Doctors and therapists at the TOPS veterinary rehab center in Grayslake usually deal with dogs, but it has been a gentle creature that makes noises like a kazoo attracting attention this week.
"I didn't think he'd create such a stir down here," says Gordy Zachow, who owns a month-old alpaca named E.T.
It's a long story, but the name involves the young llama-like animal, a basket, a blanket and the memory of a scene from the hit 1982 movie, "E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial."
Far from his home an hour west of Green Bay, Wis., Zachow has spent the last three days tracking progress and hoping specialized treatments can help mend E.T.'s front legs. While the right leg is coming around, the left is still a concern.
"Alpacas can't live on three legs. This is life and death for him," explained Laurie McCauley, medical director and co-owner of TOPS with her husband, Tom.
His short life has been eventful. Born a month early and upside down, E.T. went into convulsions four hours after birth.
His temperature soared to 106.2 degrees - 101 degrees is normal - and his heart rate leaped to more than 200 beats per minute.
"He should have been dead, according to the (local) vet," Zachow said Thursday afternoon. "He's a fighter, he wants to live."
Despite all that, E.T. pulled through and is generally healthy. But there were residual problems.
E.T's back legs were fine but he couldn't straighten or stand on the front ones and couldn't stand or walk. McCauley theorized his mother stepped on his legs, tearing muscles in the process.
And if he can't walk, it won't be accepted by the herd.
By coincidence, the McCauleys had bought a place in Clintonville, Wis., a few years ago. Zachow, who had run a plumbing business for 52 years, lived nearby.
When his wife died, Zachow looked for something to fill the void.
"Three years ago, I didn't know what an alpaca was," he said. He settled on the creatures, a domesticated species of camelid, which are prized for their extremely warm and soft fleece. He built a business, boarding 117 of the animals, 21 of which are his own.
Once a year, up to 4 1/2 inches of the fleece is sheared, sold by the pound (right off the animal) or ounce (processed) and made into gloves, hats and other items. The natural fiber is soft as cashmere and warmer, lighter and stronger than wool, according to the Alpaca Owners and Breeders Association.
"I did hear they're beginning to use it to upholster the seats in Lear jets," Zachow said.
Zachow has grown to love the business and has been at the last two Lake County Fairs. When the trouble with E.T. surfaced, the McCauleys worked with him in Wisconsin on weekends, until it was determined he should come south for therapy - the first time the renowned facility has treated an alpaca.
"He's kind of special," McCauley said.
Laser treatments soften the muscles and loosens scar tissue, allowing the muscles to stretch.
"Just from lasering what we just did, he's able to straighten his leg better," McCauley said during a session Thursday. "He's made unbelievably huge progress."
With human assistance and a sling affixed to carry his weight, E.T. can move forward haltingly.
"Compared to the first week, he's doing really great," Zachow said. "I'm waiting for his first step."
The muscles need strengthening and although there is a way to go, the prognosis is good.
"If he can walk but if he isn't able to get down or up, he can't live. We have to work on transitions as well," McCauley explained.
Since Tuesday, Zachow has spent a lot of time at TOPS, feeding E.T. low protein hay and a grain formula every three hours. They've been staying at a nearby hotel that accepts animals for an extra $12.50 a night.
But it's time to hit the road. Alpacas would be more than willing to settle into the life of a pet. When traveling with E.T., Zachow doesn't play the radio, lest he get used to the human voice.
"If we keep him away too long, he'll forget he's an alpaca," Zachow said. "Then, we've really got troubles."
So E.T. has to be reunited with the herd, though he'll be back in Grayslake next week.
Zachow has no idea what the cost of the treatment will be or whether he'll get a neighbor discount.
"Doesn't matter," he said.