Have you heard about therapy llamas?
In November, the residents at Adventist Health Sonora’s Sierra Care Center were treated to a surprising visit. While these transitional care and long-term residents—ranging from ages 38 to 103—are regularly visited by musicians, storytellers and volunteer groups, they were not prepared to be so delighted by a visit from an unlikely sort: Therapy llamas.
Susan Rinna, activities director for the Sierra Care Center, arranged the visit when she heard that llamas had been there in previous years. She contacted a local llama farmer named George Caldwell of Llamas of Circle Home, to make it happen. George, who refers to his llamas as his “speechless brothers,” regularly takes his “therapy llamas” to schools, nursing homes and various events to meet people with one goal in mind: To put smiles on their faces. And smiles were bountiful during their visit to the Sierra Care Center.
On the day of their arrival, Susan eagerly waited outside to greet George and his llamas, thinking they’d arrive in a large livestock trailer. Instead, they arrived in a large white van, which made Susan chuckle. “They stepped out of this van, so majestically—but it was like a circus clown car, because there were three of them in there!”
The llamas walked into the Transitional Care Unit as if they knew exactly where they were going and why they were there. Patients and staff were delighted to say “hello” to these llamas by rubbing their noses. Susan says her heart was filled with joy as she watched the llamas interact with patients. “We have so many patients that show no emotion, or are quiet and nonengaging,” Susan says. “But I watched the smiles on their faces as these gentle llamas went up to them. I couldn’t help but cry!”
Animal companions have been proven to improve quality of life for people, especially those suffering from certain illnesses. Susan wholeheartedly agrees with this, and says that there are three things that bring joy to her residents: Children, music and animals. Each resident’s room at the Sierra Care Center has bird feeders outside the window, where hummingbirds and songbirds bring a dose of sunshine to those who are bedridden or don’t get to leave their rooms often. “Animals of any kind are really magic,” says Susan. “Sometimes when people are ill, they can be angry and experience different emotions—but all negative emotion left during this time and we were all feeling the same joy—we were still talking about it days afterward!”
Will the llamas return to visit the patients of the Sierra Care Center? Susan says, definitely—George would like to plan another visit in the spring, when the weather is ideal.
Want to learn more about the Llamas of Circle Home, or go meet them in person? Click here!