Our family has had some unusual pets over the years, including a chameleon, a gecko, and a bearded dragon lizard. But the oddest animals by far were our llamas.
As my mother approached her 70s, she still loved to hike and camp, but could no longer comfortably carry a heavy backpack. So she did the logical thing: bought two llamas and trained them to carry packs. Having lived in Peru for a couple of years in her 30s, she was more familiar with llamas than most of us are.
Soon after, she moved in with us to help take care of our young kids. And so it came to pass that two handsome male llamas, Shandy and Dancer, took up residence on our grounds. Though they might flatten their ears back and spit green saliva when aggravated, these long-lashed creatures were unfailingly attentive and protective towards our toddlers.
I will always remember the time our very verbal daughter, sitting in her high chair, looked out at the llama pen and squeaked, “Dose llamas are looking at us dubiously.” I’m pretty sure that was the first time in human history that sentence was uttered from a high chair!
Once trained, Shandy and Dancer could each carry up to 80 pounds in their saddle packs. The easiest backpacking trip I’ve ever done was the one with our then-three-year old daughter in Northern California’s Trinity Alps, where we just wore day packs and pushed a baby stroller while the llamas carried all the gear and food.
all day on the trail—
But it was not all fun and games. Yes, there was some drama with our llamas. One day, Dancer got loose and ate a large part of a rhododendron bush, which is toxic to llamas. He started foaming at the mouth and we had to make an emergency trip to the vet. My husband and the vet stood together in the back of the pickup, trying to pump mineral oil down Dancer’s throat through a plastic tube. The poor llama twisted and swung his powerful neck, then spewed the contents of his stomach all over his rescuers. Thankfully, he survived!
In 2007, we moved away for a year and my mother decided to spend some months traveling as well. So after almost ten years with “the boys,” my mother gave her llamas away to some folks with a nice pasture. But they live on in the fertility of our garden, and in our memories.
Whether they involve llamas, lizards or other critters, I would love to hear about your animal dramas!
“following us” was first published in Notes from the Gean 4:1 (June 2012)
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