Chapter 29 - Going Visiting
GOING IN HOUSES
Once your llama understands haltering, giving to the lead, going on a scale and going in and out of the trailer, going in a house will be a small affair (for the llama, at least). Set yourself up for success - turn off the radio, TV, dishwasher and washing machine. Put the dog out. "Llama proof" the house. That is, make a clear path with no breakables between the door and where the llama's going to go, with room for him to turn around to get back out. And don't bring the llama in the house for a party, do it when the house is quiet.
Carpets make excellent footing, but be careful if your floors are wood or tile or linoleum. Take him in nice and slow. If he gets scared, he'll tense up his feet and try to get a grip with his toenails - which only makes slippery floors more slippery. It wouldn't hurt to have a large rubber-backed mat close to the path in case he starts sliding.
I like to bring llamas in the house as soon as they're trained to kush on command. Then they can come into the living room, lie down on the rug, have a pan of oats, watch a little TV, and go home and tell their friends about their adventure. Lying down and having a snack seems to make the whole event more enjoyable.
A word about taking them up and down stairs: the stairs in your house aren't likely a very good place to teach this! The stairs in my house, for instance, are very steep and open on one side. A hysterical llama halfway up those stairs would be a disaster. I'm sure you can find a small set of cement stairs in a local park or stadium that would be a lot easier and a lot safer.
YOU TOOK A **LLAMA** IN YOUR **HOUSE**?! ARE YOU NUTS??
If you don't think they're clean enough, blow the coat out a bit before you bring them in. When I'm taking a llama to a school, I groom him out in the barn, then bring him into the house and tie him to the stair rail in the kitchen while I go have a shower and get changed. That way I know he'll still be clean when I'm done. We stop at a dung pile on the way out to the trailer, and we're all set to go.
GOING IN NURSING HOMES
Nursing homes love llamas. The biggest problem I've had is beating the staff away from the llamas so the residents can have a look. In fact, now I offer to come half an hour early and stand outside where the staff can come and visit the critters, so when we go inside, the residents have a chance.
There are several different ways to interact with the residents, depending on how the staff want to set up your visit. Some places have the residents who want to see us sitting around the outside walls of a meeting room or lounge. We take the llama in and walk around the room, stopping at each person for a pet.
The other way is to go on a tour of the home with a staff member for escort and guide. The staff pretty much know which residents would be thrilled to see a llama, and which ones would be horrified. Hint: stay away from the people who don't want to see a llama in their bedrooms!
You're assuming a great deal of responsibility when you take a 300-pound animal near slow, easily-broken people. This isn't a situation for a llama that's barely lead-trained. The visiting llama MUST be thoroughly desensitized to being touched, not only from the front, but from the rear as well. He MUST be calm with a lot of people around, with wheelchairs, and with people who are sitting down touching him. If he knows a trick, like kissing, or if he'll eat a treat from someone else's hand, he'll be a hit. It'll help if you practise taking him through doors, up and down short flights of stairs, and on slippery floors as well.
We were walking down the hallway in a nursing home. We came to an old gentleman and the nurse with me said "Ernie, Ernie! Look what we've got! Do you know what this is?" Ernie looked up and said "For Heaven's sake! A llama! Lama glama! A native of South America - Peru, Chile, Bolivia. They're a member of the camel family..." and on he went, telling us all about them. We had a nice chat and walked on. We came to an old lady. The nurse said "Elsie, Elsie, look what we've got! Do you know what this is?" Elsie looked up and snapped "Of course I do! It's a COW! We had hundreds of them! What's it doing in here?"
We were walking down the hallway in a nursing home. We came across a woman and a man who was obviously her son. She exclaimed joyfully about the beautiful animal, asking intelligent questions and touching him with hands that obviously had handled many animals in their time. She communed with the llama for perhaps ten minutes, then we walked on. Half an hour later, we came around a corner and met the same woman walking with her son. She exclaimed joyfully about the llama, asking the same intelligent questions and touching him with her marvelous hands. She talked with the llama again for ten minutes, and we walked on. We went through the same routine for the third time half an hour later. As we were leaving, the son came and thanked us for being so nice (three times) to his mother, but I couldn't help but think - how often do you get to make someone that happy three times in a row? I had a wonderful time watching her hands, and the llama enjoyed her too.
GOING IN SCHOOLS
Everything I said about going in nursing homes applies double to going in schools. You MUST have a well-trained, calm animal. No matter how good you are with children, you can't ALWAYS control EVERY child.