Tag Archives: alpacas

Top 5 Therapy Animals

Animals have a lot of uses in the daily lives of many people around the world, from nutrition to domesticated pets, in addition to their own roles in their respective ecosystems. More recently, some animals have been utilized and recognized for the positive therapeutic impact they have on different demographics, including young patients with autism, cerebral palsy, severe physical disabilities, and elderly patients suffering from physical ailments plus depression and loneliness. Here are the top 5 therapy animals:

1. Horses

Przewalski horse at The Wilds in Ohio.

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Horses are especially recommended by therapists for people with disabilities because of the wide range of positive benefits from horseback riding. For instance, depending on the disability and personality of the patient, horseback riding may benefit the patient socially, or build core strength and  muscle memory. Therapists have noted the psychotherapeutic benefits of horseback riding among at-risk youth and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, making both groups of patients less aggressive and prone to suicidal thoughts.

2. Alpacas

English: Two young male Suri alpacas

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Alpacas are popular for their cute appearance, gentle, and sociable personalities. Those same qualities make them an asset in hospitals. In one Oregon children’s hospital, for instance, an alpaca (as well as the closely-related llama) have been effective in improving patients’ moods and health. However, the benefits of interacting with alpacas is not limited to children, but also includes patients in long-term and assisted-living communities, and physical rehabilitation centers.

3. Dogs

English: Golden Retriever dog (canis lupus fam...

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Dogs have long been used for medical purposes and in actual medical facilities. In some cases, retired guide dogs have stayed in the same facilities as child patients undergoing experimental therapies. Interacting with the therapy dogs, such as petting, walking, feeding, and grooming them, has been ineffective in lifting the spirits and speeding the recovery processes and motivations of patients.

4. Elephants

Elephant from Kruger Park, South Africa. Deuts...

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Though not used as commonly as dogs and horses in the United States for animal assisted therapy, elephants are nonetheless a popular choice in places such as Thailand, South Africa, and Jerusalem. Elephants have been used for young patients with cerebral palsy, people with autism, and more recently, as one aspect of drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Thailand. The fundamentally non-aggressive personalities and sheer exoticism of elephants tend to fascinate and motivate patients.

5. Rabbits

Rabbits DSC00372

[Image: www.wikipedia.com]

Rabbits are sometimes a realistic alternative to therapy dogs or cats simply because of their comparatively smaller size and fewer requisite responsibilities. Patients who have interacted with therapy rabbits have reportedly become more adept at building relationships and cooperating with others, and autistic child patients have improved their ability to understand physical limitations and interpret social cues.

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Hanging out with Llamas and Alpacas

Llamas walking around the ancient fortress of Kuelap in Peru

Llamas walking around the ancient fortress of Kuelap in Peru. [Image: Cynthia Via]

Hanging out with llamas and alpacas is nothing short of endearing as they peek out with their furry long necks. They are grand companions for the road, or “silent brothers,” as the Andean people call them. Llamas (pronounced “yama”) have been around for millions of years first originating in North America, then migrating to South America. Their close cousin, Alpacas are native to the Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia and Chile. They were mostly bred for their fibers, whereas the llamas were pack animals used during the pre-Columbian era. The Incan Empire in Peru heavily depended on the use of llamas  for transporting goods, crops and other materials between remote villages. Alpacas were vital to the Incas by providing one of the strongest and softest animals fibers, great for making sweaters, especially needed in the cold sierra mountains. They also served as companions for young children and small animals. Llamas and alpacas are symbolic to the indigenous cultures of South America and represent a way of life.

 

Affection for these animals has spread to North America and Europe thanks to hiking and farming initiatives. Hiking with llamas is not only environmentally friendly since they don’t damage the land when grazing or walking, they are also accustomed to high altitude, and are less stubborn than mules and horses. They can alert us when a herd of animals approach in the distance. Llamas are mostly peaceful, curious animals (although they can spit for hierarchical reasons within their herd) and great for people trekking long distance, who can’t endure heavy equipment such as older folks, children and those with disabilities. While an average llama of 300 pounds can carry about 75 pounds (25 percent its weight), it’s not recommended alpacas carry heavy loads since they’re smaller, and less accustomed to taking long hikes. However, many farms allow visitors to feed alpacas and take them for short walks. Alpacas are docile, calm, non-aggressive to humans, and they are able to learn tricks. They are especially therapeutic for children.

If you’re ready to embrace the alpaca’s or the llama’s chill attitude, walk along with them in one these parks or farms!

Llama Trekking

Jackson Hole Llamas offers llama trekking trips in Wyoming through five areas in Yellowstone National Park and Jedediah Smith Wilderness. Llamas will carry your gear as you walk with them, so you can enjoy views of wildflower meadows, forests, waterfalls, geothermal areas, and alpine lakes. Their website even shows off a variety of llamas each with a quirky character description. Similarly, Yellowstone Safari Company offers llama treks in the northern parts of the park, including Black Butte Creek Trail, Specimen Creek and Black Canyon. Swan Mountain Llama Trekking offers short trails and multi-day treks through Montana’s Glacier Country. Some of their longer trails go through Flathead National Forest, Glacier National Park, Great Bear and the Mission Wilderness Areas. They even have a 3-hour wine & cheese llama trek.

The video below illustrates how backpacking with llamas can be a smooth hike.

 

 

Alpaca Walks

Alpacas on the trail. [Cynthia Via]

Alpacas on the trail. [Image: Cynthia Via]

Though alpaca trail packs are rare, some farms allow visitors to feed, pet and take them on short walks. Since most alpacas spend their time within farms, they’ll need a bit of training. If you have your own alpaca, walking is a great way to exercise and build a relationship with them. Walking with alpacas is beneficial for children especially those with autism. In the presence of alpacas, children tend to walk longer and be more invested in the moment.

If you’re in Garret County in Maryland, visit Blue Bell Farm where you can view and walk alongside alpacas as they graze picturesque hills and woodlands. The STARanch Alpaca Trek allows visitors to walk with alpacas through riverbanks and trails along the Caloosahatchee River and Cypress creek in Florida. Patchwork Meadow Alpacas in the Mohawk Valley of New York allows visitors to see alpacas up close and explore their mill-spun alpaca yarn.This 33-acre farm is home to 74 alpacas.

 

If you want to have these furry friends around all the time, maybe think about owning an alpaca or llama farm or volunteering in one like these folks.

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