For whatever reasons, llama rescue has gotten a bad rap over the past few years. Even the owners, when faced with dispersing their herds, feel a sense of failure at having to turn their llamas over to a “rescue” group. But as a member of two extraordinary rescue organizations and a friend of our local group, I can honestly tell you that there’s no stigma in rescue!
Did you know that almost 90% of our intakes come from folks that just can’t keep them any more? These are conscientious breeders and owners who have had drastic life changes: death or divorce in the family, health problems, aging, moving, and recently, military deployment. Rather than risk putting their llamas on the market, they can release them to a rescue group for fostering and eventual rehoming. No shame in that! They love their llamas and want the best for them. And some of our rescue groups provide just that.
Additionally, although the majority of intakes are from owner difficulties and life changes, these groups have also taken in many animals that were abused or neglected. These animals would inevitably end up euthanized or further abused as they are passed around to unknowledgeable new owners often looking for a cheap or free “yard ornament” or livestock guardian. In cases of abuse, the rescue organizations work with local law enforcement and animal control authorities who can legally remove the llamas from difficult situations.
Another reason that llamas and alpacas are turned over to a rescue organization is due to behavior problems. You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the dreaded “Aberrant Behavior Syndrome (ABS)” or of “berserk llamas. In these rare cases, this results from the over-handling of young animals, especially males, which causes them to be disrespectful of humans. If normal boundaries are not established early in life, then males tend to become aggressive with people at the onset of sexual maturity. Females may become prone to spit on humans. Llamas and alpacas with true aggression towards humans are given sanctuary at SELR and undergo training to diminish their unwanted behaviors. These animals are a small proportion of rescues and are not offered for adoption. Surprisingly to most people, SELR has a quite high rate of success with these animals. They may not ever be the sort of llama you’d want to turn your back on, but they can live long and productive, happy lives. They don’t have to die.
Legit Rescues: SELR / SWLR
Although there are many “real” rescues across the country, I’m going to focus on the ones I know best: SELR and SWLR.
I suspect a very real reason for the distrust of llama rescue in general is the inevitable rise of scam artists, even in our world. These folks are looking to make a buck, not to improve the well-being of the animals. And sometimes it’s difficult to tell if an organization is truly legit. Not every group is “official” and sanctioned. But orgs like Southeast Llama Rescue (SELR), their new offspring Southwest Llamas Rescue (SWLR) are registered non-profits with board members, reports… the whole shebang!
Llama rescue organizations do not compete with reputable breeders. These organizations require that males are gelded and females are placed with a non-breeding contract. In some cases, an adoptive owner may only want a single animal as a guard for sheep or goats or a couple of non-breeders for packing or wool production. However, people with rescue animals often decide to begin breeding or showing after finding that they have fallen in love with llamas, at which point they can be referred to reputable farms providing registered breeding stock. Llama and alpaca breeders know that someone with a rescue llama from the organizations is already pre-screened and mentored, so they can sell a valuable animal with confidence that it will be properly cared for.
SELR is a non-profit located in Marshall, North Carolina, with foster homes and volunteers spread out across the country. SELR takes in all llamas in need, regardless of behavior, health, or condition. Those with special health needs who are considered unadoptable are sent to live out the remainder of their lives at Indian Creek Llama Sanctuary, or ICLS, in Oliver Springs, Tennessee. ICLS has ready access to the large-animal practice at the University of Tennessee veterinary college and can provide customized feeding or treatment regimes for special-needs animals. While alpacas are occasionally surrendered to these rescue organization, most of the animals in need are llamas.
Southwest Llama Rescue
Sometime around 2001, there became an obvious need for llama rescue efforts in the southwest region. L’illette Vasquez initially volunteered to coordinate that effort as a “sister” organization of SELR. Unfortunately, a move to Colorado interrupted plans to expand the SELR base to the southwest.
The official SWLR began in New Mexico in the fall of 2002, when 14 llamas from an Animal Control rescue needed a place to live while awaiting new homes. In July of 2004, we received 15 malnourished llamas from an owner who could no longer take care of them. All but 3 have been adopted as alpaca guards, sheep guards, or pets. We were happy to find loving homes for these wonderful llamas. In December of 2004, they received 25 females and babies. Some of the females were pregnant, so they went to a foster care facility for their special needs. SWLR has foster homes in Silver City, Hatch, Tularosa, and Ruidoso.
Why should you consider adopting a rescue llama? Geldings are easier to care for without the confounding influence of hormones and the resulting fighting carried on between intact males. Geldings and females can be kept together without concern for the risks associated with pregnancy. Especially for a first-time owner, the advice offered by mentors is a big help in understanding and meeting the needs of the llamas. SELR llamas have sufficient training so they will tolerate being vaccinated, having their toenails trimmed, and being sheared; they will lead easily and load for transport. Additionally all animals are vetted and any health problems are treated.
All the rescue groups mentioned in this article are funded solely by private donations and adoption fees. They also happily accept tax-deductible contributions of money, tack, feed, or other equipment to assist maintain the llamas in their care.
What About Fostering?
If you have extra pasture and shelter space, you are needed! Lots of times, llamas come from one part of the country, but available foster homes are states away. Each of these groups need more folks to offer long- or short-term temporary sanctuary to llamas awaiting adoption. Unlike with adoption, the rescues do reimburse veterinary costs, though the day-to-day maintenance falls upon the foster caretaker. It’s critical that we have approved locations to take surrendered llamas, and there are never enough available.
Transport is also a huge issue. It’s not uncommon to have individual llamas, and even herds, ready for immediate delivery to a foster or adoptive home; but no one available to help transport cross-country. Such transport is also reimbursable, though not at the rates professional haulers charge.
How Can You Help?
As mentioned above, we need foster homes, transport, donations… and sometimes just folks to come out and help shear, do toenails and vaccinations, and spend some time with the animals. Each of the rescue orgs has more information available for you; or you can contact me, and I’ll help get you connected with the groups in your area.
Perhaps as important is spreading the word. Llama rescue helps save lives. Too many llama are discarded, unnecessarily euthanized, or abandoned. It just doesn’t have to happen, and you can help!