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Llama rescue and rehabilitation

Mention rescue and rehab of llamas, and you'll quickly uncover two conflicting and damaging beliefs.

Some people can't believe that any llama would need to be rescued because they are still under the mistaken impression that all llamas are worth "lots of dough." Others, especially those who are having trouble selling llamas, espouse that "there are too many nice llamas that need homes anyway, so it's best to just kill the bad ones and not waste time with rehab."

These two extreme viewpoints allow a lot of llamas to fall between the cracks through no fault of their own. Although rescue and rehab are often considered together (and although many rescued llamas do need some form of rehabilitation), the two issues are different, and are best acknowledged separately.

Why rescue?

A llama may require rescue for many reasons: Lack of adequate food, water, shelter, living space, or care; abusive pasturemates; no pasturemates; abuse or cruelty inflicted by or with consent of the owners; an environment that teaches or encourages dangerous behavior; and abandonment. Discouragingly, more and more llamas are being found living under such circumstances. More and more llamas are also being dumped when they are permanently injured (often through negligence), reach the end of their reproductive lives, their features fall out of fashion, or are simply among the vast oversupply of generic llamas. Without the incentive of getting something for nothing, no one is willing to put up with medical bills or untrained and unruly llamas -- yet large "cria mills" continue to pump out massive numbers of frightened, untrained llamas year after year. Encouragingly, however, fledgling rescue organizations and committees formed by existing organizations are beginning to spring up throughout the country. Before this, individuals (such as ourselves) rescued llamas on an as-could-be-afforded basis.

Because resources are often stretched very thin, a serious attempt to educate current owners is almost always preferred to removal of the llama. Education is also a major part of preventing rescue situations to begin with. You can do your part by not patronizing breeders who don't have a breeding plan (they produce a high percentage of generic, low-demand llamas who, if they aren't dumped themselves, take homes from the rescued llamas who desparately need them). Also, don't participate in auctions, raffles (where llamas are the prize), and don't patronize those who aren't screening potential buyers in their on-farm and private treaty sales (buyers who are not screened -- 100% of auction buyers and raffle winners--are far more likely to neglect or abuse). Don't buy from someone who doesn't provide after-sale support, including a guarantee that they will take the animal back if a purchaser's circumstances change. You may be a suitable, educated home who will commit to a llama for life. However, there is no means to end these practices except through nonsupport.

A rescued llama frequently requires some time in a "halfway house" with other llamas and a qualified trainer before moving on to a permanent adoptive home. Bad habits and fears have frequently developed, and need to be dealt with sensitively and knowledgeably. The effects of physical neglect frequently take some time to correct, and often affect the llama's demeanor. And, overwhelmingly, rescued llamas are adult males who are intact and have a full set of fighting teeth. Sadly, these llamas are frequently more difficult to place. Llamas castrated at 30 months and older retain some level of undesirable stud behavior, even if they had never seen females or been used for breeding.

We usually estimate that a rescued llama will require a minimum of one year to settle in to his (or her) new world, learn basic training, and/or learn to get along with other llamas. Sometimes, particularly for actively abused llamas, it takes longer -- even a lot longer. During the healing period, we continually reassess the llama as an individual. We try to pinpoint the llama's essential emotional needs and area(s) of talent in order to best formulate our training program and, eventually, to screen applicants and select an appropriate adoptive home.

Our resources (money and time) must go to our own llamas first, and so we only have limited ability to rescue llamas. In fact, we quite honestly admit that have we overextended ourselves more than once in the past.

Because we are not an endless resource, we are grateful to those legitimate llama rescue organizations for their efforts to provide a network of concerned individuals to get help to the many llamas who need it and can only get it from humans like you and us.

Shadow and Kunta, both rescued from abusive situations,
enjoying what they must believe is "llama heaven."

Why rehabilitation?

Llamas may need some form of rehabilitation for many reasons: social deprivation, abuse, purposeful or unintentional encouragement of dangerous habits, and genetic predisposition to aberrant behavior are the most common. None of these -- including genetic predisposition -- are the fault of the llamas, but instead are the fault of their human breeders, handlers and owners. Rather than blaming or killing llamas for the results of bad human judgement, we have sought out "problem llamas" for rehabilitation.

Although these "problem llamas" became problems as a result of human problems, the end result is that these llamas will have problems for life. Even the best rehab job can't undo a llama's steel-trap memory. We can only work with each animal to find common ground, instill safe behavior, and place the llama with someone who truly doesn't mind the llama's shortcomings -- or keep the llama ourselves.

More than rescue, rehabilitation is not for the inexperienced. Rehab requires a great deal of training and communication skills. Rehab requires tremendous patience. And, perhaps most difficult, rehab requires the ability to formulate effective correction for each individual without undue harshness -- and the conviction to use correction when neccessary. Many of the llamas that require rehab reach that point not because they were abused, but because their handlers possessed the naive belief that training and even daily interactions should only consist of positive -- never negative -- experiences for the llama.

Rehabilitation takes even more time and effort than the average rescue. It is also much more dangerous to us. We are only two people, and we have other animals in our family, so we sadly can't take in every llama who faces the alternate fate of death. In an effort to share our knowledge and help others nip problems in the bud, we have started a videotape training consultation service to help people avoid creation or aggrevation of problems in their llamas. We are also available for **FREE** email and phone (your dime) consultation. In many cases, the llama proves to be responsive to several simple suggestions, and that may be all that is needed to head off a problem before it starts.

You can prevent rehabilitation in two ways: First, learn about llamas before you buy them. Observe your individual animals, and don't ever be afraid to ask questions. Ask several people who are having success avoiding problems, and steer clear of those who have lots of experience with problems only because they created the problems themselves. Learn about and practice handling normal adult llamas before progressing, if you must, to handling young llamas.

Second, practice birth control, good temperament management, and highly selective breeding -- or don't even breed at all! If you have intact males you intend to geld, castrate them at 18 months of age -- earlier if stud behavior surfaces at a younger age (some strains will be as mature as an 18 month old at the age of 12 to 15 months!). If you ever consider breeding llamas, remember that offspring of llamas bred just to make more llamas have virtually no market other than slaughter -- if any llama is not above average to outstanding for one or more end-uses, then it is not breeding stock.

Also, do not breed males or females who are comparatively difficult to handle despite a normal upbringing. [You'll notice when perusing our llamas' individual pages that we put our money where our mouth is on that score -- we have several outstanding llamas who did "train up" acceptably with effort, thanks to our expertise, but whom we castrated or spayed on the basis of innate temperament characteristics. After careful research, we also determined the offending parent and removed him or her from the gene pool if we owned him/her.] The widespread use of aggressive and abnormally-behaved studs during the last decade (disposition was not important if the wool, color, and ear shape was "right" to paying customers) has unfortunately allowed several genetic predispositions toward aberrant behavior to spread throughout the gene pool. Only today's breeders, under pressure from knowledgeable buyers, can return the llama population's behavior to its formerly well-deserved reputation of being "laid back" through careful selection.

A few stories--some with happy endings; some still in progress

  • Buddy Kunta -- rescued and sent to us from Wisconsin for rehab
  • Billllama -- our first rescue and rehab
  • Chief Grey Blanket -- appreciated pack llama who was almost a rug
  • KB -- intelligent and twice misunderstood
  • Lucky Ollie -- rescued from a lonely existence in a muddy paddock
  • Princessa -- luckily kept her eye and her life
  • Rusty -- a nice guy in the wrong occupation
  • Shadow -- saved from starvation in the nick of time
  • Snowy -- a female's story
  • Teddy -- victim of his genes

If you've enjoyed these stories, you'll also enjoy The Waldo Chronicles, available from Lost Creek Llamaprints.

How you can help!

Protect your own llamas

  • Permanently identify your llamas to discourage theft and enable recovery of lost animals.
  • Spay and castrate
  • Educate yourself. Nobody knows everything; that includes us.
  • If you sell llamas -- sell all your animals with at least basic training, screen buyers, match llamas carefully to prospective homes, and write contracts that protect your llamas' futures. Make sure you are always able to accept back llamas you have previously sold, and make sure the buyer knows you are willing to do this if it becomes necessary.

Be a responsible example!

  • Help educate other owners about llama care.
  • Make particular efforts to practice and promote timely castration.
  • When buying llamas from breeders -- buy only from those who have a breeding program geared toward a specific end-use, who work with and know their breeding stock, and who sell all llamas with at least basic training.
  • If you breed llamas -- breed females only after full physical maturity (immaturely bred females suffer irreversible physical damage and thus lose economic value if no longer breeding for any reason, and llamas who have no economic value are at high risk for neglect if sold).
  • If you breed llamas -- breed only for an established end-use that is not experiencing oversupply; only breed those llamas and combinations that produce desirable llamas for that end use; breed only llamas with genetically sound minds and bodies.

Don't support breeding and marketing practices that increase the chances of neglect, the number of harder-to-place llamas, and ultimately homeless rescues !!!

  • Don't buy from or recommend breeders who create rescue situations and/or flood the market with no-purpose llamas. Cria mills and indiscriminate "backyard breeders" (those who make as many llamas as possible from all available fertile females) will sell llamas to anyone regardless of background, and the bulk of intact males sell at prices approaching "cents per pound." Every one of these pasture-only llamas who does happen into a good home takes a placement away from a rescued animal who desperately needs one.
  • Don't buy or sell at auctions -- patronizing auctions provides incentive to continue this form of marketing that does not screen buyers [obviously there will be exceptions, such as when a llama in need of rescue or rehabilitation is offered only at auction and there are no bidders who are knowledgable or capable of caring for its unique needs].
  • Don't enter or donate to raffles and give-aways in which one or more lamas is a "prize" -- "winners" are not screened, and llamas may suffer or die (yes, raffled llamas have died ) due to lack of education and inadvertant mismanagement.

Be an active part of llama rescue!

  • Give a home to one or more rescued or rehabilitated llamas.
  • Contact a rescue organization and offer some time and talents!
  • Give money! Food, halters, castrations, and medical care are always needed, and only money is versatile enough to quickly get the right sizes, types, and amounts of these things to where they're needed.

Organized Llama Rescue

Rescue organizations always need money, volunteers, and responsible, caring homes for llamas, some of whom have special problems or needs. Because so many llama rescue groups have come and gone, we no longer attempt to keep a current link list.

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