TILLY'S TALE

Tilly died on the 4th November 2003

Tilly

What follows is quite a long story, but please read Tilly's very special, and amazing, Tale.
She was an astounding little kangaroo who fought so many battles, and showed so much courage, in her short life.
And despite her many problems she was a happy young roo.

Tilly became an inspiration to all who knew her.
We loved her dearly and sorely miss her.

 

Tilly arrived on March 27th, after being discovered in her dead mother's pouch on the side of a lonely road.
She was wrapped in a warm blanket, snuggled down the shirt of Jules, our vet.
She weighed just over 300 grams, had no fur and her eyes were closed. We thought, 'No chance'!
But this little roo had an astounding will to live and was to prove us wrong.

Tilly infurred

So what do you name a little roo think is too young to live?

I will be honest and state that we gave this little joey two names. Because very young unfurred joeys usually die within the first 48 hours in care she was to be 'April' if she died, a name to put on her headstone in our bush cemetery, and she was to be named Tilly
if she survived.

I have always wanted to name a little girl Tilly, and so we thought
if she made it to ANZAC Day, which is at the end of April,
we would name our baby roo Mathilda - Tilly for short.

ANZAC Day neared and our little girl was still with us. Three things were in her favour.
She did not suffer any internal injuries in the accident that killed her mother and she fed extremely well,
but perhaps what really made the difference between living and dying was that Roy had built our home made humidicrib, which proved to be such a great success in keeping her at the right temperature and humidity.

We were winning the first round of the battle to raise our youngest joey ever.

In those early days success was marked by the fact that Tilly was still with us at every 3 hourly feed. And we stuck rigidly to those 3 hourly feeds, even during the nights, dragging ourselves sleepily from our warm bed to give our little baby her next bottle.
Then, after we realised she was different to any other unfurred marsupial we had attempted to raise, we began to expect Tilly to be alive and kicking at every feed time. We suddenly realised she had a will, a need, to survive, that we had never seen before in one so young, and so no longer did we check that she was still with us before we made her bottle. Instead we found we were making her bottle first and then opening the door to her warm and cosy humidicrib knowing our miracle joey would still be alive.

Tilly fed

The hours she survived quickly became days, and these days gradually slipped into weeks.
They were weeks of success.

These weeks were also proving to be the start of an amazing journey for us as we shared the major milestones
in our young joey's development. They were milestones that should have occurred in the privacy of the pouch,
only shared by the mother and her joey, and we felt so very privileged to be sharing Tilly's milestones.

Tilly eyes open
The first major milestone happened the day we noticed that Tilly was actually looking at us! Although her eyes were not fully open her eyelids had definitely parted slightly and there was no doubt she was peeping out of the corner of her eyes.

Within a week Tilly's eyes were wide open, another week and she was focussing and confidently taking in her surroundings.

It was a wonderful episode in her life.

Tilly looks
There is much more to raising an unfurred marsupial than feeding them.
Apart from keeping them at the right temperature and humidity, they have to be toiletted
and we also had to very strict about Tilly's general hygiene and skin care.
Tilly toiletted
Like most joeys Tilly never minded being toiletted.

But she hated having her skin oiled.

Every morning after her 11am feed we washed her gently with warm moist cotton wool, dried her and then came the battle between joey and carer as we smeared her all over with oil to stop her skin drying and cracking.

Tilly oiled
Tilly happy
Luckily we knew Tilly just loved having her head massaged and we always left this pleasant task until last.
A few minutes of gentle massage, and we had a very contented joey who was extremely happy to sleep soundly
in her pouch until her 2pm feed.
Tilly in pouch

At this time everything was going very well.
Our little girl was putting on an astounding amount of weight each day. Some days over 30 grams!
And then we suffered our first major setback.

Tilly hurt her foot. We were mystified how she could have done this,
although we were aware that Tilly was becoming more active and this made us wondered
if she had tried to stand up inside her pouch before her bones were strong enough.
Maybe she had suffered a stress fracture. Or could it have been caused by a nutritional deficiency?
Our early fears were returning to haunt us, and sadly, whatever had occurred,
was to cause us much distress and soul searching in the coming months.

Vets assured us that because Tilly was young any fracture would heal, all we had to do was keep her foot straight,
but this proved to be difficult and eventually impossible.

 

Tilly splint changed
Even though we tried many different methods of splinting her foot swelled alarmingly,
with blood blisters forming and even bursting on her toes.
Having experienced problems with splinting before we knew the reason.
Tilly splint
Kangaroos have little flesh on their legs and although arteries do tend to run between bones, and are not so affected by bandages, veins do not.
Therefore any pressure applied through bandaging or splinting can press these veins onto bone preventing blood returning from the toes. This results in serious swelling, and we knew if we continued with the splints Tilly ran a very serious risk of having to have her toes or part of her foot amputated.
Our vets told us the only way we could ensure Tilly's toes did not swell was to apply a pressure splint
that would cover her whole foot, but this would have to be applied under a general anaesthetic,
and everyone was reluctant to run the risk of anaesthetising such a young joey.
By the time we took the decision to stop trying to splint her foot straight it had started to heal,
and we all became resigned to the fact that Tilly would hopefully adapt to walking on a slightly crooked foot.
Tilly curved foot
Although Western Grey joeys in the wild do not leave their mother's pouch until they are almost 9 months old,
and weigh nearly two and a half kilograms, young joeys in care are eager to start standing up
when they are just over one kilogram.
Because we were concerned she would cause more damage to her foot
we did not encourage Tilly to stand at this time.
Maybe this, with hindsight, was a mistake, because later we wondered
if by missing that window of opportunity she had simply lost interest in getting on her feet.
Roly kissTilly

Instead she became a very laid back little joey, extremely happy to survey all that was going on around her from the comfort and safety of her pouch.

And she loved all the attention, the cuddles and the love everyone gave her - even sloppy wet kisses from Roly!

Tilly continued to grow and kept up her amazing weight gain. Her fur was growing too, and she was very loving.
Tilly in morning
The only blot on the landscape was that her foot was continuing its grotesque outward curve.
Tilly feet
By now Tilly was approaching 3 kilos and was still reluctant to walk.
We were very worried and vets shared our concern. Between us we searched for what was wrong with Tilly.
Tilly X rayed
The first thing we decided to do was to X ray our precious little roo from her chest down to her tail.
She was now older and although an anaesthetic
still carried some risks we knew we just had to do this.
Everyone's hearts went out to Tilly as she was X rayed.
Tilly X rayed
Volunteers with Tilly
And Jess and Kristin, two of our volunteers,
shared our worry until Tilly woke up.
Thankfully later that night she was well enough to be sitting up and watching TV with her little mate Abby.
Tilly with Abby

We were all very relieved that Tilly had recovered so well, but the results of her X rays were not so encouraging.
Sadly they showed a definite thinning on the outer layer of her bones, a possible calcium deficiency,
which included several vertebraes in her spine and the bones in her legs.
We were devastated.

We loved Tilly deeply, and like all proud 'parents' we were not going to give up.
With the support of our vet we decided to submit her unusual case to Murdoch University in Perth,
and hoped they could help us.

During a very hectic few days we put together a package for the vets at the university.
We made a video of Tilly, showing her development and her problem with walking.

 

We also decided to send photographs.
As we looked back at the many pictures we had taken of Tilly we saw one that was to ring alarm bells.
It was a photograph of Tilly's profile.
Tilly profile
Something was very wrong - and we discovered what when we compared it to the profiles
of Libby and Beth when they were young joeys.
Libby profile
Beth profile

Both had profiles similar to young deer, with a defined forehead, whereas Tilly's profile was more like a horse.
We had many questions, but no answers. All we knew was that Tilly was not developing normally.
But why?

Tilly with her CD

Tilly had been fed what is currently believed to be the best kangaroo replacement milk in Australia at this time, progressing through all the stages of that milk according to her development.
But was it a nutritional problem? Or was it an endocrine abnormality?
No one could tell us.

Tilly's future was looking bleak, and she was removed from our 'adoption' programme.
Yes at that time she seemed to be a happy little roo, but a kangaroo should be able to walk, to hop
and to enjoy life to the full. One day she would want to do all this.
Roy suddenly decided she would!

Day after day he worked with Tilly, building her muscles with physio,
making her walk despite her reluctance.
Finally they were both rewarded.
Tilly walked.

Her first faltering steps were painful to watch, but each day she walked further.
Tilly learning to walk
Tilly hops
And then one day she hopped.
We knew she would never be the prettiest hopper,
nor would she make an elegant silhouette
as she bounded across the horizon at dusk,
but she was able to join in the fun with other joeys
and life felt good for us.
Tilly hops with kids
None of this would have been possible without Roy's determination.
No one else could bring themselves to do what he did.
He was the one who persevered, who through our tears made Tilly walk again.
If there were medals to be handed out he should receive one as big as a dustbin lid.
Tilly's success was his success too.
Tilly grateful
Tilly was a very happy young roo, and was very loving to humans and the other orphaned joeys in care.
Cassie loves Tilly
Everyone loved her.
Including those who visited, and got to meet our very special little roo.
Tilly with Ann Toon
Everything was going so well for Tilly, then suddenly she became sick with a serious intestinal infection.
We knew she was facing her biggest fight of her life.
Tilly sick drinks
Despite aggressive treatment with antibiotics,
and other medications, she was not getting better.
Tragically after several days of severe diarrhoea her bowel became so irritated,
inflamed and swollen it began to prolapse.
Tilly was rushed to the veterinary hospital where she received treatment,
but we knew then it was the end.
Tilly was nursed around the clock with everyone doing shifts,
but her diarrhoea was getting even worse and we realised
it was only going to be a matter of time before her bowel prolapsed again.
Tilly sick

Sadly it did, and we made the decision to call our veterinarian.
We gave Tilly her last bottle of milk, sedated her and then our vet humanely put her to sleep.
She died in my arms surrounded by love.

Tilly farewell
The next morning we said a sad farewell to our brave little roo
and laid her to rest in our bush cemetery.

Although Tilly had many problems, and we knew she would never make old bones, she was one of the most contented little roos we have ever raised. She was also one of the most important, because her developmental and nutritional records, which we have kept since the day she was orphaned, could help us raise other species, species that are under threat and endangered. We will be sharing this information with scientists.

Tilly touched many lives, no one will ever forget her courage,
and her memory will live on through everyone who knew and loved her.

It was a privilege to share her life.

 

Tilly
On behalf of Tilly we thank you for caring, and for loving her too
Tilly's Tale © Roo Gully 2003