Comet the therapy llama – a big hit at Northgate!

cometMy journey with llamas began six years ago. And truth be told, it didn’t even begin with llamas. Everything started for me with alpacas!

I’d been going through a hard time in my life and really didn’t know what to do with myself, and by a stroke of luck and knowing the right people at the right time, I got to know my middle school’s librarian, who in turn introduced me to her daughter—and subsequently the 4-H club she lead.  I was invited to attend the club’s monthly meeting, and, with no idea what to expect, I went.

If you’d seen me then, you wouldn’t recognize me.  I was very withdrawn and shy.  I only spoke to close friends, I hid behind my hair (which was very long!) and I certainly didn’t know how to react to a big group of kids my age and younger voting me in as their club’s vice president the very day I showed up.  Although that was just the first of many leaps 4-H would help me make in coming into my own, what really got me going was meeting my first alpaca, Irish Creme. He was the one who kick started my intense love for camelids, with his high intelligence, mischievous behavior and quiet, calming love.

Fast forward to 2010, and that’s where Comet came into my life. I met Comet when he was only five days old, all gangly legs and spots and floppy ears too big for his head. To this day I’m still not exactly sure what it was, but I knew as soon as I saw him that he was special, and he was the one I wanted to work with. And to this day he continues to prove my hunch right.comet love

I’d been wanting to try training a llama for quite a while, as their personalities are a bit different from the aloof and independent alpacas I was used to. Llamas were originally domesticated to work alongside humans, carrying packs for them across winding mountain trails. Today, they serve a variety of uses, including packing. But all this is possible because of their intelligence and willingness to work with people. However, just like the alpaca, llamas aren’t as cuddly as their looks would suggest. Most llamas (and alpacas!) and more content to quietly observe you, coming up to greet you with a kiss before continuing on their business. But earning their trust also earns you a wonderful companion, happy to carry your packs, leap through obstacles with you, walk beside you, and even pull you in a cart.

I had all these plans and more in store for little Comet when he grew bigger and older, but unfortunately, things didn’t go so well. Comet’s breeder is a very good friend of mine, and I spent many months helping her around her farm and watching Comet grow. When he was only four months old, his health began to fail. Too submissive to push his way in with the other young llamas he lived with to get to food, he quickly lost weight and grew very weak, before eventually getting very sick. His breeder worked to keep him alive and healthy, but by the time he was ten months old, things weren’t looking good. As a last-ditch effort, I asked if I could take Comet to my own farm to see if I could bring him around with a little one-on-one care. So we made the arrangements and Comet came to live with me and my alpaca Irish, along with our little herd. And sure enough, it worked. It took many weeks of careful monitoring and veterinary care and even more buckets of grain (and one very close call), but after a while, Comet put on weight and began to grow. Just like me, if you’d seen him back then, you wouldn’t have recognized him.

comet outlineComet and I got certified as a Registered Complex Therapy Team on June 14th, 2014. Together we usually visit the day center for women and children that my grandma helps to run, but we’ll also be visiting rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, and schools in this coming year.

I was inspired to begin therapy work long before I even met Comet. Remember how I mentioned getting into 4-H during a hard time in my life? That ‘hard time’ was coping with the loss of my grandfather in 2007, who I was very close to. As his health deteriorated, he was moved through several nursing homes and hospice centers, and I visited him whenever I could, right up until the day he passed away. And through all these places he stayed, I got to know so many of the residents and patients, and made friends with them. This cultivated a deep love in me for sharing joy with those who need it, and what better way than to share the joy and love that Comet brings me?

A little (mostly non-llama related) about me:

  • I am a multimedia artist and sculptor, specializing in fiber arts (such as needle felting and spinning yarn), digital drawing, and welding.
  • I work at an animal hospital and my dream is to continue my studies and go on to become a veterinary technician (specializing with camelids!)
  • Someday I want to run a small rescue and rehabilitation sanctuary for llamas and alpacas.

Llamas and alpacas aren’t the only critters I get to work with! I also help my aunt raise Cardigan Welsh Corgis, including assisting with new litters of puppies and training. I plan to train one for therapy work in the near future, to work alongside Comet!

–Kaylee, Northgate, Guest Blogger

NGA

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