Are you dreaming? No, that really is a llama next to the potted plant! This relative of the camel may be the last thing you expect to see wandering around the rooms at Green Tree Court. But their charming, gentle nature makes them an ideal visitor to our nursing and dementia care home. The llamas, from nearby Peak Hill Llamas in Sidmouth, boost spirits and bring many other therapeutic benefits for our residents, from increasing participation to offering comfort.
“The llama’s soft fur, comical expressions, and gentle personalities win over all our residents,” commented Merle Weiner, Green Tree Court’s Head of Activities. “Everyone really looks forward to the visits because they bring such sheer joy to the day. And we’ll be talking about them for a long time afterwards too. The llamas are very well behaved and are used to close contact with people. They are even toilet trained, so we have no worries about the carpets!
“They walk around with their handlers to spend time with everyone and we take them into the rooms of anyone who is unable to get up to meet them. Their visits are a time that is filled with much laughter. And we’ve watched residents transform from emotionless to full of smiles when the llamas enter the room: it’s hard not to feel uplifted by their quirky characters and the positive effect they have on us all.”
The llamas visit Green Tree Court around four times a year. And don’t worry – they don’t usually spit! Llamas only spit to mark territory or defend themselves, so rarely spit at humans unless they are provoked. As extra reassurance, the llamas that visit Green Tree Court have been specially trained to be in very close contact with people.
Llamas are one of many different types of animals and pets that regularly call in to see the residents at Green Tree Court. Merle regularly brings her dog Chloe into work with her. There are also frequent visits from other animals, including pets owned by our residents’ families, donkeys, and other trained therapy dogs. Last year we even enjoyed a visit from a therapy ferret!
As well as offering companionship, studies have shown that spending time with animals can help to reduce depression and anxiety. The visits can also be very beneficial for people living with dementia. Individuals can go from unengaged to full of joy when they are close to an animal, especially if it triggers pleasant memories.