…'" Newman says. "I wasn't convinced he would live. But I didn't want him to die like that."
Herbal Survives But Worst Is Yet To Come
To her surprise, the lamb survived. Newman's boyfriend named him Herbal. Five weeks later, Newman packed her things and her lamb into her car and drove to Colorado to attend school.
"I hadn't made any real plans about what I'd do with Herbal," she says. "I just figured I'd keep him at a friend's farm. But by then I was completely attached to him. I thought, 'I can't have him live like that, all by himself in a pen.' It just seemed like he needed more."
A serendipitous trip to a fall festival in Fort Collins provided her with the answer. At the festival, she stopped by a booth for Wilderness Ranch, the six-year-old facility 15 miles outside Fort Collins. It seemed like the perfect place. The ranch agreed to take Herbal.
Herbal Is Paralyzed
That was September, and Herbal, while still weak, seemed healthy. But he soon fell ill. Within days, he couldn't walk. Doctors at the veterinary school suspected Herbal's bad start in life had affected his immune system. He developed an infection that settled in his spine, leaving him paralyzed.
Volunteers at the ranch rigged a walker for Herbal, a sling that supported him upright. And they set up a schedule of physical therapy.
"Our shelter manager, Michelle Pelkey, was his primary caretaker," says ranch founder and director Jan Hamilton. "He stayed with her around the clock. If she wasn't there, someone else was. He slept with us. Wherever we were, that's where he was. We'd give him 10 minutes of physical therapy every half-hour during waking hours, and get him up a couple of times during the night."
By December, Herbal started having seizures. He was in pain and veterinarians said it was time to consider euthanizing the lamb.
In the ranch's Christmas cards, Hamilton asked supporters to pray for the lamb or send him energy. People came in daily to do acupuncture or therapeutic touch on Herbal. And the lamb seemed to respond. The seizures stopped. He appeared to be getting stronger.
Herbal Walks Again
On Christmas morning 1996 Herbal stood up unassisted for the first time in two months and took five wobbly steps. By New Year's Day, he was walking.
"Now he runs with the dogs and keeps up with them just fine. He's leaping. He's actually a pest sometimes. He's just doing beautifully," Hamilton says.
What cured Herbal? "That's hard for anybody to say,'' Hamilton says. "The veterinarians said, 'You just never know.' Personally, what I think is, we never gave up for a second. We gave him our attention around the clock. He had energy coming in all the time."
"It's a lot easier to give up if you're alone and have no support. But he knew someone was always there, and he survived."
For information on Wilderness Ranch, call (970) 493-7153.