Llama Therapy

On the West Coast, a group of llamas certified in animal therapy make the rounds to help children and adults with disabilities and special needs.

by Dani Yokhna
Courtesy Lori Gregory
As certified animal therapists, the Mountain Peak Therapy llamas assist people with special needs as well as visit hospitals, rehab facilities, senior communities and schools.

Rojo is no typical llama. Instead of spending his days in a corral munching on hay at the Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas farm, Rojo, registered by the International Delta Society Pet Partners Program and the first llama to be certified through DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, spends his days in a moving van, walking the streets in parades, and socializing with children, adults and senior citizens all over the Portland, Ore., and Vancouver, Wash., areas.

From his birth in April 2002, Rojo has exhibited a sweet, even-tempered nature, but it wasn’t until he attended a 4-H show and met a boy in a wheelchair that the idea of Rojo and animal therapy began to form in the minds of owners Lori Gregory and her daughter, Shannon.

To receive animal-therapy certification, Lori and Shannon went through classroom training in the Animal-Assisted Therapy Program at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital, and Rojo endured a series of evaluations in various situations, including objects dropping on the floor, scarves swirling around his head and people crowding around him. The trio performed well in the training program and was given DoveLewis badges to show their certification.

At first, the Gregorys visited senior communities and rehab facilities in Portland and Vancouver. Now, they have another certified llama named Smokey, and they’ve expanded their travels to include visits to children.

“Our llamas mainly visit hospitals, rehab facilities and senior communities, and we also go to schools for educational and special-needs class visits. Children with autism really respond favorably to our llamas,” Lori Gregory says. “They help those we visit not only to feel happier by experiencing a visit from a very unusual creature, but the llamas also get them to do things they wouldn’t normally do, such as motor skills, speech and emotional development, et cetera. The children also draw pictures and write stories for our llamas and about them and take them for walks.”

Gregory says they’re working to set up a llama training program at one of the special-needs schools they visit to teach the children how to show llamas, take them through obstacles and make crafts with the fiber.

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