Feeling beastly? Try a little llama therapy

David Usborne on the latest treatment offered to troubled Americans

Llamas, they say, are splendid beasts of burden. Sturdy and always sure-footed, they will carry your load up the steepest of paths and around the most awkward of obstacles. Soon, however, they may earn themselves a variation on the monicker. Ah yes, llamas, those furry beasts of unburden.

All will depend on an experiment about to get under way in western Canada. In a place called White Rock, outside Vancouver, there is an accountant and part-time llama farmer named Mike Loynes, who reckons that llamas, in spite of their habit of spitting, could also make fine psychotherapists - not for each other but for humans. Message to the stressed-out: head not to the analyst's couch but to the llama farm.

Mr Loynes, who himself seems perfectly sane, is one of an increasing number of believers in llama karma. According to latest estimates, there are some 100,000 of the camel-related creatures now on ranches and in zoos across North America and their reputation for soothing all who meet them is spreading fast.

Thus, for example, prison authorities in Idaho have been running a pilot project to introduce llamas to young first-time offenders during their first few weeks behind bars. The inmates spend time petting and grooming them and, in theory, deriving from the experience a new commitment to caring and non-violence.

Llamas, as well as other animals, are also being used to help children with developmental difficulties. Mona Sams is an occupational therapist in Roanoke, Virginia, who takes her llama, Ricardo, to schools with autistic pupils. "Llamas are a particularly intelligent animal, so it's easy for them to know what to do," she said. "And because the animal looks so different, the kids are immediately drawn to them".

After starting 10 years ago with one llama that was a birthday present to his wife, Mike Loynes now has 50 of the beasts. The first useful employment he found for them was with two local golf clubs which have been using the llamas as caddies. "They have soft-padded feet so they don't harm the greens," explains Loynes. "But they can be a bit weak on club selection".

The idea for his new project came to him when be began to notice the effect that his llamas had on his tax-practice clients . "They would come all wound up tight and revved up and 20 minutes to half an hour later they would change their personalities. People would just start to relax".

So, after founding the "Llama Therapeutic Group", Mr Loynes plans later this year to open a llama retreat deep inside the British Columbian Rocky Mountains. For a large fee - he won't say how much - people who might otherwise seek more traditional therapy, ranging from patients suffering from post-trauma syndrome to corporate executives afflicted with burnout, will go there and commune with the llamas.

Each resident will be assigned a single llama for the full week of their stay. "There will be a process of relationship-building with the llama," explains Loynes. "They will learn how to care for the llama, how to feed it and groom it. In the process, they will be focusing on the llama and forgetting about what it was that was worrying them at the workplace".

The week will end with two-day trek, human and llama padding through the mountains in perfect harmony.

Why llamas? Why not donkeys? "Because donkeys will break your toes if they stand on them," begins Loynes. "It is a difficult thing to explain verbally. Llamas don't kick, they don't bite and they're extremely clever. And they have this ability to assess humans and start these relationships".

Loynes, meanwhile, has been busy training his animals for their new profession. Exactly what this involves, he will not say, but extended periods spent in the company of humans is part of it. Thus, he admits, llamas not only come into his home, but even climb the stairs and often settle down in the bedroom of his daughter while she does her homework.

There have been requests for reservations at the retreat, even before it opens, from as far away as Japan and Thailand. But Loynes is being careful not to overstate what future patrons should expect. "We are not going to cure anyone of anything. But what we will be doing is teaching people how to relax and the llamas will be the catalysts."

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Robyn Lawley
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable & Accounts Receivable)

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Accounts Assistant (Accounts Payable...

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star