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No Spit: Therapy Alpacas Visit The Elderly Through Windows At Nursing Home During Lockdown

therapy alpacas

A pair of therapy alpacas brought joy to seniors in lockdown at an assisted living residence in Southern California last week.

The large and delightful animals, named Kronk and Kuzco after characters from the 2000 Disney film The Emperor’s New Groove, are Education Ambassadors for the Helen Woodward Animal Center’s Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program.

“In the many years I have worked with this program, I have seen the unique gifts each animal can bring to this type of therapy,” said program manager Robin Cohen in a press release. “… These alpacas are some of our funniest characters. They make us laugh every day and we knew they’d be the perfect key to inspiring smiles right now.”

Kronk and Kuzco typically “spend the majority of their days chomping hay in their corral and greeting children as part of the Humane Education program,” according to the animal center. But since the pandemic has prevented animal lovers from visiting the currently closed center in Poway, California, the alpacas are going to them.

The duo traveled by van to Boulder Creek Post Acute assisted living center on April 28. They posted up at a window outside of the dining hall to interact safely with residents and staff.

The residents were thrilled to see the friendly creatures, and staff members shot selfies from inside, with the animals just outside the window.

The coronavirus crisis has made it impossible for the animal center to run their PET program the way they have in the past.

According to the center, “The basis of the important therapy stems from studies showing that holding and caressing an animal provides benefits such as relaxation, lower blood pressure, improved long- and short-term memory, and sensory stimuli.”

The team of animals typically included in this therapy normally include smaller, cuddle-able animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, and guinea pigs. But because it is no longer safe for people to handle the animals, Kronk and Kuzco are able to spread joy at a safe distance.

“In the many years I have worked with this program, I have seen the unique gifts each animal can bring to this type of therapy,” said Robin Cohen, PET Manager.

“Cockatoos are wonderful with clients dealing with paralysis because they can sit on a shoulder and nuzzle and talk. Mini horses are wonderful for children because they are right at eye level.”

“This has been a very challenging time for all of us and it’s particularly hard on individuals who are inside facilities without visits from their regular friends and family members,” Cohen continued.

“The one thing I know from my work is that animals have a magical way of healing. I am so happy to be a part of providing a little bit of their magic.”

Kronk and Kuzco’s visit with the elderly residents at Boulder Creek went so well, staff at the animal center plan to bring the animals— and a lot of smiles, to seniors at other facilities.

Susan LaMarca

Written by Susan LaMarca