Camelid Welfare: Your Help is Needed

Marc Page
Sputtermill Ranch Llamas; Petersham, MA
My wife and I, like many of our friends and fellow llama lovers, found ourselves head
over heels in love with llamas. Our first exposure to these wonderful creatures was
at a fiber festival in the mountains of Vermont in 1990. We spent the next year
learning all we could and in 1991 changed our entire life style to include what we
thought would be four companions for hiking and perhaps competing in
performance classes at the New England State Fair. Well, you know how it happens.
Soon our four geldings were joined by girls and our first intact male. The next year
crias provided us with endless entertainment. The herd grew and we were
fascinated with the amazing behavior that unfolded daily in our pastures.
We continued to seek information everywhere- attending conferences, joining
regional and local organizations, volunteering, offering support to our customers
and sharing our growing knowledge with new owners. Our breeding program was
manageable and comfortable for us. To this day we know where every llama we
raised and sold lives, and we keep in touch with their owners. Because of our
fascination with llama behavior, we attended many training workshops with all the
top llama professionals in the business. We were having a great time, not making
much money, but enough to pay for the hay and the lifestyle. Two of my greatest
interests were shearing and training. In an effort to expand our services, I hung out
my shingle and soon had more business than I could handle.
This changed everything. While I had many great, caring and wonderful customers
who placed the welfare of their llamas first and foremost, I also began to realize
there were many llamas living in desperate conditions. Not everyone had educated
himself before taking on the large responsibility of caring for camelids. As I visited
with owners all over New England, I was saddened to see a wide variety of neglectllamas that were seldom (or never) sheared, uncountable numbers of llamas
hobbling around on severely overgrown toenails, felted and matted fiber covering
mange, crusty skin and wounds. I have found barbed wire, a lead rope and even
firewood hidden in overgrown fiber. I witnessed severe overcrowding, incompatible
animals running together (fathers and daughters, intact sons with their mothers,
etc), nonexistent vaccinations, no vet care, black and moldy water, rancid grain and
more than one farm serving only day-old bread from supermarkets. Too many llamas
were living without any other llama companionship, had no place to get out of the
weather, no cooling fans in the summer and had to break through ice to drink in the
winter or eat snow off fence boards.
As if this wasn’t enough, many of the owners had no idea how llamas think, how
even a basic knowledge of camelid behavior could go a long way to reduce the
animal’s stress. An untrained llama lives a truly fearful life. Many are chased around

till cornered, then wrestled into a halter and dragged to wherever the owner needs
them to be. On one farm, a hard to handle gelding had his feet tied and then was
pushed to the ground to halter him. Just imagine the fear! It may be fair to say that
some of these people don’t know how wrong their behavior is. They don’t know any
other way, or they have just become comfortable with the neglect. It got so I
couldn’t take the excuses any longer.
A New Direction
Ten years ago we stopped breeding and selling llamas and redirected ourselves to
training, education, and rescue and re-homing of llamas and alpacas. Boy, did we
open a very large can of worms. I have completely lost track of the number of
llamas and alpacas that we have re-homed. It is rare to go a full week without a call
about a llama or alpaca in need. I am sustained only by knowing that even though I
can no longer remember the details of each rescue or re-homing, every one of those
animals is better off today than when we met.
Much of this misery could have been avoided if breeders simply asked a few more
questions of potential new owners, then mentored them and did more follow up.
True, many of the llamas and alpacas are now far removed from the breeders who
raised them and can be found for sale in the local shopper or classified section of
the newspaper. The instruction manual on these animals was lost long ago. When
they don’t behave, they are considered stubborn and are destined to live a life
dominated by force. Untrained and hard to handle animals are a large part of the
rescue/re-homing problem.
It is important to emphasize that the majority of my efforts involve re-homing and
not true rescue. The term rescue must be carefully used since it has such a negative
connotation- suggesting abuse and extreme neglect, such as requiring emergency
removal for the animals’ own good. Many of the requests I receive involve people
planning ahead for the welfare of their llamas and alpacas. Both rescue and help
with re-homing result from a wide variety of needs- divorce, illness, and certainly
the failing economy. Or perhaps the llamas were originally purchased for children
who have now grown up and moved away, leaving mom and dad to care for the
animals. This past year I was involved in four re-homing situations resulting from
divorces, and in another case a woman committed suicide, leaving a large number
of animals. Events involving a rapid change in the owner’s situations are of high
priority.
When the need is for help with re-homing, the call usually comes from the owner.
With neglect, the call may come from animal control authorities, police or a
neighbor. No matter who contacts me, I first must sort through the story to truly
establish the need. If someone wants to give up a llama because they are having
trouble handling the animal, perhaps a visit with an evaluation and some training

assistance might be enough to help the animal stay with the present owners. If
neglect or abuse is charged, I try to let animal control handle it, letting them know I
will be there to take the animals if that is the outcome.
It is always best if I can move animals directly to their new home, yet this seldom
happens. Animals often need shearing, vetting or retraining before they can be rehomed. Also, I must assess the behavior and level of handling and match it to the
ability of the new owner. I have some animals that may live with me forever
because of fear and trust issues left from their previous experiences. As I have
continued to place llamas and alpacas, my list of potential adopters has grown
smaller and smaller. There are now more animals in need than there are places to
put them.

A Wish List
When we first started the National Lama Intervention & Rescue Coordination
Council (IRC Council) at the Camelid Community gathering in Kansas City,
Missouri, it was to organize and coordinate rescue groups and efforts nationwide.
However, I had already been actively involved in rescue and re-homing for years,
and to this day I have been unable to take a less hands on approach. I keep at it
because I don’t know how to stop. The need does not go away, though I admit I am
now becoming emotionally drained and at some point must either walk away or
pass the baton. We definitely need more people involved with rescue and rehoming- taking calls, picking up animals, dealing with the emotions of the owners,
training, vetting and mentoring the new owners- in short, the whole ball of wax.
If I could have three wishes in the area of camelid welfare, they would be:
1. Every llama and alpaca should be wanted. These animals have changed and
enriched our lives. Please do not let them leave your radar once you have sold
them. Please keep track of them, for years if possible.
2. A well trained llama or alpaca lives a healthier, happier life with less chance of
needing re-homing. Please see that your animals are trained and manageable.
3. We need an improved economy. Things were bad enough before; llamas and
alpacas need a bailout.
Sandy and Marc Page, Sputtermill Ranch, P.O. Box 731, Petersham, MA 01366-0731
Home: 978-724-3273 Cell: 508-246-0424 or sputtermill@hughes.net

Published: Llama Life II, No. 93: Spring 2010: Outreach/Marc Page

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful