Animal therapy has become quite common, especially around college campuses, hospitals, and Life Plan Communities. The mention of animal therapy might elicit mental images of dogs, but what about llamas? Yes, 300-pound llamas are now quietly making their way onto the therapy stage. The New York Times reports on how this trend has impacted the lives of senior living residents. It should be noted that llamas are within the top 20 most charismatic animals, and of those, one of the few that can be safely hugged.
Llamas are being registered as therapy animals by their owners with Pet Partners, which is a nonprofit organization that helps incorporate animals into common therapies. The process of registering a llama is quite stringent: owners must have insurance and abide by strict rules of care for the animal. There are even time limits for how long llamas can work each day (two hours); this is to decrease the chances of a change in behavior due to fatigue or general annoyance. Life Plan Community residents may pet and embrace the animals, and some opt to simply have one nearby. Scientific studies have indicated the importance of using llamas in therapy, such as significant improvement in language and social interactions. These studies are usually clinical in nature; however—as with most research—it is a mixed bag and too early to tell if there are any concrete physiological benefits from having animals—especially llamas—spend time with residents or patients.
Anecdotally, nonverbal residents suddenly attempt to murmur to the llamas, and emotionally agitated residents have an observed change in mood. Some communities have gone so far as to measure residents’ blood pressure before and after the llama visits, and it was found to be lower after the animals left. What seems to be known is that residents are visibly happier with these calm, cool, and collected visitors.
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Source: Kingson JA. The llama as therapist. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/well/live/llama-therapy-nursing-homes-elderly-seniors-hospitals-pet-therapy.html?searchResultPosition=10 November 14, 2019. Accessed December 18, 2019.