Southwest Llama Rescue came into being in the wake of a severe animal cruelty case that took place in October 2001. The case involved a mixed herd of llamas and Arabian horses in Tijeras, a small rural village in Bernalillo County, New Mexico, east of Albuquerque. Suffering from mental illness, the animals' owner had stopped feeding her herd. Several of the animals starved to death, and concerned neighbors called the sheriff to complain about the smell. Upon discovering what was going on, officials took the woman to a mental health facility, while Bernalillo County Animal Control seized her animals, several of whom had to be euthanized. The story made headlines all over the state.
In response to the news reports, a small group of New Mexico llama owners, coordinated by Pat and E.T. Little of Tularosa, decided to take action. Pat contacted the authorities and learned the animals would be sold at auction. They gathered what money they could and purchased eight of the rescued llamas. These lucky animals were taken to Pat and E.T. Little's llama ranch in Tularosa, where they settled into a new, safe home, got proper medical attention and a good diet, and started on their long road to recovery.
In the wake of this rescue, Pat and E.T. Little of Tularosa, F.E. Baxter ("Baxter") of Silver City, Jon Barksdale of Hatch, and Betsy Bell of Albuquerque realized that New Mexico needed a rescue group that would be ready to spring into action when the next cruelty case occurred. That decision marked the beginning of Southwest Llama Rescue, Inc. (SWLR).
In 2004, Pat and Baxter officially formed SWLR as a 501(C)(3) nonprofit with tax-exempt status. But even before we were formally incorporated, we were busily taking in animals. Since that first rescue in 2001, SWLR volunteers have taken in 122 neglected and/or abandoned llamas, many with very sad stories. In fact, Baxter's home in Silver City has been transformed into a major llama sanctuary with approximately 40 resident animals.
We also maintain a small network of foster homes throughout the Southwest. SWLR consists of a network of about thirty volunteers in New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Colorado, several of whom volunteer on a regular basis at the Silver City Sanctuary. These people donate their own time, resources, and money to rescue llamas from some pretty horrible situations.
It's a good thing that SWLR exists, because llama neglect and abandonment situations are depressingly common. Llamas were once highly valued exotics, but irresponsible and prolific breeding in the 1980s led to a glut of animals on a small market. Llamas live a long time - upwards of 20 years - and though they're easy keepers (relative to, say, a horse), they do need vet care, consistent diets, shelter, and regular grooming.
Sometimes good owners fall into medical or financial hardship situations that make it impossible for them to keep their herds. But we've seen plenty of situations in which llama owners have drastically underestimated the commitment llamas require, or simply decide that they don't want to keep llamas anymore. If the owners can't sell the animals or find new homes, the llamas are at high risk of neglect, abandonment, even abuse.
One of the most horrific rescue cases involved ten llamas that came to us from animal control in the fall of 2005. An owner decided he wanted to get rid of his herd and found an auction where he could sell them. Lacking a proper trailer, he decided to transport a couple dozen llamas on a flatbed rig whose "siding" consisted of boards and field fencing strung together with wire. He loaded the animals, and then promptly got into a wreck in which trailer detached and flipped.
Many of the animals were killed, though several mothers and their babies ("crias" in llama-speak) survived. Animal Control authorities charged the man with several counts of animal cruelty resulting in death. They seized the surviving animals, but didn't have the facilities to keep them.
Llama owners nearby acted swiftly to take in some of the llamas who needed special care and contracted to transport the rest of the llamas to SWLR in Silver City. The Silver City Sanctuary became the home for ten of the survivors.
This situation was unique in its egregious carelessness, but it's not uncommon for unwanted llamas to wind up at meat auctions. One of our recent intakes, Robert E. Lee, arrived at a slaughter facility in New Mexico. The facility's owner got upset at the thought of slaughtering this fine animal. SWLR was contacted on a Sunday night to ask if we could help in any way. The very next morning, we'd loaded a trailer, picked up Robert E. Lee from the slaughter facility, and got him settled at the Sanctuary. He is a remarkable old guy, very smart, gentle and sweet, and will probably stay with us because he's just too old to go to a new home.
Many of the animals we rescue aren't adoptable because of age or medical issues. These animals stay at the Sanctuary. For example, our darling Amira is a three-year old blind female who came to us as a baby. The owner's dog grabbed her and threw her up in the air just minutes after she was born. Not only was she left blind, but she never grew into a full-sized adult and remains about the size of a Great Dane. Yet Amira is hands-down the friendliest, most curious, and funniest llama we've ever known. When she hears footsteps, she runs to the gate to greet people and insists on a good ear scratch before she'll let you into the paddock. Needless to say, she's a real favorite among the Sanctuary's volunteers and visitors!
Not all of the animals we rescue or foster stay with us. As of August 2007, SWLR has successfully adopted out 76 llamas to farms around the United States. We're very careful to make sure that the animals end up with better homes than they came from! All prospective owners sign a "no breeding" contract, and our facility check ensures that the animals will have proper shelter, fencing, vet care and food. We also give new owners a local, experienced llama mentor who can offer advice and assistance when needed.
We maintain close contact with the adoptive families. In the event that a placement doesn't work out or the adoptive farm can't care for the animals anymore, SWLR will step in and take the animals back.
What happened to those original eight llamas? Seven of the eight were adopted into good homes, while one old llama remains at our Silver City Sanctuary, happily living out his days with his senior contemporaries. We love success stories and have many, thanks to the dedication of all the SWLR volunteers.
SWLR is actively seeking new adoptive families in the region. We're also working to strengthen our foster farm network, and to find new sources of funding for our rescue operations. Individually, llamas aren't that expensive to keep - but providing medical care and food to the Sanctuary residents runs roughly fifty thousand dollars a year, including hay, vet bills, medications, transportation, and facility upkeep costs.
SWLR has been busy since this article was written in 2007! As of September, 2012