That's all right, llama
Lancaster put one end of the carrot in her mouth and reached out to Rojo. He gave her a gentle kiss in the process of retrieving his reward.
And it was just the first of many kisses Rojo would share Wednesday afternoon.
Rojo and Smokey, two animals from Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas & Alpacas, a nonprofit based in Vancouver, Washington, joined Elvis Presley impersonator Mark Stevenz and a vendor serving a rainbow of Hawaiian shaved ice flavors in a luau-themed event.
Stevenz began his performance by saying he would offer music from Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Neil Diamond and others as well as Elvis. He also welcomed requests.
But he said, “If you ask for Patsy Cline, I won’t be able to oblige. She’s a little high for me.”
While Stevenz performed, the two llamas were led into the group of residents, many of whom were dependent on walkers and wheelchairs.
Jack Gipson and his wife, Lois, had the chance to pet Rojo’s red fleece. The animal, Jack noted, was groomed much like a dog preparing for an important show.
Lois said they’d seen llamas behind fences, but had never had the chance to get this close before. Jack said, “I didn’t think their fur was that soft.”
John and Patti Malczewski enjoyed the opportunity, too.
“I think they’re wonderful — they’re as sweet as can be,” Patti said. Although she did mention that Rojo was definitely more greedy in wanting the carrot sticks — some offered through “kisses” and others simply hand fed.
After petting Smokey, Violet Watson said, “These animals are out of this world. They stand up so pretty.”
Lori Gregory of Mountain Peaks said that Rojo and Smokey, both about 12 years old, were born with friendly personalities and like being petted. It made them a natural to become therapy animals.
The animals, who have become best friends, are transported in the back of a passenger van.
Gregory said they visit many places, such as the Providence Center for Medically Fragile Children and children’s bereavement camps, at no charge.
She said they are good travelers, and willing to ride elevators in order to visit the bedridden. She said they are dedicated to bringing joy to people of all ages, and it’s wonderful to see the response they get.
On weekends, they are often booked for weddings or other fee events to help with expenses. “What’s nice about llamas is they never get overstressed,” Gregory said.
Rojo will be featured, along with other animals, in a new book set to publish in October — “Unlikely Heros,” by Jennifer S. Holland. The book features inspiring stories from the animal kingdom, and Rojo represents animals who offer healing comfort to humans.
For more information, visit www.rojothellama.com.